United States
            Environmental Protection
             Policy, Planning
             And Evaluation
April 1993
Guide To EPA's
Unit Pricing Database
Municipal Solid Waste Programs
in The U.S.


The database referred in this document is now available on-line at the following URL:



Preparation of this document and organization of the database for distribution was

conducted by Deborah Vaughn Nestor of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's

Office of Policy, Planning and Evaluation and Anne Marie Dantonio of the

Environmental Law Institute.

Database collection was coordinated by Glenn E. Morris of the Research Triangle

Institute with the assistance of Elizabeth R. MacArthur, Stanley W. Black, Gretchen E.

May and Andrew D. Bollman.

Technical support and database management assistance were provided by Don

Garner,  Consultant to the Environmental Law Institute.

Neil Leary initiated this work and provided valuable comments  throughout the


Adam Saslow provided helpful comments on an earlier draft.

                        Table  of Contents
What is Unit Pricing?	1

About the Database

     Method for  Data Collection	1

     Worksheet Format	3

Sample Applications

     Instructions for Decompressing Data Files	5

     General Program Characteristics	7

     Elements of Community Solid Waste Programs	13

     Pricing Structure	16

Summary	19


     A:  Field Definitions	Al

     B:  Unit Pricing Data by Community	Bl

      Unit based pricing of solid waste refers to a pricing system that charges a

household by the amount of solid waste it disposes. This method of managing

municipal solid waste (MSW) has many variations. In a "pay-per-bag" system,

customers are charged for each bag of solid waste, but in a weight-based system, they

are charged by the pound. However, in all cases, unit pricing encourages consumers

to pay more attention to their waste generation practices. Specifically, they may

increase their source reduction/reuse behavior by purchasing goods that are more

durable or contain less packaging. They may also  step up their recycling efforts,

reducing the amount of mixed  waste they dispose. Since they pay only for what they

throw away, unit-based pricing gives households greater control over and an

incentive to reduce the amount they pay for solid waste services. The purpose of this

document is to describe the database of information collected from 109 communities

with unit-based systems.
      Method for Collection

      Data from 109 communities with unit pricing programs were compiled by the

Research Triangle Institute  (RTI).  The database includes a variety of programs across

the country. Table 1 lists the number of programs in the database by state. To

identify communities with unit pricing programs,  RTI reviewed  current  literature  on

unit pricing and contacted various  state and local solid waste officials.
                                       Table 1
                      Number of Programs in Sample by State
New Jersey
Number of Programs
Percent of Total

       Worksheet Format

       The database is presented by community in one-page descriptions relaying

three categories  of information1. The first category, General Program  Characteristics,

provides summary information on general traits of a community's unit pricing

program. Concurrent Programs, the following section, includes data referring to those

programs that are often operated along with a unit pricing program. Lastly, the

category  Pricing Structure details the financial organization of a  community's unit

pricing program.

       The  section General Program Characteristics provides summary  information on

general traits of each community's unit pricing program, beginning with the

Community name, State,  and the date on which unit pricing Began2 in the community.

For example,  examine Arcadia,  California, the  first community listed in the  database,

whose unit pricing program began in 1989. Area Served and Name refer to the portion

and name of an area served by the unit pricing program. All of the community of

Arcadia is being served. The Type of system that best describes Arcadia's unit pricing

program  is a subscription can program.  Participation in  the program is  voluntary

rather than mandatory. There are 19,000 households (No. of households)  participating

in Arcadia. The  program is available to multi-family residences (Multi-residences), but

the maximum number of units (No. of units) in the multi-family residences served is
    See Appendix B for a complete view of the Unit Pricing Database Worksheets.

