Collection Policies


Pay-As-You-Throw (PAYT), also referred as trash metering, unit pricing, variable rate pricing or user pay, is a collection policy whereby households pay for service on the basis of the volume of waste set out for each collection. PAYT is considered one of the most effective policies for maximizing diversion of single family waste as it communicates a clear message to householders that more waste equals more direct expense. Under PAYT, waste collection operates similar to a household utility charged to the user. That message encourages personal budget responsibility through recycling and other diversion activities which ultimately result in reduced waste going to landfill. One of the limitations of PAYT is the ability of residents to buy their way out of participating in diversion, hence the need to couple PAYT with clear bags, set out limits, ban collection of garbage with recyclables present, etc.

Although PAYT is more costly and complex to administer than a strict bag limit policy, it does provide the opportunity for residents to manage their own volume/cost of waste at the curb. For example, after a large family gathering or house party, a resident will have excess waste to set out.  A strict bag limit is annoying to the resident but the flexibility to pay extra to set out a few more bags is seen as much more convenient than being “forced” to make a special trip to a depot. Many communities adopt a policy of 1 bag free, plus up to 2 more paid each week, to provide some curbside flexibility without the need for the resident to obtain an official exemption.

PAYT can be implemented in BIAs as well. Some communities, such as Sudbury, Ottawa and Toronto require businesses to purchase authorized waste bags.

There is no standardized approach to the design and implementation of a PAYT policy. The level of education and promotional needs, fee structure, level of recycling and leaf/yard waste curbside collection services vary among the communities. Always conduct set out studies and understand the needs of your own community prior to adopting new policies.

Partial or Full PAYT

Pay-as-you-Throw (PAYT) may be introduced as a partial PAYT or a full PAYT program. Full PAYT programs achieve higher waste diversion rates than Partial PAYT programs since homeowners required to pay for each bag of waste set out tend to try and reduce their costs over time. According to the 2014 Datacall, almost half (43%) of all Ontario households (excluding Toronto) must comply with partial or full PAYT programs. Of these, most households (34%) are part of a partial PAYT program, with the remaining (9%) under a full PAYT program.

Factors in making this choice are:

  • Characteristics of the community
  • Residents willingness to accept a full PAY. Notably, residents tend to believe that they already pay for waste service in the mill rate so there’s a perception of a double tax unless you offer a rebate. To address this complaint, advance P&E is required showing the underlying accounting to explain that even in full PAYT systems the tag doesn’t typically cover the full service cost except in multi-residential situations.
  • Council support
  • Average number of waste bags placed out for collection, based on set out monitoring.
  • Existing waste alternatives such as strict bag limits, landfill bans, recycling, composting, yard waste and/or food waste diversion policies that permit residents to avoid waste placed at the curb. The fewer the existing alternative waste diversion services, the less likely a full PAYT policy will be well received by residents.
  • The level of interest/demand by residents to reduce waste landfilled, community environmental activism and their willingness to pay for each bag of waste set out for collection.
  • External factors, such as a limited remaining landfill space or a new waste management contract with higher disposal costs.

Most municipalities initially implement a partial PAYT policy. A transition to full PAYT can be adopted at some future date if required/desired. Over a number of years, the municipality may gradually reduce bag limits for free collection. This approach helps residents change their diversion behavior over time and ease into a full PAYT program.

Partial PAYT

Under a partial PAYT system, a designated number of bags/containers are permitted without requiring advance payment. Any additional bags/containers must be tagged with a prepaid marker (i.e. by purchasing a tag and sticking it on each additional bag of waste). Based on the 2014 Datacall, there are 73 municipalities with partial PAYT representing 30% of Ontario municipalities, including:

Communities with partial PAYT programs:

  • Niagara Region – 1 bag free
  • Simcoe County – 1 bag free
  • Dufferin County – 1 bag free
  • Town of Georgina – 1 bag free
  • Town of New Tecumseth – 1 bag free
  • City of Barrie – 2 bag (bi-weekly = 1 bag weekly free)
  • Halton Region – 3 bag (bi-weekly – 1.5 bags weekly free)
  • City of Kawartha Lakes – 2 bags free
  • Town of Blind River – 2 bags free
  • Chippewas of Georgina Island FN – 2 bags free
  • Waterloo Region – 4 bag PAYT (bi-weekly = 2 bags weekly free)


Under a full PAYT program, all waste must be paid for in advance and tagged at the curb. Based on the 2014 Datacall, there are 48 municipalities (excluding Toronto) with full PAYT, representing 20% of Ontario municipalities, including:

Communities with full PAYT programs:

  • Oxford County
  • Wellington County
  • Quinte Waste Solutions
  • Bruce Area Solid Waste Recycling
  • Northumberland County

Alternative Approach to Full PAYT

The City of Toronto and some municipalities in the Bluewater Recycling Association (BRA) have a full PAYT program but instead of using bags or tags, residents pay according to the volume they set out via subscription fees for different sized carts. This approach is commonly referred to as a Variable Rate Cart Program.

