What Is It?
The UK must improve its performance on household waste reduction and recycling quickly if it is to meet European targets and to achieve truly sustainable waste management in the future. The need for householders to reduce the quantity of, separate and sort their waste properly, recycle and where possible compost as much as possible has, therefore, never been more important.
For this reason, Government and local authorities are looking at different ways of encouraging behaviour change. One approach currently under discussion is direct and variable charging (DVC) for waste collection which would involve charging householders based on the amount of residual waste they actually produce. This is in direct contrast to the current system whereby householders in the UK pay a fixed annual sum through the Council Tax without a link to the quantity of waste collected.
Direct and variable charging schemes would typically involve charging householders for the amount of residual waste they produce requiring collection and not charging for recyclables.
This could be done based on weight of waste collected or on the number and size of containers used.
The UK needs to improve its performance on household waste reduction and recycling. Local authorities face very demanding targets originating from EU legislation to divert biodegradable waste from landfill. Failure to achieve targets will incur a fine per tonne over permissible limits
The Government's pre-budget report in 2006 confirmed existing policy to increase the cost of landfill disposal through maintenance of the Landfill Tax Escalator, with the potential to apply revised and potentially more costly measures in the future. So, in addition to the possibility of fines, the growing cost of landfill is increasing the pressure on local authorities to reduce the total amount of wastes arising and increase recycling levels. If they don't succeed in doing this, the growing costs involved will ultimately have to be passed on to the householder.
Voluntary recycling schemes for householders coupled with educational/promotional campaigns have succeeded in changing behaviour and helped to increase household waste recycling in recent years, on average from 6% to 27% between 1998 and 2006. Take-up and consistency levels have varied considerably dependent on socio-economic factors and individual preferences. However in order to reach future targets of 45-50% consistently across all local authorities a further step change in behaviour is essential.
Legislation currently precludes UK local authorities from charging for waste services according to the amount of waste collected from individual households. This is in direct contrast to practices in different parts of Europe and the United States where variable charging is becoming common place.
These countries have embraced the 'polluter pays' principle into waste management systems at the household level. This approach has been much supported and reinforced by recent European policy and legislation. In 2005, the European Commission's Thematic Strategy on the Prevention and Recycling of Waste revised future waste policy direction for the EU with its main goal for Europe to become a recycling society that seeks to avoid the production of waste and to turn any waste generated into a resource.
Government policy has suggested the continued promotion of economic measures, such as landfill taxes and 'pay as you throw' systems to encourage householders to recycle more.
DVC is not an option currently open to UK local authorities but policy makers, politicians and representative bodies have increasingly been calling for a change.
Research previously undertaken by CIWM's Environmental Body reached a number of observations and conclusions relating to DVC including:
Greater media and public attention relating to DVC in recent months has reflected concerns and misconceptions about the introduction of such an approach in the UK. This highlights the importance of effective communication when introducing such schemes.
More recent research commissioned by CIWM in January 2007 reiterated many of the conclusions of the earlier study, also highlighting some other important issues relating to DVC:
In considering stakeholder and public views, the research also highlighted:
CIWM believes that legislation should be changed so that local authorities are able to introduce DVC schemes if they believe this is appropriate in their particular circumstances, but that this should not be a mandatory requirement.
There are a number of issues that local authorities have to consider in deciding whether to introduce DVC and what form the scheme should take.
CIWM therefore recommends that a robust appraisal system and guidance on the selection of a variable charging scheme is provided by central Government to local authorities looking at all these issues. In addition, guidance should be provided on communications and deployment issues.
In order to inform guidance for local authorities, it is recommended that pilots and trials of different DVC schemes are applied in areas with different socio-demographic characteristics, collection systems, geography and housing stock.
Central Government's role in the development of schemes is critical. In addition to providing guidance on option appraisal, planning, financial management and implementation, CIWM believes that Government should:
CIWM also stresses the importance of three other key issues:
CIWM Position Statements represent the Institution's views at a particular point in time. They remain under constant review, in the light of new experience and research.