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The time has come to charge residents for waste services

Facing continuing budget cuts, it is time to rethink how we fund waste and recycling services.

Pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) systems operate in many countries across the world, mainly operated by private waste management companies. Various mechanisms are used for charging, by frequency, volume (bin type) and weight, the latter requiring a bit more technology in terms of weighing equipment on the vehicles’ bin-lift equipment and an identification chip fitted to the bin for billing purposes. The service would be operated as another utility service, like energy and water.

In 2007 legislation was introduced to allow councils to charge for the collection of non-recyclable waste, the theory being that introducing such a cost would divert more material into recycling collections.

Although a number of authorities showed an interest, none seemed brave enough at the time to implement the scheme, preferring to restrict non-recyclable waste through changes in collection frequency and/or bin size.

Politically this was a more palatable option, and local government finances were not under the same pressure as they are today. In 2010, the legislation was repealed as the Government favoured incentives to boost recycling.

Evidence shows that restricting non-recyclable waste boosts recycling and there are many examples of authorities reducing the frequency of collections of this material. But the primary motive now is not simply to boost recycling but to save money. So there is an argument to bring PAYT back – but what would be the cost to the householder?

Currently, the costs to households of waste collection services is 40p to 60p a week. Add disposal to this and the cost rises to between £1.20 and £1.60. What other service, utility or otherwise can you get for £1 per week?

Local government operates very efficient collection and disposal services, which we do not shout about enough. There is always room for improvement and this will continue to evolve, through partnership working across authorities and industry. PAYT would be a challenge to implement, but not impossible. Around 40% of English councils are already charging for garden waste collections.

There is another side when talking about funding: producer responsibility, making the producer pay for the lifecycle of the products and packaging they make.

Currently in the UK we have a producer compliance system, of very low cost to producers. Revenue raised through it goes to materials reprocessors and very little to collectors, including councils. The taxpayer is funding a major part of the system for which producers have the legal responsibility.

Both PAYT and extended producer responsibility will be difficult to implement, but the time has come for change.

Andrew Bird, chair, Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee

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