Summit County considers its own Pay As You Throw program to incentivize recycling, waste diversion 

Price hikes for larger trash bins could be on the horizon next year. But county officials voiced a need to provide financial assistance for lower-income residents.

Summit County officials are considering implementing a program to incentivize more recycling by charging residents more for larger trash bins, though it would likely come with a financial subsidy for lower-income families, officials said.
High Country Conservation Center/Courtesy photo

Following similar programs introduced by the towns of Breckenridge and Frisco, Summit County officials could implement a recycling incentive that would charge residents different price points based on the size of their trash bins. 

Known as “Pay As You Throw,” the program has been approved by Breckenridge and Frisco town councils, which are aiming for 90% compliance for residents using curbside trash collection by Oct. 1. Now, the Summit Board of County Commissioners is considering its own program for unincorporated areas of the county which sit outside town limits. 

But before doing so, officials said they want to be cautious with how the program will impact lower-income families and explore ways to provide subsidies to ensure those residents don’t become even more cost burdened. 

“We recognize some residents may be living in homes with several people and would be unable to move to a smaller can,” county officials wrote in a March 7 memo, “and are already struggling with increased costs for food, childcare and housing.”

Commissioners discussed the potential prongs of the program during a March 7 public meeting, which could potentially be rolled out in the spring of next year and would aim to help align the county with a provision of the area’s Climate Action Plan, which aims to increase waste being diverted from landfills from 20% in 2022 to 40% by 2035

“The (commissioners) and Summit County staff would like to move forward with Pay As You Throw. We’re just being methodical on proving fiscally responsible in our approach,” said Interim Town Manager Phil Gonshak. 

Staff proposed a three-pronged approach that includes providing subsidies to deed-restricted homeowners who meet certain income criteria, providing subsidies to renters who currently qualify for other programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, as well as offering a “traditional application program through which an applicant would have to submit prior waste bills, current bills and other documentation of financial need,” according to the staff memo. 

Staff said much of the details would need to be hammered out with regards to how, exactly, subsidies could be given, whether that be to a property’s landlord who would then reflect that discount in trash collection bills, or through more direct methods, such as vouchers or gift cards, to avoid out-of-pocket expenses. 

The county would also need to promote the assistance program such as through partnering with the Family & Intercultural Resource Center, the county’s largest nonprofit which served around a third of residents last year

Commissioner Tamara Pogue voiced interest in having a greater focus on assistance for low-income families who rent as opposed to deed-restricted homeowners. Pogue and other commissioners added that they will need more information and future discussions before providing clearer direction on what the program’s price plans could look like. 

Sarah Wilkinson, the county’s special projects manager, agreed with commissioners that “the people who are most likely to need financial assistance are people who are renting” and said future discussions with the resource center could help them identify that need. 

Dave Rossi, the county’s policy and communications director, added that the program will take time to form as the county works to avoid “the unintended consequences” of an initiative intended to benefit the environment. 

And as Breckenridge and Frisco continue to oversee the respective town’s programs, Rossi said county officials can monitor and take note of changes they may want to make ahead of their own roll out.

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