News‎ > ‎

Pay as you Throw

posted Aug 29, 2012, 5:44 AM by Kayla Reidel
Pay as You Throw, Smart-Cart, Curbside Refuse Collection Program
The City of Grand Rapids is creating new service models by taking the best from our current programs and incorporating new technologies and practices. The City is reviewing every City service to ensure that they are provided with the maximum value for the least cost. Following the successful recycling and myGRcity points program, the City is launching a new refuse program. It will remain pay as you throw, but will use smart-carts and automated equipment to empty the carts to improve productivity and lower costs for the City and customers.
History. The City has collected refuse for over one hundred years. In 1973, the City was a national leader with its pay as you throw curbside refuse collection program. Many cities across the country copied our program as a best management practice. The City’s refuse program has been funded by a property tax millage and customer-purchased City refuse bags and tags. In 2003, the City piloted a program using refuse carts that grew from a few hundred to 12,000 refuse cart customers today.
Why change? There have been many regulatory and technological changes in the solid waste industry over the past forty years. Private sector refuse companies have leveraged new technology to significantly improve their productivity and lower costs. Private sector refuse employees can be 40% more efficient because they operate automated arms from within the truck to empty refuse carts. Although the City’s bag and tag program has operated well, it has become difficult to sustain financially and improve our environmental impact. The new refuse collection program will use the same equipment, technology, and practices as the private sector. The City will keep the best of our current pay as you throw program and use the private sector’s technology and practices to create a new national leading municipal service.
How will the new program work? The City will offer 32-gallon, 64-gallon, and 96-gallon refuse smart-carts at no cost. A customer selects a cart size and can change to a different size at no cost. The new program will not charge a flat monthly fee; it will charge a customer’s account only when a cart is placed at the curb for collection—pay as you throw.
What is a smart-cart? The City’s locally made smart-carts use embedded RFID computer chip technology to track City carts. The City will track its carts, not customer’s refuse. Using this technology, without leaving the truck the driver can tell if the cart belongs to the proper address, while the onboard computer logs whenever the smart-cart is emptied and debits the customer’s account.
What is the right size cart? A 32-gallon cart will hold two bags of refuse, for which the customer will be charged $2 when the cart is emptied. Customers will not be charged when they are on vacation or simply do not have enough refuse to present their cart for collection. If a 32-gallon refuse cart is placed at the curb every week, it would cost $26 for three months. This compares to $39 for three months for placing two bags each week and $30 for the current cart fee. The 64-gallon refuse cart will hold about four bags of refuse with a charge of $4 each time that the cart is emptied with a maximum quarterly cost of $52. This compares to $78 for bags and $40 for the current cart fee. The 96-gallon refuse cart will hold six bags of refuse with a charge of $6 per tip with a maximum fee of $78 per quarter. This compares to $117 for bags and $50 for the current refuse cart fee. Finally, the City estimates that the 64-gallon cart will work best for two-thirds of households.
Why are the rates for 64-gallon and 96-gallon refuse carts increasing? When the current refuse cart fees were established in 2005, the fee was not based on volume or City costs. The purpose of the pilot was to better understand if refuse carts could work within our system. Since the program began, the carts have worked well, but the fees have not increased. The new fees are based on the City’s cost to ensure a sustainable service.
Can I use my supply of City refuse bags and tags? Customers can continue to use their bags and tags until they are exhausted. While retail outlets will stop selling City refuse bags later this year, refuse bags will continue to be available at City offices. The price of City refuse bags will increase to $2.50 to reflect City’s costs without a tax subsidy.
How can I sign up? Beginning August 13, customers can go online to set up their account, which will require a name, address, and credit card number. Customers can also set up an account by calling or visiting the Public Services Department. Customers can manage their account to ensure that sufficient funds are available when a driver attempts to empty a refuse cart. Customers can be notified when their account falls to a customer-defined level or a credit card can be automatically charged at the customer’s option. Smart-carts will begin being delivered to homes in September.
What are the benefits?
The City’s new refuse program is green. By using reusable refuse carts made locally from recycled plastic reclaimed locally, the City will eliminate over one million plastic City refuse bags from the waste stream each year.
The City’s new refuse smart-carts can provide a better value. The combination of selecting the right cart size and having the option of placing the cart at the curb only when it is full will permit residents to better control their refuse costs.
The new refuse program will be more efficient and less costly for the City. Using the latest technology to collect the refuse and track and manage customers’ accounts will improve the City’s productivity and lower costs. The refuse program has been redesigned to be supported solely by fees and lower the refuse property tax millage for every taxpayer.
The City’s neighborhood associations report a significant neighborhood problem occurs when a plastic bag of trash is placed at the curb becomes torn permitting trash to blow around the neighborhood. Refuse carts should minimize loose trash in neighborhoods.
The new smart-carts should minimize the City’s problem with stolen refuse tags.
There are a high number of refuse employee injuries caused from getting in and out of a truck up to 500 times per day, from throwing up to ten tons of refuse every day into a truck, and from broken glass and needles that protrude from plastic bags. The new program permits an employee to avoid direct contact with the refuse by emptying the refuse carts from within the truck; this should significantly reduce employee injuries.
The City’s refuse program will continue to provide free refuse services to income-qualifying households, and will continue to provide special collection services to households with disabled residents or extenuating circumstances approved by the Public Services Director.
For more information, visit the Public Services Department’s website at or contact us at or 456-3232.