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Pay as you throw an overview

By Trash Talk on Aug 20, 08 10:00 AM

As fuel prices rise and local authorities find it harder to recover more recycling, the idea of pay-as-you-throw has surfaced again.

The UK Government has been looking for a handful of local authorities to test out the pay-as-you-throw (or to put it another way recycle-and-save) idea but so far none have come forward.

Let's quickly squash one often quoted point: waste collection is not free; it is wrapped up in the council tax. The people that are recycling more and reducing their waste weight are subsidising the households that throw everything away. The problem is that the household that is throwing more away may be doing it not out of convenience but out of necessity - for example: they have a young family or extended family living in the house or they may not have recycling services open to them.

The debate is similar to the water rates debate. Everyone pays one rate for water, even though the single man living alone will use much less than the family of four living opposite. The single man benefits in the future because when he end up with a family he is not paying for his actual usage. In a sense he never pays for his actual usage.

It all sounds like a particularly bad romantic comedy: boy meets girl and decide to fall in love because it make economic water usage sense (if anyone from Northumbria Water is reading this I had the idea first). Of course more and more people are moving to payment-by-use for water - either through choice or through water company policy. Where you sit on this issue may determine how you view pay-per-throw. Waste collection (like water) is also a hygiene issue so someone who could not pay would have to be protected for the good of the neighbourhood.

If the portion of the council tax going to waste services was shown, a householder that reduces their waste weight would see this part of the council tax reduce. The council wins because they pay less in landfill costs.
The householder has a direct incentive to reduce waste and recycle more. However, it also gives the more unscrupulous an incentive to fly-tip or dump their rubbish into someone else's bin.

It also gives the local authority a cost in setting up the scheme and some decisions to make about how to run it: transmitters on bins, locking waste containers, computer databases, etc. The cost of implementing such a scheme cannot be ignored and it may prove too complex to work, which happened to South Norfolk District Council. Although South Norfolk should be congratulated on having the courage to test the idea out - it is only through trials like their's that the debate can move forward.

The debate we are having here is also happening in the States I thought I would share with you this recent article in The Wall Street Journal featuring a debate about pay-as-you-throw in Plymouth Massachusetts.

As with so much in the waste arena the issues are not as straight forward as they first appear but the idea of pay-as-you-throw looks set to rumble on, what do you think?

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