[GRRN] PAYT is not a regressive tax

Bill Carter (bcarter0@flash.net)
Sun, 30 May 1999 00:30:22 -0500

Carol Slechta wrote:
" I should have known that a regressive tax never really has an sound
basis. So much for PAYT."

PAYT is not a tax and it is not regressive. It is a customer service
charge, like a water bill. If there are hardship cases among low-income
customers, we generally provide assistance to them -- we don't abandon the
meters and charge everyone a flat fee for water service. Cost-of-service
fees -- a favorite free-market concept -- benefit the low-income elderly,
who as a group generate very little waste, just as they demand little
electricity & water.

Dr. William Rathje has conducted extensive research into consumer
waste-generating patterns (actual garbage-can sampling, and more recently
actual digs in landfills) for almost 20 years. He found that the
relationship between income and waste output is not simple, but by and
large and with some exceptions waste output INCREASES with income.

If low-income people are hurt by PAYT because cheaper products have more
packaging and because cheap items end up in the trash quicker & oftener,
then a surcharge on manufacturers for their products & packaging in
proportion to the presence of these materials in the waste stream (as you
propose) would disproportionately increase the cost of the very kinds of
items you say are mostly purchased by low-income people. THAT sounds like
a regressive tax. However, I'm not sure the assumption about low-cost
items being high-waste is accurate on the whole when all categories of
goods are considered.

You bring up a valid point about low-income people buying more of their
goods second-hand. Assuming the sellers or donors of these goods tend to
be higher-income that the buyers, under PAYT the low-income buyers would
bear the disposal cost for certain items which higher-income people enjoyed
for the better years of the items' useful life. I think this affects a
relatively small percentage of items entering the waste stream. However,
to help correct this inequity, there is certainly a role for "advance
disposal fees" of some kind charged only on the sale of NEW items and/or
packaging. You may wish to look into the history of Florida's advance
disposal fees on a variety of packaging, for a concept closely related to
your proposal. If anyone knows of a more comprehensive advance disposal
fee system than Florida's, please let me know.

The garbage sampling you propose is much more complicated than you seem to
believe. We only have rough estimates of even the TOTAL tons of materials
disposed each year in the US. You may wish to look into the last 10-15
years of efforts to characterize the waste stream (material actually
entering landfills), one landfill at a time, particular how costly it is to
do accurate seasonally-adjusted annual waste quantity estimates and
characterizations that are valid for just one landfill and for just a
limited number of categories of materials, and note how widely variable the
percentages of the various materials have been in these analyses from one
location to another, and consider how much it would cost to sample enough
landfills in the US to get reliable numbers for the nation as a whole given
this variability, and then consider the complication of imports and exports
(how much of each category of materials in our waste stream is the
responsibility of our domestic manufacturers?), and the fact that a
significant surcharge in the US would give our domestic manufacturers one
more reason to relocate to Indonesia, and then you may begin to understand
why we aren't all slapping ourselves in the forehead when we read your
proposal and saying, "Why didn't I think of that?!!" For the reasons
listed above, among others, advance disposal fees implemented so far have
been charged at the point of sale, not to manufacturers, and they have been
based on the return rate (the percentage of sold items effectively
recovered), not the residual rate (the percentage of the waste stream
occupied by the item).

All the best,

Bill Carter

> From: carol <slechta@vnet.net>
> To: greenyes@earthsystems.org; Steve Schell <wisboy@mindspring.com>
> Subject: Re: Refillable Bottles & home collection
> Date: Friday, May 28, 1999 4:26 AM
> Makes total sense. The poor become the endpoint of the disposal cycle
> even if they do not actually purchase more "future waste," since
> their purchases have shorter lives and also, they probably acquire a
> lot more secondhand goods. I should have known that a regressive
> tax never really has an sound basis. So much for PAYT.
> This is yet another reason to sample the waste stream and charge
> the manufacturer who created the objects in the first place--and
> I don't just mean packaging, but the items themselves. As the stuff
> will become waste whether or not anyone ever buys it, assigning
> the cost to the consumer directly is not a comprehensive solution.
> Carol
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: Steve Schell <wisboy@mindspring.com>
> To: <greenyes@earthsystems.org>
> Sent: Monday, May 24, 1999 10:01 PM
> Subject: Re: Refillable Bottles & home collection
> > At 06:25 PM 5/24/99 -0400, Carol Slechta wrote:
> > ....
> > >Again, charging wasteful consumers prevents the "zero waste" people
> > >from subsidizing the wasteful ones. It is a bit of a regressive tax
> > >since it hits poor people more heavily but there is no inherent
> > >reason that poor people should generate more waste, so I think
> > >that can be overlooked.
> >
> > Steve says:
> >
> > There may well be some reasons why poor people generate more waste,
> > them:
> >
> > 1. poor people generally do not have built-in garbage disposers, hence
> > significantly larger portion of their waste is food waste.
> >
> > 2. poor people generally cannot afford to "shop smart," i.e. buy
> > that use little or no packaging. When you are shopping on a budget you
> buy
> > the most inexpensive things you can and those products tend to be the
> > with the most disposable packaging. additionally, many products you
> > inexpensively now, will not last as long as those that may cost more
> (snip)
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