Bags or Tags

The two alternatives commonly used by municipalities involve prepaid tags or bags.


A tag policy involves the use of official tags distributed through local retail outlets and/or municipal administration buildings or directly delivered to the householder. The majority of PAYT municipalities use tags including Waterloo Region, Town of Georgina, City of Barrie, City of Dryden, and Simcoe County.


  • Cheaper to purchase and distribute
  • Take up less space in retail distribution outlets
  • Allows greater flexibility for use by residents
  • Easier to change style if needed


  • Easier to counterfeit, relocate and misuse
  • Harder for collection crews to see

In general, printing costs are lower for municipalities selling tags in sheets rather than individually. Sheet printing costs/tag can be almost half those for individual tags. The average sheet cost/tag for the sample of communities contacted was $0.027 and for those selling the tags individually, average printing costs were $0.053. In all cases, economies of scale factor into the printing costs. Selling tags in large sheets can generate complaints that the municipality is forcing residents to sink cash into unwanted tags.


Use of officially marked or custom coloured bags available at local retail outlets or distributed to the householder by the municipality. Municipalities using official bags include Wellington County, Town of Prescott, Municipality of South Dundas, Edwardsburgh Cardinal Township, and Stone Mills Township.


  • Easier to offer different size bags and variable pricing
  • More visible to collection crews
  • Harder for residents to abuse or counterfeit.


  • Costlier to buy and ship
  • Takes up more storage space at distribution outlets and home

Printing costs for tags are considerably cheaper than costs to buy specially marked bags. Specialty bags must be customized to the municipality’s specifications and manufacturers must schedule specific custom production runs. Delivery, handling and storage costs are also considerably higher for bags due to their increased volume and weight vs. tags.


Below are some things to consider for the design of the tags or bags. Some municipalities choose to keep the design simple, with only the municipal name or logo. Other municipalities show price, expiry dates, instructions on how/where to display tags, etc.

Vibrant colours. Municipalities often choose bags or tags that are vibrant colours, (e.g. fluorescent green, pink, yellow and orange) for easier recognition by collection crews and to prevent counterfeiting.

Serial numbers. Some municipalities print serial numbers on tags, but this option is becoming less popular as most acknowledge that they don’t track tag distribution using the serial numbers and adding the sequential numbers to tags increases the initial price. Serial numbers are thought to reduce counterfeiting, however, since a single tag is typically used at each household, it is very difficult and slow for the collection contractor to check and confirm the validity of a serial number at the curb.

Simcoe County worked with nearby municipalities to ensure that the tags were different colours between jurisdictions and easily recognized within the jurisdictions.

Price. Some communities (Durham Region, Simcoe County, City of Barrie, City of Orillia, Oxford County, Town of Meaford) do not print prices on tags to avoid reordering if the price changes. Some communities change the colour of the tag with a change in price and allow a grace period for residents to use older tags or permit trading in older tags for credit. Other communities do print prices on tags, (Halton Region, Thunder Bay, Richmond Hill and Niagara Region), which helps ensure that vendors cannot sell the tags at a higher cost since residents can see the price on the tag at point of sale.

Expiry date. Most communities do not print expiry dates on tags due to the administrative cost and tracking challenge of monitoring and replacing expired tags. This means that residents have unrestricted use of the tags.

Different sizes. Some communities offer different types of bags/tags to enable variable pricing. Both Wellington County and the Town of Prescott offer small and large bags that residents can buy. Stratford has adapted the tag system to enable residents to set out different sizes from a small grocery bag to a 360 litre cart.

  • Standard waste bag requires 1 tag at $2.50/tag
  • Grocery bag requires half a tag split lengthwise ($1.25/tag)
  • Cart – 120 litre requires 1 tag
  • Cart – 240 litre requires 2 tags
  • Cart – 360 litre requires 3 tags

Both Edwardsburgh Cardinal Township and Stone Mill Township require residents to purchase special clear bags printed with the Township logo. This enables collection crews to monitor the recyclable contents in the bags and reject those bags containing excessive amounts of recyclables.


