Pay as you throw pilot scheme planned for UK

Filed in Blog by on November 26, 2008 12 Comments
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Bob Walmsley from BBC Radio NorthamptonFollowing a BBC story today about controversial pay-as-you-throw schemes suggested as a way for Britain to deal with its waste problem, Bob Walmsley from Radio Northampton dedicated an hour to discussing this important issue.

The question for his phone in this afternoon was “Is pay as you throw a load of rubbish?”

And what a fun and dynamic phone in it proved to be! Scroll down to hear my bit or tune into the “listen again” slot to hear the entire programme.

Bob was clearly pro the idea and is very much in favour of us all doing our bit for the environment. At the beginning of the programme he made it clear that he felt if you produce a lot of waste, you should pay more to have it taken away.


He went on to state that over the past 20-30 years we’ve become a very wasteful culture. A lot of the stuff we throw away is not biodegradable so it sits in the landfill for thousands of years. In addition, we are producing a lot of methane because we are putting compostable materials such as food waste and paper into the landfill, which cannot rot properly.

With new legislation coming in from the EU, Britain is looking at heavy fines if we do not reduce the amount of waste being sent to landfill (not to mention that we are running out of space.)

Bob felt that Pay as you throw is by nature, the fairest scheme, but what did his callers think?

The first caller, Stan, complained that we have already paid to have our waste disposed of and that we needed to be able to buy goods in biodegradable packaging. Lizzy joined in with the ‘manufacturers need to do more’ argument but Bob wanted to keep manufacturers out of this and keep it focused on how WE personally, could make changes. He pointed out that as consumers, 60 million of us can make a huge collective difference; this is something we regularly talk about on our site and are fully in support of.

Debbie said that we should get people on the dole to sort out everyone’s rubbish and why should we (householders) sort it because we already pay our council tax for the service?

A text message from another listener complained that the council should collect her bin every week because she has three kids.

Next up was Judith, a BBC environment producer (or something like that). She talked us through the latest statistics which showed that generally people were up for the idea of a pay as you throw rubbish collection.
When asked if people would like a reduction in Council Tax for recycling more, 75% said yes.

50% said it was only fair they should pay less if they recycle more and their rubbish weighs less.

The most poignant statistic to me was that 70% of people said they would be more careful about creating less waste if they had to pay more to have it taken away.

Judith shared three ways in which pay as you throw schemes work across the globe:

In Seattle – properly sorted recycling is collected for free and you have different sized bins for landfill rubbish which you pay different amounts for.
In Belgium rubbish is weighed and charged by weight and recycling is taken away for nothing
In South Korea you pay $1.40 for a 100 litre bag. Sorted recycling is taken away free.

Jill, who worked in Germany several years ago remembers that you were given two wheelie bins and anything in addition to these bins was not collected. It was a strict system which worked.
For her family of 3 adults, they produce one swing bin liner per week.

The presenter himself produces (in a household of three adults) just half a bin bag per week of non recyclable landfill waste.

Mark from the Tax payers alliance talked about different pay as you throw systems but pointed out the dangers of the possibility it will be used as an excuse for councils to squeeze more cash out of us. He mentioned some Draconian methods which some councils practise and warned against this.

Bob’s comeback to this was that we’ve been given the chance for a long time now to become more responsible, we aren’t doing it, so maybe it’s time for a kick up the backside and that paying more for throwing stuff away was surely part of the answer.
He pointed out the very thing we are discovering all the time here at MyZeroWaste, which is that there is so much variation from council to council, from county to county and that it was time to have a countrywide system that worked.

Helen came on the line to say that she had been the victim of other people using her bin, so was worried about a pay as you throw scheme. She left her bin out one night; 1/2 a bin full is usual, but came down in the morning to find a black bag full of someone else’s glasses and tins. Derek was concerned that pay as you throw would lead to fly tipping. Bob pointed out, that although there might be a minority of people who do this, the average citizen, although not being happy at extra charges, would never actually consider fly tipping as an option.