   2In some instances,  the  exact date of unit pricing program implementation is
unknown. When Began is given in terms of the number of years of program operation,
use September  1992 as an approximate  point of reference.


not  known. Arcadia's program allows the  mixing of solid  waste and yard waste (Mix


       The  section Concurrent Programs includes data  referring to those programs

that are often operated in conjunction with a unit pricing program. Under the  first

heading, Collection services,  Curb-side and Drop-off ask whether the community  offers

curb-side  or drop-off recycling. Both are available in Arcadia,  as  well  as white or

oversized  waste (White/oversized) collection.  Special yard waste collection is not

provided by Arcadia.  Other collection services  the  community  may offer are  also

included in  this section.  Solid  Waste Service,  Yard Waste Service, Recycling Service refer

to the number of times per Period, weekly or monthly,  the related waste is collected.

Arcadia services both solid  waste  and recycling  once  weekly.  The  final portion of this

section asks if the community has  a charge  for recycling  (Re charge),  and if so, the

amount of the charge (Re fee) and  the period in which  the recycling charge applies

(Re  schedule). Arcadia does  not have a recycling  charge.

       The  section Pricing Structure details the financial organization of a

community's unit pricing program.  The  first portion of this section inquires as  to

whether the community has a Fixed Charge for waste collection services, and if so, the

amount of that charge (Fixed fee) and the  period for which the fixed charge applies

(Fixed schedule). Arcadia does not  have a fixed charge for  waste collection services.

However,  if the  community does have a fixed  charge, the  data next answers  whether

that fixed charge  covers any Base Service level. If so,  then what are the  base number

of containers  covered by the fixed  charge (Base no. containers), the volume of  those

containers (Base vol. containers), their unit volume (Base gal/lb), the type of containers

such as bag, can or cart (Base type containers), and finally,  what is the period in which

the fixed  charge for this base service applies (Base period)? The final segment of the

section presents incremental pricing information in table form. Arcadia's pricing

structure  has three increments for the  subscription can unit pricing program. In the

first, there is a Fee of $7.80 monthly (Period) for the first (To and From) 60 (Volume)

gallon  (Gal/Lb) can (Container) of solid  waste (SW/YW). In the second, the Fee is $  9.44

monthly (Period) for the first (To and From) 90 (Volume) gallon (Gal/Lb) can (Container)

of solid waste (SW/YW). And in the third incremental  pricing structure,  the Fee is

$2.27 monthly (Period) for each additional (To and From3)3) 90 (Volume) gallon (Gal/Lb)

can (Container) of solid waste (SW/YW).


       This section details how a user of the database can retrieve and sort

information to answer specific questions. Examples are given of cross-tabulations and

possible ways to organize the data.

          Instructions for Decompressing Data Files

       The enclosed disk is a high-density (1.2 MB) 5.25" floppy disk. The data files on  the
    3The number 99 in the From column represents a place holder, meaning that there
is  no constraint on additional numbers of  containers that a household may purchase.

disk are self-extracting compressed files in the following formats in Table 2:
                                  Table 2
File Type
ASCII (comma-delimited)
Lotus 1-2-3 (all releases)
Paradox 4.0
Compressed File
Data File Names
In order to decompress any or all of the data files, follow these steps:

1.  Insert the disk in the appropriate floppy disk drive (usually A or B).

2.  Make the floppy disk drive the default drive by entering the  command

                                A: (or B:) 

3. At the A:> prompt, enter [filename] [path] (substitute the appropriate file name and

   path without brackets). For example, suppose you want to decompress the

   delimited ASCII file to a directory  named "DATA" on your C: drive. Type

                           SW-ASC C: \ DATA 

4. At the A:> prompt, type "DIR" [path]. In our example you would enter

                             DIE C:\DATA 

   On the monitor you will see file information for the file SW.TXT and

   4There are a number of other files, including report and screen formats. While they
are not necessary for use of these two databases, they give the option of printing reports
without redesigning them.


5.  Since the data file names are unique, you can decompress all the files into the

   same directory without fear of overwriting any of the other data files in that

   directory (assuming, of course, that you have no other files by that name from

   previous decompressions).