Counterfeiting bags is more challenging than counterfeiting tags. That said, many communities report that counterfeiting of tags is not a serious problem. Taking a zero tolerance approach to counterfeit or other misuse of tags (e.g. tags being torn in half or cut from neighbouring bags) will help to reduce problems over time. Collection crews must look for counterfeit or torn tags, take pictures and record the address of the resident and/or leave the bag. Municipal staff can follow up with a letter or visit to deal with a recurring problem. Printing companies will often have multiple solutions to combat counterfeiting through print or ink techniques or specialty paper stock.

Selling Price

Most tag/bag prices do not cover the full cost of providing waste collection and disposal service. Tag/bag prices tend to range from $1 to $3 per unit. The decision to set the price level depends on:

  • The need to drive down landfilled waste and/or increase waste diversion rates.
  • Willingness of the community and/or Council to support the price.
  • Support for issuing exemption/free tags each year.
  • The need to cover waste management costs or reduce local property tax burden.

Most communities start with a lower price and gradually increase it over time if diversion rates plateau below desired targets or waste management costs increase significantly.

Avoid overestimating residents’ actual waste set out needs and underestimating their ability to switch to alternative waste diversion services in order to reduce their use of purchased tags. Failure to do so can result in revenue shortfalls during the early phases of PAYT due to overestimation of tag revenues.

With the onset of a bag limits and PAYT policies, there may be a temporary spike in tags purchased until residents realize that they can meet the new restrictions by participating in existing local alternative waste diversion programs. Behaviour change takes time to become ingrained and over time the number of tags purchased by residents tends to decline or stabilizes.

Sheets or individual tags

Tags can be retailed in sheets, individually or in combination. The advantages and disadvantages are discussed in the table below.

Individual Tags Sheets of Tags
  • Greater flexibility to choose how many tags a resident stocks.
  • More efficient to print, handle and distribute.
  • Instructions can be provided on sheet back.


  • Costs more to print, handle and purchase.
  • More challenging for retailers to store and sell.
  • Reduced ability to print instructions and P&E on the back.
  • May be seen as a money grab by residents.
  • Does not permit residents with low waste volumes or low incomes to purchase as needed.
Communities Niagara Region, City of Barrie Halton Region, Region of Peel and Simcoe County

Durham Region sells tags individually and in sheets. The Region allows vendors to cut the tags from sheets if a resident wants just one or two. This approach provides the greatest flexibility to residents and saves the Region the additional costs of printing individual tags.

Sample Halton tag sheets, front and back.

Selling through Outlets

Most communities distribute tags/bags to outlets to be resold to residents. Typically, the outlets will be centrally located to a majority of residents and visited frequently. Making access to tags/bags as convenient as possible for residents is critical, especially in communities with full PAYT policies. Common outlets used by municipalities include:

  • Grocery stores
  • Convenience stores
  • Pharmacies
  • Hardware stores
  • Gas stations
  • Libraries
  • Town halls/municipal offices
  • Waste management facilities (e.g. landfill, transfer stations)

Examples of locations used by municipalities:

  • Wellington County (full PAYT) sells bags through 61 outlets including grocery stores, pharmacies and municipal offices in all the towns
  • City of Barrie (partial 1 bag PAYT) sells tags through 23 outlets including grocery stores, convenience store, hardware stores and community centers
  • Owen Sound (full PAYT) sells tags through 11 outlets including City Hall & Public Works offices, library, grocery stores and two convenience stores
  • Richmond Hill (partial 1.5 bag PAYT) sells tags though 16 locations including arenas, libraries, municipal offices and communication centers

Ordering Tags On-Line

Halton and Peel Region allow residents to order tags on-line or by phone, which provides added convenience and enhanced customer service. On-line tag sales account for 12% and 13% respectively of total tag sales. All tags are mailed or couriered to the resident.

Many waste management departments enlist their finance department to assume responsibility for the distribution of the tags and invoicing vendors. Tags are typically couriered to the individual vendors, with invoices issued or direct payment required. Simcoe County advises to make sure that there are lots of outlets and lots of stock available to sell to those outlets. It helps to have an idea how many tags the outlets should sell initially, especially since there will be more tags sold during run-up to launch of the policy. Work closely with vendors initially until demand for tags/bags stabilizes. Outlets running out of tags is a sure way to create lots of complaints from residents.

