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Saxony recycling

Posted on
01 March 2012

Pay as you throw cuts through waste

In Saxony, Germany, almost all towns charge households for their waste. It is one example of Pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) schemes, that have cut waste flows, and boosted recycling, composting, and financing for sustainable waste management. PAYT is used by thousands of municipalities, particularly in Europe and North America, but remains the subject of criticism and opposition by proponents of traditional financing for waste removal.

Keywords: prevention principle, polluter-pays principle, pay as you throw, recycling, source separation

Charging households for their waste is a technique used around the world to stimulate and finance recycling and other sustainable behaviours like composting. Waste removal becomes a pay-according-to-use service like other services to households, e.g. energy, water, etc. Such pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) schemes incorporate the principle of prevention and the polluter-pays principle.

Widely applied and studied
These schemes have been widely applied and studied in North America and Europe. One report on such practices in the US estimated improvements in waste reduction and recycling in the order of 14-27% and 32-59% respectively. Multiple studies of European cities using PAYT found increases in source separation of more than 70%.

In Saxony, Germany, where over 90% of municipalities use PAYT, total household waste collection averaged 366 kg per person per year, compared to 470 kg in the nearby state of Hesse where less than 20% of municipalities used PAYT. Similarly, residual waste collection was 145 kg in Saxony, and 193 kg in Hesse. The amount of separated recyclables – packaging, glass, paper – increased by 58%, for a collected average of 170 kg/person/yr when PAYT was first pilot tested in cities in Saxony during 1996-98.

In Sweden, a study found that cities with PAYT collected 20% less household waste per capita, though surprisingly there was no corresponding rise in recycling rates. The most geographically comprehensive applications of PAYT have been in Switzerland and Luxembourg.

Controversial system
Adoption of PAYT has been controversial, with strong opposition in some places, like Britain. PAYT systems have reported strengths like public acceptance after implementation and increased recycling and composting. However, reported weaknesses include increased costs for initial investments and operations, waste tourism, illegal waste dumping, and higher levels of contaminants in recycling. These are problems that have attracted intense attention, and at the same time varied solutions.

A PAYT scheme usually contains three basic components:
  • method for identifying the waste generator
  • measurement of the amount of waste
  • pricing of the service per unit of waste

European Union legislation driving the adoption of PAYT systems is based on the polluter-pays principle. This holds that the costs for waste be paid either by those who use waste services or by producers of products creating waste. Early examples of cities using PAYT schemes are San Francisco (from 1932), and Austria (from 1945) (see also San Francisco).

Lisa Dahlén, Anders Lagerkvist, 2010, “Pay as you throw: Strengths and weaknesses of weight-based billing in household waste collection systems in Sweden”, Waste Management, 30, 23–31


Peter Newman, Isabella Jennings, 2008, Cities as Sustainable Ecosystems: Principles and Practices, Washington, DC, USA: Island Press

Jan Reichenbach, “Status and prospects of pay-as-you-throw in Europe – A review of pilot research and implementation studies”, Waste Management 28 (2008) 2809–2814

Mark Roseland, Sean Connelly, 2005, Toward sustainable communities: resources for citizens and their governments, Rev. ed., Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers

Handbook on PAYT, Annex 3, “Examples for the application of different PAYT schemes with a multi-component charge structure and their reported outcomes”

Text by: Aaron Thomas

Recycling at home
© Flickr / Melanie Cook
Map Saxony
Recycling bins
© Hwan Hong
© Kai/Flickr