Next up was me. I was really impressed with the amount of time and air space I was given. Bob asked me how often we put our bin out (which beautifully resulted in total silence after I told him), how I would respond to people who say it is impossible for them to recycle more and the sorts of things we did personally to reduce our waste. I even had time to do our ‘there is no such place as away’ mantra, which, from feedback on the site has helped a lot of people gain perspective on what they are doing.

Click the player belowย  to listen to my couple of minutes of fame!

After me came Paul. He spoke about the pressure councils face to get recycling levels up and landfill figures down and explained that it wasn’t simply a case of either decreasing council tax or increasing it dependent on how much waste a household produced. He said in a roundabout way that figures were tied in closely with semantics – all that might happen would be an increase in council tax and then a rebate would come out of the increase; so there would be no rebate at all (if you get what I mean!). Apparently Council Tax is capped, so you can’t just bang on more charges for more waste, what you have to do is make CUT BACKS elsewhere; and none of us like that.

Steve Lee, chief executive of chartered institute of waste management gave very measured responses to his questions and said that pilot schemes instead of guessing games were vital. He said that although household rubbish only makes up 10% of the UK’s waste, there is a need for personal responsibility and we all have to make small, changes to the way we live permanently. Bravo!

The discussions then went on to concerns from another listener, Ralph, who described himself as being a 100% recycler, about there being no market for recyclables due to the credit crunch. Steve Lee was quick to point out that ‘quality is king’ and that demand is still there for quality, sorted recycling. Ok, the price has fallen, but the price of sending stuff to the landfill is starting to hurt councils more and more so recycling is still a good option. He suggested that the solution was to keep quality up to make the products desirable and that councils may have to look for suitable storage for materials such as paper until the prices increase again.

The voice of reason came from Dave who reminded us all that we need to remember the first two R’s – reduce and recycle. He remembered returns on jam and marmalade jars and Tizer bottles and an era where nothing was wasted. His concern was that we might be causing MORE environmental damage by recycling and shipping our stuff to faraway lands. Steve Lee agreed that about half of our recycling ends up in China, India, Indonesia and Brazil. But let’s be honest here; we ship our stuff over because we want to buy back cheap goods. The UK is not a manufacturing company, it’s a consuming one! Look at the majority of items in your home and they’ll have been made in China. So we are creating our own demand.

By the end of the program Bob had decided that carrots rather than sticks were the answer. Most listeners, who were interested in doing their bit, wanted financial incentive for recycling rather than harsh penalties for NOT doing their recycling.

At one point, Bob was calling for us all to leave our excess packaging at the supermarket checkout. Maybe it’s time to start a campaign?!

What do you think about a pay as you throw scheme? Would it work; are you in favour of it or do you have a completely different idea?

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. Oh, how cool! Congrats on the publicity!

    I love your accent, by the way.

  2. Mrs Green says:

    ๐Ÿ˜€ thank you; I always love hearing my American and Canadian friends speaking; I get so excited to hear their accents LOL!

  3. Mr. Green says:

    This was a very dynamic program for the BBC. It was clear that the presenter was fully in favour of vigorous recycling where possible, careful purchasing and promoting everything to do with protecting the environment. Full marks to the BBC for allowing the voice of reason and common sense! Bob Walmsley is clearly a champion for our cause and was not afraid to state that he thought some people were simply too ‘lazy’ to bother. We tend to agree, simply because that was us a year ago! WE get so used to living in our insular safe world of convenience that we think we trust ‘the system’ to deal with our rubbish responsibly. Out of sight, out of mind … The fact is that due to the western insatiable appitite for consumerism the system is groaning under the weight of waste and simply can’t cope with any more. We must deal with the problem at source to prevent so much rubbish being discarded into the environment.

    Waste is the product of bad design to remedy this we need radical redesign of products, packaging and consumer marketing.

  4. It’s excellent that zero waste is really on the table in England, and good job to you for promoting it! You represent we “waste-free” folks very eloquently. I hope this discussion sparks some real changes.

    What about waste consulting? I’ve already had a friend ask if I could come into her house, look in her trash, and help her cut down on waste.

  5. just Gai says:

    What a fascinating discussion and well done you for your contribution. I saw the report on the lunchtime news. I would be in favour of a ‘pay as you throw’ scheme as a means of ‘encouraging’ people to recycle, although consideration would have to be given to avoid illegal dumping.