Compensation for Retailers

Municipalities often financially compensate retailers by allowing them to keep some of the sale price of the tag/bag. Retailers also benefit from the additional traffic and sales of other products.

Some compensation examples include:

  • $0.20/tag – Niagara Region, Region of Peel, Simcoe County
  • $0.25/tag – Halton Region
  • City of Barrie, at launch of the policy, retailers were not compensated financially but their company names were identified in the waste calendar and they were provided with a sign to put in their window. The City continues the practice but also identifies the retailers on the City’s website
  • Wellington County sells bags at waste facilities, some municipal offices and a number of retailers. Retailers must sign a vendor agreement, (sample copy), and receive a 5% administration fee. Bags are delivered to retailers and municipal facilities using County staff. They are sold to retailers in cases, (20 packages/case)

Distribution Directly to Residents

Some communities choose to provide some free tags/bags to residents at the beginning of each year, especially during the first years of PAYT, which is thought to ease residents into using the tags and reduce concerns about the cost of the policy. This approach allows residents to save tags for the future and use them when deemed necessary. Municipalities may directly distribute tags by inclusion with;

  • utility bills
  • tax notices
  • waste management calendars
  • direct mail
  • community service organizations, e.g. scouts, guides, charitable canvassers
Promotion and Education

Residents and waste management staff need ample time to prepare for the PAYT launch. Begin messages at least 3 months prior to implementation, followed by regular promotional information several months prior to and after the launch. Tags/bags need to be available long before the transition date to prevent shopper shortages and the resultant complaints to Council.

Public education programs play a critical role during the early stages of PAYT.  Focus on a widespread, consistent, recurring combination of printed materials, advertisements, social media, municipal web pages and hotlines, typically including:

  • Annual waste guides and calendars,
  • Waste diversion newsletters,
  • Radio public service announcements and/or paid advertisements,
  • Brochures,
  • Newspaper articles,
  • Social media (Facebook, twitter, emails) and
  • TV public service announcement spots.

Develop a communication strategy that is flexible, consistent and accommodates several communication methods and media sources to ensure reaching different age groups. Messages can include reasons for introducing PAYT like financial, extending landfill life, waste diversion goals, etc. Residents also need to be educated on available alternative waste diversion services provided by the municipality.

Depending on the age group, the following communication methods are identified as better practices:

  • Seniors (age 75+) – prefer traditional sources of information including direct mail, brochures, newsletters, newspapers
  • Baby Boomers (age 55 to 74) – “time starved” boomers prefer short and to-the-point communications, including direct print and emails
  • Generation “X” (age 40 to 54) – preferences are similar to baby boomers, but they make more use of technology. Gen Xers prefer more communication by email and online
  • Millennials/Gen Y (age 20 to 35) – place great value in technology and prefer text messaging to emails and phone calls

Read more: “Talking about Generations”

Grace Periods

Communities often allow a grace period (soft start) for residents to adjust to the new PAYT policy by notifying residents of a problem for the first several collection days and eventually leaving the waste behind. An “oops” sticker should be attached to the bag left behind explaining why.

Providing Courtesy Tags at Policy Launch

Providing some courtesy tags to residents at the launch of the PAYT policy helps them transition into full compliance.  The number of courtesy tags can range from 2 to 10, depending on the community.

  • Niagara Region provided 2 free tags.
  • Region of Peel provided 12 free tags.
  • Durham Region provided 10 free tags.
  • Halton Region provided 30 free tags, with an expiry date.

Most communities do not have an expiry date on free tags. The City of Barrie chose not to issue courtesy tags but introduced the first month as a grace period in which collection crews would collect the untagged bag and leave a notice behind explaining the policy.

Explaining How to Use Tags

Reduce problems for staff and residents by making sure that residents understand how to use the tags properly prior to launch. Simple instructions can be added to the back of the tags, written into notices, public service announcements, newsletters and added to the waste management web pages.

The City of Stratford, on its waste collection webpage, asks residents to:

  • Wrap the tag around the neck of a bag or the handle of a can. Tags will be thrown out with the bag or torn off the handle of a can each time it is set out.
  • Stick the tag to itself; do not stick it flat on the surface of the bag.
  • The tag is not a twist tie, so do not try to tie your bag with it.

