It’s a ‘no’ to Pay-as-you-throw

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Courtesy of Axion Group

Axion Director Keith Freegard, recently spoke to Local Authority Waste and Recycling arguing against a Pay-as you-Throw scheme suggesting an element of ‘punishment’ could be counter-productive in increasing recycling rates.

In my view, the Pay-as-You-Throw principle would not be a good idea because it is another example of trying to use a ‘stick’ to punish people for their waste outputs. It also presents some difficult challenges, particularly if based upon weighing the household output tonnage.

How could this possibly work?  By some clever bin-weighing system I guess? Surely the ‘worst offenders’ would simply put their waste in the wrong bin, like their neighbour’s bin or deposit it in a convenient lay-by.

While we’re all used to paying for services, such as electricity and metered water, based on what we use, there’s likely to be a percentage of society who will react really badly when told they’re going to be charged for their waste. That’s just human nature! There would be a real risk of such a scheme leading to greater fly-tipping. After all, each individual household has physical control over the flow of their waste leaving the home and they have to decide into which ‘outgoing’ container they should place the waste materials, unlike water, gas and electricity, where the supplied ‘service’ is trapped and metered inside pipes and cables.

As a form of ‘Big Stick’ legislation, Pay-as-You-Throw would punish people’s bad behaviour rather than rewarding good behaviour. A much better alternative would be to give people positive rewards that actually ‘pull through’ and create a positive driver to encourage them to act in the ‘correct manner’.

You could argue that if PAYT was done by weighing the residual bin and off-setting that against people’s recyclable bin (if they had a two-bin system), then you might argue that the good recyclers would do quite well, on a percentage of waste recycled basis (plus in element of overall waste reduction)

But the problem you’ve got is that the section of modern society who say: ‘I can’t be bothered with anything’, would simply put all their rubbish in the recycling bin, which would be heavy (but full of very poor quality material) and the residual bin would be light.

So I don’t think a system where you weighed the residual and charged for that, and subtracted the recycling bin weight could work. Most people would just fill their recycling bin with all the rubbish that they should have put in the other bin.

A far better solution would be to have a ‘Reward as You Reduce or Recycle’ system where people and organisations (SMEs in particular) are rewarded for following best-practice and displaying ‘good or desirable’ behaviours in terms of how they approach waste.

Some ideas to consider would be:

  • Measuring the combined collected recyclables from a small local area, by a few collection routes perhaps, and giving council tax rebates for those areas that consistently achieve high levels of good quality recycles.
  • Rewarding areas or regions that can get their residual MSW tonnages to go DOWN.
  • Installing ‘Clever Bins’ that give signals or messages when people use them. For example – ‘Thank you for your drinks can, I will recycle it for you’; or ‘All recyclable items deposited in this bin will help contribute to a charity donation’ and name a charity.
  • Shared industrial waste bin in small factory units – with efforts being made to sort and recycle the waste materials and reduce residual waste tonnages. PAYT concept is fundamentally flawed, not least because, rather sadly, a growing section of society only seems to be interested in what’s good for them and making their own life easy. If asked to pay for their waste, they will find a way of unloading their responsibility onto the rest of society, either illegally or through not adhering to the system they’re supposed to follow.

So I can’t think of an individual pay for waste system that doesn’t result in some sort of extra incentive for malpractice by society’s ‘wasters’.

Hence, one suggestion would be a street or area-based reward system that rewards a region or an area if it has achieved overall reduction in waste tonnage per inhabitant.

Or, if an area or a region showed itself to be particularly good at extracting a very high level of very high-quality recyclables, all correctly segregated in the system of the council’s choosing, then with the modern monitoring and recording systems at MRF sites, you ought to be able to start providing a much more targeted and focused reward to those people living in those areas.

So, as a ‘thank you’, why not offer a £25-£50 per household rebate for their efforts, recognising the value of all those carefully-segregated tins, plastic bottles, paper and glass. Encouragement, not punishment, is the solution!

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