Pay as you throw – will it increase recycling and reduce landfill waste?

Filed in Blog by on May 27, 2009 12 Comments
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Mrs Green and Stuart Linnell talk rubbish on Radio Northampton

Mrs Green and Stuart Linnell talk rubbish on Radio Northampton

Back in March 2007 the Housing Minister Yvette Cooper announced that the Government would consider plans for eco-towns put forward by local authorities.

We are yet to see an ‘eco town’ being built, although 15 potential locations are being assessed for suitability across the UK.

In the Daily Express yesterday, was a  story about a proposed ‘Pay as you Throw‘ scheme.  The story began “Struggling home owners may soon be forced to pay to have their bins emptied – on top of soaring council tax bills …”

This idea has been in the news headlines before and is put forward as a way of encouraging householders to recycle more and reduce landfill waste.

As you can imagine, it causes quite an uproar whenever pay-as-you-throw is mentioned with threats of increased fly tipping, increased vermin from fortnightly collections, draconian measures and general frustration over increased taxes.

The proposed charges in this particular story – which could be as much as £120 a year for each property – are being considered for planned environmentally friendly eco-towns.

People opposed to the idea fear that if a pay as you throw scheme is successful in eco towns, it will be  rolled out across the rest of the country.

Stuart Linnell, covered the story on Radio Northampton yesterday afternoon. He spent an hour talking to people asking for their views on the story and I was asked to share my thoughts. He asked whether a bin tax would encourage you to recycle more or whether it was an imposition, given that you already pay council tax?

It was a great programme with a wide range of opinions being aired. Stuart was a great host, and what I liked about him was the amount of time he gave to each caller. He seemed genuinely interested to hear what we had to say and gave thoughtful and provoking questions.

Click on the link below to hear my ten minutes interview or listen in to the complete programme (fast forward to 2 hours into the programme to hear the myzerowaste interview, if the link below doesn’t work for you). You might remember that the Pay and you Throw scheme was discussed by me and Bob Walmsley last November.

Click the player below to listen to Mrs Green talking to Stuart Linnell

What are your views? Are you for or against a pay as you throw scheme across the UK?

About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (12)

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  1. John Costigane says:

    Hi Mrs Green,

    I enjoyed your replies on the broadcast. The Zero Waste lifestyle was fully explained for others to try, irrespective of the imposition of Pay-as–you-throw.

    This idea will have no impact on Zero Wasters since we are way ahead of this development. The vast majority will face an extra tax burden which will be very unpopular, hence the delay in implementation.

    My dislike for the system is that householders will bear the burden which should be carried by producers, supermarkets, councils and government. They are all passing the buck on to us. My approach to Zero Waste is to put the pressure on them, where it rightfully belongs.

  2. Layla says:

    Great discussion & contribution, Mrs G.!! 🙂

    I’m glad these things are being discussed over there…

    In Slovenia, the best council (50% landfill diversion) has it like this: people get bin space per person (20 or 30 liters per person) & if they put valuable (recyclable) materials in, they are first warned: ‘Hey look, you put valuable materials here’ then if they still have the same things in there next week, they get a warning in writing & have to pay a penalty fine.. There is also a no-burn decree by the council.. (to prevent people burning stuff instead!) & a hardworking inspector for several councils!

    There are lots of opportunities for people to bring their waste to the waste management company.. so there are much less illegal dumps.. And there are lots of ‘actions’ for people to participate in (where people clean nature etc, or get a discount for their monthly bill if they bring in sorted rubbish/’big garbage’ themselves!), there’s lots of info for the people, educational activities for kids etc..
    Apparently 1/3 people come aboard immediately, 2/3 later on in the 1st or 2nd year, for 1/3 the money penalty is perhaps the only thing that ‘works’.. (?)
    I do love the Wales approach where people recycle with no penalties!! (?)

    So ideally there would be LOTS of education & inspiration, only a small part of this would be the financial aspect..

    I agree with John that producers & supermarkets & governments need to take more responsibility – so they’ll produce less trash & go for better design etc! 😀

  3. Mr Green says:

    Hi John and Leyla. I agree that it seems unfair to penalise the consumer with waste tax, when it’s the manufacturer and distributors who are providing the unrecycleble materials. However, as Mrs Green said in the interview, when we buy an item, we vote for it with our purchase. Those cumalative votes help to create an intensly scutinised market pattern for that product. Put simply, the more we buy it the more the manufacturer says ‘We’re onto a winner, let’s keep it going’

    The smart consumer is going to think differently about buying a product that produces a disposal cost to them. If the government charge for waste collections, the consumer will eventually begin to make informed choices to avoid this penalty of waste collection from the things they buy. That in turn sends a message back to manufacturers and distributors that over-packaging or non-recycleble packaging is no longer popular. This in turn, in theory should steer popularity towards more eco-centric products and packaging methods.

    That could be the theory and in practice and in time this may work. Personally, think the government should also be levying more stringent conditions to producers and distributors to encourage them, though incentive or penalty to align with this eco-centric policy. We need a push/pull approach on both sides of the consumer chain to prevent the consumer carrying all the strain of change.