If residents use a waste can or cart, ask them to affix the tags on the top bag of waste in the can or cart. Collection crews need to immediately see the tag upon lifting the lid and tossing the tag with the bag saves crews time and litter by not having to rip tags off container handles.


Municipalities can help residents transition to a PAYT policy and assist residents with special needs by introducing amnesty days and/or special exemptions for families with infants and medical waste.

Amnesty and Double-up Days

Some communities permit residents to set out additional amounts of waste without requiring tags on a designated “amnesty day” or permit a “double-up day” on the next collection following a holiday.

Halton Region: First collection following Christmas – all 6 bags without tags (instead of regular 3 tagged)

City of Kingston: First collections following New Year’s Day, Victoria Day, and Labour Day -2 untagged bags

Simcoe County: First collections following, Victoria Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas -1 untagged bag

Niagara Region: First collection following Christmas – 1 additional untagged bag


Municipalities may choose to help families with infants in diapers by issuing free tags or other exemptions. The number of tags issued depends on the municipality but typically range from 40 to 52 per year, allowing residents to set out an additional bag of waste/wk. equivalent.

While most municipalities require families to complete applications, some (e.g. Niagara Region, Orillia and Kingston) have simplified the process by allowing families to place 1-2 clear bags containing only diapers at the curb for collection without requiring tags. Crews are given a list of households permitted to set out the diapers in clear bags.


  • Halton Region provides up to 40 diaper tags for use that are transferable year to year. Residents must place diapers in clear bags with a diaper tag. The total number of bags set out for collection including diaper bags cannot exceed the bi-weekly 6 bag limit.
  • Halton Region also allows residents to bring their diapers free of charge to either the Regional landfill or one of two transfer stations.
  • Dufferin County provides 24 tags for a period of 6 months. Residents must reapply every 6 months.

Many municipalities require the household to agree to participate in alternative waste diversion programs offered by the municipality as a condition of receiving the exemption.

A typical infant requires about 8,000 diaper changes from birth until toilet training is completed! If you use disposable diapers, that’s about 4 tonnes of waste per infant.

Medical Waste

Municipalities may choose to help families with medical conditions by issuing free tags or other exemptions. The number of tags issued depends on the municipality but typically range from 40 to 52 per year, allowing residents to set out an additional bag of waste/wk. equivalent. Most municipalities require residents to complete an application.


  • Niagara, households and/or group homes and homes for adults with disabilities, will receive 52 free waste tags annually and additional tags will be made available on a case by case basis, subject to an annual application process and doctor’s signature every 3 years.
  • Kingston, issues 52 tags permitting the resident to place 1 extra bag per week. The resident must complete an application, subject to renewal, and provide a note from a medical practitioner stating that the bag limit would be exceeded without the exemption (actual medical condition does not need to be disclosed).
  • Barrie, residents are couriered 26 tags at the beginning of each year or pro-rated depending on the time. This permits 1 additional bag set out every other week.
  • Hamilton, permits 1 bag to be set out weekly but does not permit tags to be purchased; however, after problems encountered with illegal dumping and public backlash, the City started to provide all households with 12 free tags annually. Special cases (e.g. medical and families with infants) can receive an additional 14 tags after filling out an application. Other householders can also request additional tags by completing an application and will receive 14 additional tags above the 12 distributed (only 4% of households request the additional tags). They must apply each year.

Many municipalities require the household to agree to participate in existing alternative waste diversion programs offered by the municipality as a condition of receiving the exemption.


Enforcement is a necessary component of any successful PAYT policy, especially during the early stages of implementation. Enforcement procedures ensure the PAYT system operates smoothly, fairly and cost effectively.

Residents need to be made aware that illegal dumping or misuse of tags will not be tolerated. Enforcement procedures and fines should be introduced into local waste management bylaws and considered a last resort after promotion and education. The better informed residents are about the policy and the benefits to the community, the less need for enforcement.

Enforcement of illegal dumping requires immediate action with the waste collected and sorted to find the owner. Once identified, the municipality should have procedures in place to deal with the infraction.

Examples of enforcement approaches include:

  • Fining the offender for the cost of collecting and disposing of the illegal dumping.
  • Shaming the offender by placing a name in the local newspaper or municipal website.
  • Delivering the waste back to the offender with a letter/note of warning that should the incident happen again, more serious action will be taken.

Enforcement is also required at the collection point to deal with improper participation. Most often a municipality will work with the collection contractor who will be informed not to collect untagged or mis-tagged waste placed at the curb.

Photo credit: The Peterborough Examiner