6.  Remove the floppy disk and save it in the event you need to decompress any of

   the files in the future.

       General Program Characteristics

      Program Types

      All unit pricing programs represented in the database are variants of volume-

based systems.   Within this general category, it is useful to group the programs into

four  sub-categories:  simple bag/tag, fixed fee with no base service, fixed fee with

base service,  and subscription can (see Figure 1). Each of these sub-categories

presents households with a different price signal and thus, affects the incentive for

households to engage in source reduction practices, as well as other measures to

reduce the amount of trash they send to the  landfill.

   Of the 109 programs in the database, 48  are simple bag-tag programs. In this type

of program, the hauler collects a customer's  waste only if it is properly bagged or

tagged. Household service charges are collected as the proceeds from the sale of

official program bags or stickers (tags). Since it offers customers the most flexibility in

reducing solid waste fees through waste reduction, the simple bag tag program is the

purest form of unit-based pricing of the  four variants of volume-based programs

                                 Figure 1
              Classification of  Unit  Pricing  Programs

                                          Simple Bag/Tag   44.0%
FFNB  7.3%
  FFBS  11.0%
                                               Subscription Can  37.6%
                          FFNB=Fixed fee with no base service
                           FFBS=Fixed fee with base service

represented  in the database.

   Eight of the programs are fixed fee with no base service programs. These are

similar to the simple bag/tag programs with the exception of an additional periodic

fee for participation in the program.  The fixed fee ranges from $1.25 to

approximately $17 per month, averaging about $6.50 per month.5 The fixed fee, in

and of itself, will not inhibit household response to volume-based rates. However,

communities that assess a fixed fee in order to maintain lower volume-based rates are

likely to observe a lower aggregate reduction in the amount of waste sent to the

landfill.  At lower prices, the typical household is likely to purchase more solid

waste  disposal services.

       Twelve programs are fixed fee with base service programs,  another variant of

bag/tag pricing. In addition to the bag/tag charges and fixed fee, customers are

provided with some base level of service.  For these programs, the fixed fee ranges

from $2.08 to about $17 per  month, averaging $9.68 per month.  The base level of

service varies quite considerably. For example, sometimes the base level may be

quite small, two 32  gallon bags per month, or as large as six 32 gallon bags per week.

Provision of a base level of service dampens the price incentive mechanism, since

households are not rewarded for reducing their waste below the base service level.

Thus, the greater the base service level, the greater the dampening effect on the price

   5The fee may be charged on an annual, quarterly, or monthly basis. For  purposes
of comparison all fixed fees were converted to a monthly equivalent.


      Finally, 41 of the 109 programs are subscription can programs. In the

subscription can programs, households specify in advance, the level of service they

desire. For example, a household may request a service level of two 32 gallon

containers per week. Because households are not able to adjust this level

instantaneously, the price incentive is not as fully  transmitted as is the case  in the

bag/ tag programs.  For example, if customers subscribe to two cans of service per

week, but only generate one can of garbage, they still have to pay for the second can.

Because of this "lumpiness" problem, the subscription can variant of volume-based

pricing is less flexible than the bag/tag variant of unit pricing.

      Program Size and Age

      The average number of households served in the programs is 10,605. The

smallest program applies to 200 households and the largest  applies to 140,000

households.6 Figure 2 depicts the distribution of the size of the programs. Note that

over half (59 percent) fall in to the less than 5,000 households range. Over 96

percent, a total of 99 programs, serve less than 50,000 households while only four

programs  apply to more than 50,000 households. The data, then, supports the notion

that unit pricing programs have been adopted predominately by smaller


      The average age of the programs is nine years, the newest being about five
   6Six of the communities were unable to estimate program size and are excluded from
the tabulation.


