Recycling incentives under the spotlight

Subsidised chickens were among the solutions discussed at a gathering of waste professionals in London this week, held to look at incentives that might encourage the public to recycle more - and throw away less.

As the cost of landfill soars and Government ratchets up the pressure on local authorities to meet ever-increasing recycling targets, ways to persuade the public to become more involved in their own waste management at home gain in importance.

This Thursday the Resource Recovery Forum hosted a series of presentations and debate on the subject, drawing heavily on the evidence produced by a series of Defra-funded pilot projects and research.

The subsidised chickens – used by a local authority in Flanders as a traditional but effective way to deal with household food waste – were among the European examples of positive incentives outlined by Francis Radermaker of the international network Association of Cities and Regions for Recycling (ACR+).

Mr Radermaker admitted he had struggled to find positive incentives, as the model now adopted by most European countries saw producer responsibility for packaging waste while individuals were charged on a pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) basis for non-recyclables.

On the whole, this has proved an effective system, he said, but since PAYT is not yet legal in the UK, British local authorities need to look at other solutions.

Dominic Hogg of Bristol-based consultancy Eumonia warned against using incentive schemes to paper over failing recycling services and said getting the system right in the first place was vital.

He questioned the language being used in the current debate and asked if we should really be calling charging people for a service – the collection of their waste – a ‘negative incentive’.

Arguing the case for PAYT schemes, he said he’d been concerned about the way the media had reported on the ‘bug in your bin’ which would be used to monitor the amount of waste being produced by individual households (see related story).

“I’ve been astonished in terms of statements about privacy,” he said.

“Frankly if people are bothered by this, they would never buy anything again on a credit card.”

In a perfect waste-management world, he said, there would be producer responsibility for packaging and other recyclable waste, green waste would be dealt with as much as possible at home and leaving food waste and residual waste to be funded by household charges.

Concerns were raised about the likely increase in fly-tipping that would come with waste collection charging but Mr Hogg argued that if this was anticipated and planned for, any increase could be kept to a minimum.

A comprehensive report from the University of Brighton on a wide range of incentive trials in Sussex was also discussed, and showed that while it was impossible to know how the public would react to various schemes, there were indicators that some were likely to be more effective than others.

Schemes providing vouchers for money off goods at local shops or for free use of council-owned leisure facilities proved particularly effective and as a general trend schemes which offered rewards based on individual performance had more impact than those that judged the performance of a whole street or housing complex.

The report, which makes for an informative read for anyone interested in incentive schemes, can be found on the university’s waste & energy research group (WERG) website.

Defra’s Claire Wilding said that at the end of the day it was horses for courses and, while the department would offer support and advice where it could, individual authorities would need to consider which incentive schemes might work best for them.

“We need to change people’s behaviour so that recycling is something we would normally be doing and encouraging households to separate and minimise their waste is vital,” she said.

“Authorities are already innovating and using a wide range of trials, but there is no single best deal,” she said.

“Authorities need to choose what’s best for their area and take into account the local circumstances.”

Sam Bond

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