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Garbage Collection

By Sarah Royster and Mary Sketch

The Environmental Finance Center analyzes annual data from multiple sources, including the NC Division of Environmental Assistance and the NC Division of Waste Management, on solid waste fees from North Carolina counties and municipalities. Using surveys from various government commissions on solid waste charges per household or resident, this data was combined with annual census data to reveal several interesting trends.

Solid waste fees encompass a variety of charges, including solid waste, recycling, yard waste, bulk waste, and availability fees.  While many counties and municipalities utilize fees to help pay for these services, of the 663 counties and municipalities surveyed, only 52 counties and 248 municipalities listed any fees at all.  The remaining counties and municipalities rely on taxes to fund solid waste management (or they have fees, but did not report them accurately). Additionally, for those regions utilizing a solid waste fee, many residents can opt out of portions of this fee.  Thus the total fees listed may more accurately reflect the maximum total fees a household could be charged, as residents may not use bulky waste and yard waste removal services.

For those counties and municipalities reporting fees, solid waste fees were analyzed and compared with the median household income (MHI) of residents in the surrounding region.  This comparison gives an idea of the relative impact that these fees can have on residents and can illustrate the affordability of solid waste fees. The percentage of MHI going to solid waste fees in North Carolina ranges from 0% of MHI to 1.95% of MHI. Overall, the municipalities listed higher fees compared to median household income than did counties. The figures below compare the distribution of percent median household income for municipality fees with that of county fees.  Over fifty percent of municipality fees from 2011 to 2013 account for more than 0.4% of median household income, compared with less than twenty-five percent for counties.

Solid Waste Fees as Percentage of Median Household Income

 Solid Waste Median Income County Fees

Solid waste fees are ultimately used in lieu of taxpayer dollars to fund solid waste management programs and can contribute substantially to county and municipality revenues and expenses.  The per capita revenues and expenses (based on 2011 population data) ranged from $0.20/capita to $199.40/capita for counties. Higher municipality and county revenues were typically in line with higher expenditures for solid waste management. The three counties with the highest revenue from solid waste fees (Columbus, Currituck, and Halifax Counties) also reported the highest expenses for solid waste management.

Many NC counties and municipalities have enterprise funds for solid waste management.  This allows solid waste to be treated as a semi-autonomous business unit with separate funds and accounting practices.  Of the survey respondents, 65 counties and 70 municipalities reported having an enterprise fund. The use of enterprise funds tends to lead local governments to rely more heavily on user fees, rather than taxes for solid waste services; however, 17 of 135 respondents having an enterprise fund for their solid waste services, reported no fees for these services.  These trends among NC counties and municipalities highlight some of the 2012 and 2013 solid waste data, with more analyses to come. Understanding these trends can lead to better practices and improved solid waste management in North Carolina.

To learn more about the Environmental Finance Center’s work around solid waste management, see the following pages:

Sarah Royster is a graduate student with the UNC School of Public Health pursuing a Master’s Degree in Environmental Engineering.  She works as a Research Assistant with the Environmental Finance Center. Mary Sketch is a junior at Brown University concentrating in Environmental Studies with a focus in Law and Policy. Mary worked with the EFC as a research assistant.