                                             Figure 2
                                 Distribution of Program Size
70 -T
60 -
50 -
40  ~
30  -
20  -
10  -
 0  -1
Less than 5,000
                                                                       Ili 50,000-100,000
                                                                       CD Greater than 100,000

months old and the oldest program being almost 77 years old.7 In fact, two

California communities have programs over 50 years old; Richmond's program began

in 1916 and Berkeley's in 1924. Thus, while unit pricing has become increasingly

popular in recent years, the concept is not new. Table 3 lists the age structure of unit

pricing programs  in the database.
                                    Table 3
                Age Structure of Unit Pricing Programs in Database
 Program Type
Minimum   Maximum   Mean     Median
All Programs

 Simple Bag/Tag
5 months     77 years     9 years    8 years
10 months   22 years     4 years    3 years
 Fixed Fee Without Base Service     1 year
             13 years     4 years    5 years
 Fixed Fee With Base Service
 Subscription Can
11 months   23 years     8 years    2 years
5 months    77 years     17  years   5 years
      Of the four types of programs, the subscription can programs are, on average,

the oldest and largest with an average size of 20,036 households and average age of
   7Eight communities were unable to estimate program age and are excluded from
these  calculations.


 17 years. In contrast, the average sizes for the simple bag/tag, the fixed fee with no

base service, and the fixed fee with base service are 5,013, 7,002, and 2,436

households, respectively. The average ages for the simple bag/tag, the fixed fee with

no base service, and the fixed fee with base service are 4.4, 8.2, and 3.8 years. Figure

3 depicts a comparison of average age and average size across the program types.

      Elements of Community Solid Waste Programs

      Typically, communities implement other types of programs when they adopt

unit pricing. The data include information regarding whether the communities in the

database have four of the most common types of programs operated in conjunction

with unit pricing: curbside recycling, drop-off recycling, a yard waste program, and

an oversize goods program. Figure 4 shows the percentage of communities across all

programs and within each of the four types of programs that have adopted these

concurrent  programs.

      Across all programs, 84.4 percent have implemented curbside recycling. The

subscription can programs are most likely to have curbside recycling with 98.6

percent  of these programs in the database operating  a curbside  recycling program.

The fixed fee without  base service programs are least likely to have curbside

recycling; only 62.5 percent. On average, drop-off recycling programs are less popular

than curbside recycling. Roughly 44 percent of the programs in the database operate

drop-off recycling programs.

      Approximately 53 percent of the programs have implemented a special

                              Figure 3
A comparison of average age and average size across program types
18 -i
16 -
14 -