  6. Layla says:

    Love it what you say too!! :))

    Especially when you say, ‘A year ago that would’ve been us!!’ – so everyone can relate, practically!!

    & so good to hear of an intelligent discussion on this!!

    I always considered myself ‘eco-friendly’ generally, but it took an incinerator to be built in the vicinity, actually a bunch of them in whole Slovenia, to really start going Zero Waste & start doing all these strange things that now seem almost natural – certainly more natural than what I’ve done before, often.. & I’ve still a long way to go…

    About ‘pay as you throw’, yes, there would be some concern about illegal dumping or such.. well, some people dump stuff in da woods anyway.. maybe local highly publicised ‘springcleaning actions’ could help there..?
    in a village I was told they used to dump everything in a natural cavity, sort of.. & the past few years ‘cleaning actions’ started & people finally got the message it was not right to do this..

    Someone said (or I read it somewhere, a few years ago) that in another European state they solve it that way: they invite the person with suddenly so little trash to a meeting, to share the tactics for getting so little trash in the bin, very politely, they maybe congratulate them too I think.. It makes people very embarassed & usually their bins start behaving in a more realistic manner..

    Also there’s the idea of coded ‘yellow bags’.. not sure how I feel about those.. partly they’re not really zero waste (not sure if they get reused/recycled) & partly I think it’s not so easy for neighbours to tip in, as they’re tied up, everyone has a code, & if the recyclables are not well-sorted, the person is charged immediately..
    Not sure how it is in multi-tenants buildings…

    There was also a site with all these different practices described online.. not sure if the link works though, or exactly where it is… ๐Ÿ™‚

    I am hugely in favour of ‘pay as you throw’ generally, as my heart breaks when I walk past overflowing neighbours’ bins – & our bin is almost always half-empty or more..
    The details would need to be well-figured out though, yeah..

    Fascinating discussion indeed & SO GREAT to hear your contribution!!
    I bet you were VERY inspiring for a lot of people ‘out there’!! ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Katy says:

    It’s encouraging to hear of such a positive overall focus for this programme. I wonder if we could ever get such a thing on a national TV or radio programme?

    Pay as you throw would be great as far as I am concerned, but I admit I am worried about illegal dumping and bin-hijacking. You say “Bob pointed out, that although there might be a minority of people who do this, the average citizen, although not being happy at extra charges, would never actually consider fly tipping as an option.” My feeling is that it doesn’t take the average citizen, it just takes a handful of people to start making a real mess. As the ones who object to paying by weight are likely to be the ones with a lot of waste, there’s potentially a big problem.

    Finally, about the comment that “there is so much variation from council to council, from county to county and [it is] time to have a countrywide system that work[s]” – can we really do this? Can we come up with a system that works for everyone from the isolated Dales farmer to the high-rise city-dweller? Do other countries manage that and if so why aren’t we talking to them about how they do it?

    I think the idea of a single universal system is a red herring. I would rather see a small set of “best” solutions for standard types of area (sparse rural, suburban, multi-occupant flats, etc.), as opposed to a “one size fits all (but not very well)” approach. FThen re-use those solutions across the country.

  8. Mrs Green says:

    Jen, waste consulting sounds perfect for you – do let us know how it goes; I’ll be really interested to hear how you do it and what sorts of things your friend finds helpful.

    Just Gai; it was a very good programme and I’m glad you listened in. We’re all in favour of pay as you throw too, but as Helen and Derek on the phone in pointed out, and as you said as well, we need to think about illegal dumping and others using our bins!

    Layla, it concerns me that it has taken incinerators to be built to get people to change their ways. The presenter said similar on the programme, that we’ve been given enough chances to change, and if we don’t, what next.
    Mr Green and I worry that if people don’t amend their ways, along come the incinerators to ‘take away the problem’, but at what long term cost?
    I feel that pay as you throw would be a step in the right direction once any initial issues are ironed out. Judith, on the programme outlined three successful schemes in three different parts of the world, so we know it is possible ๐Ÿ™‚

    Hi Katy, national coverage in such a positive light would be great, wouldn’t it? I can really hear what you say about it only taking a handful of people to create a big mess and I’m not sure what the answer is to that.
    In answer to a ‘nationwide’ plan for recycling, I don’t know about other countries – it will be interesting to get feedback from our international readers. I think it is easy, as a regular householder to say we need such and such, but of course, we don’t know the big picture or all of the issues that need to be taken into consideration. We can only speculate.
    Your idea of solutions dependent on area is probably much more realistic because we all have different needs. That is something I keep forgetting when writing this blog – it is easy to assume that we all live in the same way or have the same facilities, but of course, this is not the reality.