    In addition, Local authorities MUST provide better recycling facilities so that consumers can actually fulfill their expectations to recycle ans much as possible. I fear without this essential part to the equation, we will see some very unpleasant knee-jerk reactions from the general public.

  4. John Costigane says:

    Hi Mr Green,

    This is a big topic since it goes to the heart of today’s problems.

    I read a DEFRA article on LetsRecycle today which was about PFI. It had 2 pages and the first mention of incineration, which PFI is all about, was in the second last word ‘combustion’.

    DEFRA spoke about awaiting for initiatives rather than in recycling standardisation. This nonsense is merely to cover their real motives which are to bring incinerators against the public’s wishes.

    That is the calibre of the opposition, totally without morals.

  5. Layla says:

    Hi Mr Green!

    I partly agree!! – we all do need to take responsibility – some of us already are doing it! – & maybe it will work in UK? (Is there a country where it works allright this way?)

    In Slovenia, the best council as mentioned above is concerned people would just throw the rubbish elsewhere (illegal dumps) & opt for smallest possible bin to pay the least $!

    (& somewhere online someone said in Phillipines they just burn most of the trash to keep it cheaper?)

    so while ideally I agree those of us who make less waste would pay less.. I’m not sure how it would work in practice?

    it does sound daft to have to pay for rubbish transport & landfill fees etc if you make zero waste (or close)!!

  6. Marie says:

    I like the idea that the consumer would start to make wiser choices about buying products wrapped in waste that will cost them to dispose, but industry has to ensure they actually have a choice. I went to a hardware store today, and I couldn’t find a wrench without a plastic wrap around it. Twenty years ago they just hung on a hook, now their sealed in air-tight containers. If it cost me to toss it, I’d sure be leaving the wrappings at the store.

  7. Marie says:

    I like the idea that the consumer would start to make wiser choices about buying products wrapped in waste that will cost them to dispose, but industry has to ensure they actually have a choice. I went to a hardware store today, and I couldn’t find a wrench without a plastic wrap around it. Twenty years ago they just hung on a hook, now they’re sealed in air-tight containers. If it cost me to toss it, I’d sure be leaving the wrappings at the store.

  8. This again stems back to the old ways where most things came unpackaged or in reusable packaging.

    Obviously things are not going to go back to this system but the best we can expect is that manufacturers make “all” packaging recyclable.

    And that the government implements a total recycling policy, making the non-recyclate illegal to use as packaging .

    We do not need all sorts of different plastics for holding different types of liquids, what is wrong with glass or steel/aluminium (recycled of course).

  9. Jen CleanBin says:

    Ah Mrs. Green,such eloquence. Great work on the radio show. I think you definitely hit all the right points and made it sound completely reasonable and even easy! I love the idea of leaving stuff at the checkout and think more people should be doing it.

  10. Mrs Green says:

    @John Costigane: Hi John, can you share how you specifically put the pressure back on producers, supermarkets, councils and government? I think this is something we could write about on the site.

    @Layla: Hi Layla, it was great to learn of how the system works over there. I think we could learn from that and take some aspects of it to implement in the UK. Our council has a target for 40% recycling from kerbside and bring banks for 2010.

    @Marie: Hi Marie, thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. I too see how things are packaged now which wouldn’t have been packed a few years ago. It’s such a shame that packaging is used as part of the marketing and ‘attractor factor’ of items. It’s time for us to be less superficial!

    @maisie dalziel: Well said, Maisie – we do not need all this new fangled 100 types of plastic; when we had a system which worked – with recyclable materials, naked goods and deposit returns…

    @Jen CleanBin: Thanks Jen! It’s funny; I though I made it sound easy too! I guess that’s what happens when something is just part of your lifestyle. Have you ever left packaging at the checkout?

  11. John Costigane says:

    @Mrs Green: These other areas are difficult to affect directly since we are ordinary individuals promoting Zero Waste. Our best efforts are in bringing our message to others when we get the chance. That message should be supportive when people are struggling to adapt.

    Criticising bad practice and countering attacks from these vested interests are just as important since their intransigent attitudes are hindering progress. There are a lot of positives with for example AD emerging though inadequately supported by DEFRA, surprise, surprise. I really wish they would ditch their incinerator urges.

    The container campaign is very worthwhile, since these are realistic sustainable options which make plastic waste redundant.

    We just have to be patient and take our opportunities when the arise. Summer is a time to spend time outdoors with gardening, including growing your own, a fine pastime.

    Do you have any thought yourself about changing our approach?

  12. Mrs Green says:

    @John Costigane: Hi John, yes, sharing the message is important and living our zero waste lifestyle but being open to sharing, without preaching is the key I guess. Hence the site.

    I suppose I could be more pro-active with writing to manufacturers, but I find it to be a bit of a demoralising activity. But I should toughen up a bit and get on with it! I’m not really an ‘activist’; I leave that approach to others, so I;m just wondering, apart from time and patience, what more we can do.

    WRAP’s recycle week, coming up on 22nd June should be good and encourage more visitors to the site.

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