^ 19
^ 10 -
0) 8
 6 -
0 °

4 -

2 -
0 -




•~~~ — —


i i
subscription fixed fee
can with no


— • —

~~~~-- — _

1 age
~ size



— -w.



fixed fee
with base

- 25000

- 20000
- 15000 1
- 10000 0)

- 5000

- 0


   All Programs
 Simple Bag/Tag
Subscription Can
                                                Figure 4
                               Elements of  Unit Pricing  Programs
                                                          |HJ  Curbside Recycling

                                                          |  |  Drop-off Recycling

                                                          [__J  Yardwaste Program

                                                              Oversize Goods Program
 40            60
FFNB=Fixed fee with no base service
 FFBS=Fixed fee with base service

program for yard waste.  Again, the fixed fee without base service programs are most

likely to operate such a program with 62.5 percent collecting yard waste under a

special program. Subscription can programs are least likely to have a yard waste

program. Only 46.3 percent of the subscription can programs in the database run

such a program.

      An oversize goods program is the second most popular program with  80.7

percent of the communities collecting oversize goods under special conditions. All of

the fixed fee without base service programs in the database have  oversize goods

programs. The subscription can programs are least likely to have an oversize goods

programs, about 68 percent.

      The data also include information on various other aspects of the communities'

solid waste programs.  In the database, sixteen of the 109 communities have  extended

the concept of volume-based pricing to the yard waste component of the solid waste

stream. Further, eight of the communities charge a fee for participation in the

recycling program--the fee ranges from $.21 to $1.84 per month. Finally, in 32 of the

communities, household participation in the unit pricing programs is purely


       Pricing Structure

      The communities in the database have adopted a spectrum  of schemes for

volume-based pricing. The rates structure varies across the four types of programs;

the variation is especially distinct between the bag/tag variants of unit pricing and

the subscription can programs. There is also variation within program types.

Possible reasons for the variation within program types may be found in cost

differences of providing solid waste disposal services or perhaps in the number and

type of concurrent programs available.8

      At the simplest end of the spectrum,  the simple bag/tag  programs assign a

single price to a standard size container (e.g., bag or can). The standard container

size typically falls in the 30-33 gallon range. The standard size is 30 gallons in 19 of

the communities, 32 gallons in 13 of the communities, and 33 gallons in 13 of the

communities. In one case, Dillsburg, Pennsylvania, customers are given the option of

using a 20 or 30 gallon bag, the price being $1.00 and $1.25 per bag, respectively.

      On average, in the simple bag/tag programs, the price for a 30 gallon

container is $1.45, ranging from $.70 to $2.00. For a 32 gallon container the average is

$1.35 with $.75 the  minimum and $2.00 the  maximum price charged. Finally, the 33

gallon container price  ranges from $.50 to $1.83,  averaging $1.24.

      The fixed fee both with and without base service programs have  volume-based

pricing  structures quite similar to the  simple bag/tag programs. In the fixed fee

without base  service programs, the standard  size container falls between 30 and  33

gallons  in all cases.  Again, in  one instance,  in Bozeman, Montana,  customers are

offered the choice of a 20 gallon bag at  $.65 each or a 33 gallon bag at $.90 each. For

the fixed fee with base service programs, the most popular standard container size is
      8Analysis of the  reasons behind the variations is  beyond the scope  of this


 30 gallons, seven of twelve programs using this as the standard. The price for the 30

 gallon container ranges from $.75 to  $1.80,  averaging $1.36.

       The subscription can programs have adopted, by far, the widest range of

 pricing schemes. The schemes range from  the very simple, much like the bag/tag

 programs, to the very complex, with price varying across two or more dimensions.

 The first difference between the subscription can and bag/tag programs is that in the

 subscription can programs, the volume-based charges are assessed per unit of time.

 That is, customers are charged, say a monthly rate. This monthly rate is determined

 by the volume of service provided.

       Beyond the time aspect, some of the  subscription programs have rate

 structures quite similar to the bag/tag programs. In Fairfax, California, for example,

 households pay $15.10 per month for each  32 gallon can (collected weekly). This rate

 structure is  similar  to the bag/tag, rate structures in that it involves:  1) one standard

 container size  and 2) a rate that is charged uniformly across increments in service


       The rate structures in other subscription can programs are more complex. In

 some communities,  the households are assessed a rate which varies according to the

 increment in service level. For example, in  Hillsborough, California, households pay

 $11.95 per month for the first 32 gallon can of service (collected weekly). Households

 are assessed a rate  of $10.16 per month for  each additional can. In other

 communities, the rates vary according to container size. In Gladstone, Oregon,

households pay $13.55 per month for each 32 gallon can (collected weekly) and $10.16

per month for each 20 gallon can. Finally, some subscription programs apply rate

structures which vary both according to the increment in service level and container
      Unit pricing systems of municipal solid waste charge households by the

volume or amount of waste disposed; thus, in unit pricing systems, disposal practices

favor  greater incentive to reduce waste.  This  document recounts  the Environmental

Protection Agency's Unit Pricing Database, a collection of information from 109

communities with unit pricing systems of managing waste. The database describes

three sections of each communities unit pricing program: General program

characteristics, Elements of community solid waste  programs,  and Pricing  structure.

Each of the three sections are outlined in detail, as well as possible methods for

retrieving and organizing the data to answer specific questions. The  database  is

available on diskette in  ASCII, Lotus  1-2-3, and Paradox 4.0.