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Recycling – reward or penalise?

Posted on 04 December 2009

RecyclingWe would dearly love more people to heed the environmental message and through a mixture of altruism and education, recycle their waste but we reluctantly accept that there are many people who simply aren’t interested. For example, our own neighbourhood consists of households who recycle nearly everything, bottles, paper, plastic, compost, etc.. in different bins and others who selfishly just cram all their waste together with no concern for the impact of their actions.

Frustrating and annoying as it is, we have learnt that when it comes it the environment you can’t use self-reference criteria. In other words, not everyone thinks and acts like us!

People who don’t currently recycle are not likely to be swayed by environmental arguments. If these people pay exactly the same as their neighbours regardless of whether or not they recycle then they simply won’t bother. No amount of education or persuasion will work. Period.

That’s why we were pleased to hear that people who recycle household waste could get up to £130 a year in shopping vouchers under plans outlined by the shadow chancellor. The Conservatives have been piloting the American-style scheme in Berkshire and say they would help roll it out to councils across Britain. In a speech George Osborne said the Tories would pay people to recycle, not “punish them” with “bin taxes”.

Whilst this may be no more than a political gimmick, these murmurings are a step in the right direction because they signal a greater willingness to tackle the appalling lack of recycling in the UK.

The focus of previous attempts to encourage people to recycle have typically revolved around punitive methods, such as the threat of fines and even putting spy cameras inside bins. These approaches can lead to resentment and claims of Big Brother snooping, prompting calls for a different approach based on reward not punishment.

Differential pricing on Council Tax bills is one possible solution. In the same way a household qualifies for a discount for a single person, a discount could be applied to households who recycle waste in different bins. This could be funded by proportionately increasing the Council Tax bills of those who choose not to recycle. It’s also fairer because it recognises each household’s impact on the environment, the amount of waste they send to landfill sites and the cost to the local authority. Those who choose not to recycle are not forced to do so through punitive measures, but instead pay more in recognition of the extra cost to the local authority of processing their waste.

Yes, this would add some complexity to billing but it would lead to a more equitable charging system which more closely aligned financial contribution with environmental impact.

Clearly, differential pricing on Council Tax bills is just one possible solution amongst many different incentives that could be considered but the general principle remains the same. That is, those who recycle must be given a financial benefit over their non-recycling neighbours if we are to have a credible and workable system of recycling in the UK.

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This post was written by:

- who has written 14 posts on Green Guys Global.

Gary is founder of The Green Providers Directory, the UK’s leading resource for finding eco-friendly, fair trade and organic products and services. He has an active interest in environmental issues, politics, science and philosophy, having written and published work on a variety of related subjects.

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