Can householders be persuaded to accept pay as you throw?

Written by: Michael Bennett | Published:
Michael Bennett is managing director of Pelican Communications

Earlier this month LARAC re-ignited the debate about pay as you throw (PAYT) when it called for research into how a ‘discretionary direct charging system’ could be implemented in the UK.

LARAC believes that without a complete overhaul of the current finance system, high recycling levels of household waste will be virtually impossible to achieve.

Some authorities have already reached this conclusion, notably the States of Guernsey, which has announced plans to introduce a pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) system for residual household waste from 2019.

So, what are the chances of the system being rolled out across the UK mainland and can householders be persuaded to accept PAYT?

A new survey of 1,000 householders from waste management and environmental communications consultancy Pelican Communications looks at consumer attitudes to paying for what they throw away.

A much-needed boost

Our research reveals that PAYT could provide the much-needed boost that the UK will need if it’s to achieve the ambitious EU 65% recycling target that resources minister Therese Coffey confirmed the UK government wants to achieve or even exceed, when she said the UK would vote in favour of the Circular Economy Package.

There has been a lot of frustration in the sector at the lack of a clear waste management strategy, which many believe has led to the recycling rate stagnating around the 45% mark: apart from in Wales.

But there is some good news. UK householders are largely in favour of recycling, with 89% of the survey respondents saying recycling was important or very important to them and 86% saying that they are trying to recycle more.

What’s more, one in three say they have made changes to their shopping habits to reduce waste, 51% say they repair and reuse items and almost 60% say they donate or swap items.

Understandably readers may be sceptical, as when asked, most people overstate their enthusiasm for recycling. However, it’s still the case that a majority of people participate and are in favour, which is a positive starting point.

With a largely positive attitude to recycling, do householders like the idea of PAYT? Unsurprisingly our survey reveals that 86% of respondents hadn’t heard of PAYT, but once the system was explained to them, 34% liked it, with 37% saying that they might be in favour.

The possibility that PAYT would encourage more recycling was cited as the main appeal of the system by 79% of the respondents.

The perceived fairness of PAYT also attracted many respondents, with 40% saying that it is fairer on small households, and one in three saying it was better than introducing a flat fee for waste collection.

Increased expense, fly tipping and people dumping rubbish in neighbours’ bins, were cited as key objections by the 29% not in favour of the idea. Fear that it would not be affordable for people on lower incomes was also a concern given by 62% of those against PAYT.

Winning over residents

The survey also asked householders about their preferences for PAYT alternatives, with 45% saying they would favour rewards or payments to encourage more recycling. Interestingly reward schemes have been shown to have limited effect on increasing recycling rates.

Respondents were also asked if they felt recycling services should be treated as a utility, allowing them to change suppliers and find cheaper options. Although 31% said they felt it was a terrible idea, 11% said they would like this option to be available now. A further 18% said they felt it would be a better option that PAYT.

If PAYT is going to be successfully introduced, councils need to win residents’ hearts and minds. This can be achieved by demonstrating that schemes deliver positive environmental results and that they are equitable.

Councils will have to be very sensitive to the concerns of the third of respondents who are worried about increased costs and the adverse effects on lower income households otherwise they’re doomed to failure.

Tough measures will also be needed to tackle waste crime and prevent larger households dumping their rubbish in other peoples’ bins. This is just the kind of issue that can make or break a system in the minds of residents.

PAYT has the potential to give household recycling a much-needed shot in the arm. However, there are significant educational, legal and political challenges that will have to be overcome. Only a very committed council would embark on its introduction without funding and political leadership from a city region, devolved administration or national government.

Michael Bennett is managing director of Pelican Communications.


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