  9. Congratulaions on your radio appearance! It sounds like a great debate.

    I’m completely in favour of local authorities ‘rewarding’ residents who recycle more (or send less waste to landfill) but I do believe – as other commentators here have said – that it would result in more fly-tipping. You mentioned that the host of the radio show said “that although there might be a minority of people who do this, the average citizen… would never actually consider fly tipping”. That may be so but that still leaves plenty of people who would and, personally, I see it as being a major factor in this debate. Fly-tipping is already quite a problem here, on Merseyside, and we don’t need to give people any more reasons to do it.

    Mr Green makes a good point about a “radical redesign of products [and] packaging” being needed to reduce the amount of waste we generate and we need to apply more pressure on the manufacturers for that to happen.

    You also mentioned the need to ‘reuse and recycle’ which are essential if we are going to reduce our waste, but did you know that for every bag of waste we produce in the home 10 more bags are generated in the production process! What we really need is to REDUCE the amount we consume in the first place. If you haven’t seen it yet, please go and watch the Story of Stuff – it’ll change the way you think about the waste we produce, as a society, and offers some interesting solutions.

    Thanks for another great article and the opportunity to share our views.

  10. Mrs Green says:

    Hello Paul – good to see you and congrats on the continuing success of your own site ๐Ÿ™‚

    It seems you agree with Katy who thinks that flytipping is a very real threat to the PAYT scheme.

    Do you do anything specific to lobby manufacturers? We’ve written a few letters, but I’m sure we could do much more to develop this further. It was mentioned in the programme that householders are responsible for just 10% of waste and the rest comes from business and manufacturer, but I guess we have to start where we can – which is with us. The most important thing we can do is to introduce a 4th R – REJECT. We have to say no to companies who do not offer sustainable solutions. I love the story of Stuff video; it’s truly amazing and helps us with a new perspective on things.
    Thanks for joining in with your thought provoking comment

  11. Layla says:

    Oh, incinerators worry me terribly too!!

    & furthermore, that EVEN DESPITE incinerators, some people have not & will not change their ways!!

    The ‘Western’ countries may be better in this, because they have seen their evil ways… but ex-socialist countries, ‘Eastern Europe’… gosh.. so many problems & uninformed people t/here.. & authorities going for ‘simplest’ solutions.. may just say ‘Oh modern European countries have ’em too’ & they say incinerators are ‘modern’ etc. – classic excuses..

    & who would go for ‘Zero Waste’ (which is a bother) if you can burn it all? Sorry, but this is slightly off-topic…/rant lol/
    It worries me that recycling schemes & projects here INCLUDE incinerators as something ‘still necessary’..
    when if people & manufacturers really went Zero Waste that would not be necessary..

    I know Greenpeace had ‘green computer’ campaigns where you wrote to Apple etc… to get them to omit some bad materials & go greener.. & in USA there have been strong efforts for companies to go PVC-free..
    I’m not sure of any current capaigns, but maybe it’s worth to take a look now and then – or start new ones?

    You are right that R-reject is a strong 4th R!!

  12. Mrs Green says:

    Layla, I think that is concerning. But some people are happy with incineration because it takes the responsibility away from their own actions and like you point out, why bother if you can burn it.
    Or as you say the ‘simplest solutions’ put down to modern technology can take away the issue so we don’t have to deal with it. And of course the ‘energy from waste’ idea sounds great until you look and see what it actually is!
    I agree that if we deal with our waste in a more appropriate manner incineration would not be necessary, and as you’ll have gathered by now, this is what we promote at MZW.
    Dell have a green policy; which will be getting a mention on the site soon ๐Ÿ˜‰

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