Thursday, 27 November 2008

Paying and throwing and wondering

There's an interesting post by Mrs Green over on My Zero Waste, about a radio programme discussing Pay As You Throw in response to a government pilot scheme. Quite a range of views were represented, but the thing that really stood out for me was the show's presenter saying from the start that this is a good idea. With all the moaning, knee-jerk, "stealth tax", "it's what I pay my council tax for" reactions that usually make their way into any debate on this subject, it's quite different to see the positive viewpoint put forward so clearly!

That said, I have a bit of an internal disagreement over how I feel about introducing PAYT. It would work if everyone actually cared and understood that we need to reduce waste. But not everyone understands or cares. Some just don't give two hoots, and some people seem to be actively against the idea that we should put less stuff in the bin (possibly an automatic reaction to what they see as nanny-state-ism). I am definitely worried that PAYT would lead to more flytipping problems and people's bins being "hijacked" by others with more waste. Education and awareness raising can go some way to help, and some councils are very successful at prosecuting flytippers, but I do feel there is a core of quite solid resistance that will be hard to overcome.

In any case, it looks like there is no interest in PAYT in Norfolk at the moment, according to this article in the local press. South Norfolk says "people don't want it", Broadland says it's "unpopular and costly" (and with their great food waste scheme their recycling rate already tops 50%), and Norwich says it's "just another tax", and it would be more interested if the scheme was based on rewards rather than penalties. No council wants to antagonise their residents, naturally. However the national survey quoted in the same article says that over 70% of people thought either carrot or stick would work - incentives would encourage them to recycle more, and penalties would make them "be more careful about creating waste". Over 50% of respondents thought that a link between amount of waste and amount paid would be fair.

I wonder if the councils have fallen victim to the phenomenon that often affects "what do you think?" consultations? If you get a bit of publicity about the prospect of PAYT (as we have had locally due to South Norfolk Council having microchipped bins, although the chips are no longer used), then people who feel really strongly will contact the council and complain. I doubt there is anyone who feels as strongly pro-PAYT as some people are anti it! However, when a national market research company (NOP) does a proper survey, approaching over 1,000 people and asking what they think, I think I'm more inclined to trust their results.

It has been acknowledged that the South Norfolk trial was not successful, for various reasons including the unreliability of equipment. But the fact remains that other countries do use PAYT. So the question is how? Can our apparently immovable national trait of being rubbish (ha ha) at governmental IT projects ever be overcome? We can talk about it until we are blue in the face (and believe me I think talking about this issue is a good thing), but unless implementing it is actually a practicality, should we redirect some of our effort to other solutions?

Last word on this comes from a letter in the Times. And it's a good point. In Waste Free Week I reduced the weight of my waste by 25% (that sounds quite pathetic now!) but the volume of waste was reduced by 70-75% as far as I can visually estimate. When you think in terms of bin lorry trips and landfill sites, it's clear that volume is more important. But as my estimate just here shows, it's easy to measure weight and harder to get a quantitative measure of volume for such a random and irregular thing as a bag of rubbish. There have been arguments over this in the past, suggesting that councils concentrate on collecting heavier recyclables like glass as they are better for meeting purely weight-based government targets. It's worth thinking about - how can we really measure the reduction we are looking for here?

1 comment:

  1. Great post Katy and I know what you mean about the PAYT issue. My feelings are that it would work better if it were targeted specifically at communities where it is more likely to work rather than a blanket approach across districts or counties.

    On a lighter note...I've taken the liberty of tagging you. If you're up for it, pop over to my blog where I've blogged two tags in one. Take your pick, if you fancy a go :D