Both Whirlpool and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took the cost-saving potential of the home trash compactor seriously. In 1971 the EPA commissioned a study in Atlanta where 400 households were given subsidized access to compactors (bought by the City on consignment from Whirlpool).
Like many cities, Atlanta was then spending one out of every ten tax dollars was spent on solid waste management. Of that, 80 percent of total waste management costs funded the collection of waste alone. Although compacted trash would increase weight and decrease gas efficiency for collection trucks, it also meant fewer total trips, more houses serviced on each route, and less frequent pick-ups. The report concluded that, “$1,094,340 savings [is] possible each year by converting from backdoor collection of non-compacted refuse two times a week to curbside collection of compacted refuse one time a week.” After initial purchase and installation, an additional $245,088 could be saved per year, they asserted. Furthermore, there could be savings in disposal; “landfill density reveals that 50 percent more compacted refuse could be placed in a landfill cell than non-compacted refuse,” delaying the costs of new landfill development.
To some degree, the investment made financial sense for consumers too–if they lived in a municipality that charged for garbage on a “Pay as You Throw” system. The first U.S system of variable pay rates started in 1932 in San Francisco, but neither Atlanta nor the majority of cities in the United States at the time of the EPA study used or were considering such a system. In fact, pay-as-you-throw did not become common until the 1990s, when legislators were in a real crunch for landfill space. At this time, there was renewed buzz about trash compactors saving money for consumers; “Per bag fees may serve to renew interest in the trash compactor, sales of which have been declining for some years, ” one Consumer Report article speculated in February 1994.
However, by 2012, over 60,000 American cities had variable pricing systems, but it seems to have had no significant impact on trash compactor sales. Perhaps this is because there was a free alternative, pioneered in the NorthWest, nick-named the “Seattle Stomp” . If out-of-pocket bag fees failed to motivate compactor purchases, it should not be surprising that reducing city taxes through compaction, as in the Atlanta case study, proved too abstract a motivation to promote wide-spread sales.
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