This post is part of our definitions series on “eco-lingo” and technical terms.

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

“Pay-as-you-throw” is a variable rate pricing  tool used by communities to increase participation in recycling programs. Under a “pay-as-you-throw” structure, residents are charged for undifferentiated waste that must go to a landfill or incinerator and charged nothing for disposing of separated recyclables. This provides an obvious economic incentive for opting-in to recycling for the consumer and has been used throughout California to great success and  high diversion rates. The question, though, is whether we have finally outgrown “pay-as-you-go” policies.

With the state struggling with crippling budget deficits on every level of government, and with high participation rates in recycling (including newer higher-cost offerings, such as organic waste collection), the value captured from recycled products is not keeping pace with the cost of collections, routing, and processing.  In essence, while “pay-as-you-go” pricing structures may have had a vital role to play at a vital time, we can almost assuredly expect to see new pricing structures in the coming years.

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What exactly does “sustainability” mean? How about “green”, “eco” or “environmentally friendly”? The truth is that these terms are just vague enough to mean many different things to many different people. With the staggering array of “green” products, ‘lifestyles’ and concepts being promoted by marketers and environmentalists alike (as well as the necessary coining of new terms to match new ideas) our definition series aims to make sense of the rising tide of “eco-lingo” and technical terms.

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