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Does it make sense to dump pay-as-you-throw?

Since the coalition Government recently decided to support recycling reward schemes at the RecycleBank launch in the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, the reaction from the waste industry has been mixed. The Government has decided to throw out the possibility of a local authority using pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) schemes by not approving any pilots to take place to assess whether it can then be made a permanent measure.

The previous Labour Government introduced the policy under the Climate Change Act, which enabled local authorities to apply to the Government to pilot a ‘waste reduction scheme’, which the secretary of state would then have to approve and report on. Only once the local authority had been granted a pilot scheme would it be in a position to enforce it permanently.

“This Government believes in providing incentives. We are not in the business of threatening people with penalties”

Initially the announcement seemed to be an informal scrapping of PAYT. But it has recently emerged that Defra is going to amend legislation in line with the proposed changes. A department spokesman told MRW that, “we are looking at how and whether the Climate Change Act needs to change to put the policy in place”, but it is not known when this will be finalised.

Confirming the move last week, Defra’s former secretary of state Hilary Benn asked the current incumbent Caroline Spelman, through parliamentary questions, what legislative and other proposals she plans to bring in to uphold the decision to end charges for household waste. In response, minister for the natural environment and fisheries Richard Benyon said: “Under Part 5 of the Climate Change Act 2008, no local authority may introduce charges to householders [in order to incentivise household waste reduction and recycling] without the permission of the secretary of state. The secretary intends to bring forward any necessary changes to the legislation to encourage local authorities to incentivise householders with rewards and not charges.”

The new legislation leaves the incentive scheme which was to be trialled by Bristol City Council in doubt. The scheme would reward households 50p for every kilogramme of waste reduced from its normal amount, capped at £17.50 a year. Currently, Defra has not made any decisions about the scheme.

But there are many people across the waste and recycling industry who feel uncomfortable with the move. Charity Waste Watch senior consultant Mike Webster said: “Our view is that local authorities should be free to make up their own mind. If you look across Europe, PAYT is clearly one way to reduce waste and increase recycling. It is bizarre the Government is stopping it. PAYT rewards waste prevention and increases recycling, whereas incentives only increase recycling. They don’t make the consumer think about how much waste they are buying in the first place.”

At the launch, secretary of state for communities and local government Eric Pickles outlined the reason for scrapping PAYT schemes. He said: “Rather than helping the environment, bin taxes would have fuelled fly-tipping and backyard burning. The best way to encourage people to recycle is not to punish families, but to encourage and reward them for going green. It’s time to rein in the bin bullies and work with local people to build greener and cleaner communities.”

In response, Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee chair Joy Blizzard said: “Recycling officers have worked tirelessly for years to deliver high-quality recycling services. They have responded to their residents’ desire to recycle more, and have taken the public with them. The big increase in recycling in recent years and high levels of public satisfaction with those services could not have been achieved otherwise – despite unhelpful comments by politicians that have fuelled an ongoing negative media campaign.”

Webster is not convinced by Pickles’ argument either: “I don’t agree that it increases fly-tipping. And the £130 you would earn each year from the RecycleBank scheme is not enough to stop fly-tipping either.”

RecycleBank works by rewarding residents for how much waste they recycle based on the weight of their bin. They earn points, which can then be redeemed at shops. It had been introduced on a trial basis in parts of Windsor and Maidenhead, which saw a 35% increase in recycling during that time. It will now be rolled across the whole of the area between now and 2011.

“It’s pure politics,” explains Webster. “First of all PAYT was mooted by the Labour Government then, because of the vehemence in the right-wing press, no local authority would touch it. ‘Bin taxes’ were associated with Labour [so the Conservatives supported incentive schemes instead].” Yet in January this year under the previous Government, Defra announced that no local authorities had come forward to take up pilot PAYT schemes since Defra offered them the opportunity in April 2009. Up to five councils would have been able to try out the controversial scheme but all rejected it.

Announcing the review of the country’s waste policies at waste management conference Futuresource last week, Spelman highlighted the new Government’s departure from the previous one. She said: “When it comes to motivating waste reduction, this Government believes firmly in providing incentives. We are not in the business of threatening people with penalties and fines. In fact, one of our first announcements was to reject the very concept of bin taxes. Our approach is based on encouraging incentives which work for taxpayers, businesses and the local environment alike.”

But infrastructure service provider May Gurney environmental services managing director Nicola Peake believes the move to incentives is “unnecessary”. She pointed out the case of food waste, which tends to drop on average by 25% when food waste collections are introduced simply because residents are more aware of what they are throwing away and not as a result of incentives.

On the other hand a spokesman for the Environmental Services Association (ESA) says: “There appeared to be little appetite among local authorities for the introduction of PAYT schemes and the removal of the opportunity to introduce pilots may have little practical impact. The Government’s new emphasis on positive incentives may find greater political traction, and the ESA will continue to support policies which encourage greater recycling while aligning economic and environmental goals.”

Waste management company Veolia Environmental Services (VES) provides the collection service for Windsor and Maidenhead where the RecycleBank scheme is being rolled out. Its executive director Paul Levett believes that reward schemes are something that will “significantly” grow in the coming months. In fact VES has listed recycling incentive schemes as a key position trend within its recently published Waste Manifesto 2. Launching the manifesto at Futuresource, Levett said RecycleBank is “popular with residents, environmentally sound because it increases recycling rates, councils like it because they save on landfill tax and we like it because it brings something new to the market”.

Agreeing with the ESA, Levett told MRW: “The PAYT scheme was available to local authorities for about 15 months and, as I understand it, nobody put their hand up for it. It didn’t surprise me that no-one volunteered and I think if nobody put their hand up in 15 months, withdrawing it is irrelevant.”


Retailer Tesco has a recycling incentive scheme in place across 91 of its stores for customers to recycle cans, glass and plastic bottles. But as a result of customers misusing the scheme, they are now rewarded only one green Clubcard point for every two aluminium cans recycled instead of issuing points for plastic and glass too. These points can then be redeemed in-store.

A spokesman for Tesco said: “We have found Clubcard points to be an effective incentive to encourage our customers to recycle more. When we first installed the recycling centres, we trialled different points systems at different locations, including points for plastic bottles. Unfortunately, this sometimes resulted in the system being misused, with plastic items being cut up into many small pieces to gain additional points.”

Veolia’s Levett said that if people are caught misusing the RecycleBank scheme they are excluded from using it in future. He explained that because the scheme is voluntary and householders want to be a part of it, they tend not to misuse it. Also, there is a maximum number of points you can earn each year, which are equivalent to £130.

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