Sunday, December 03, 2006

Pay as you throw

The UK Environment Agency plans to start trials whereby householders are obliged to pay for non-recyclable waste put out for collection. The chief limitation of the scheme appears to be the likelihood of households disposing of their waste in a non authorised fashion. This led to the abandonment of a similar scheme in law-abiding Denmark. Concerns have also been expressed about the income distributional impact of the scheme although surely these are misplaced given that the rich naturally buy more stuff than the poor. My alternative suggestion would be to consider placing a tax on materials used for packaging and the like (a 'packaging tax'). Any suggestions as to why we don't have such a tax?

THOUSANDS of householders are facing the prospect of paying Britain’s first domestic rubbish tax under an Environment Agency proposal to trial the system in councils across England and Wales, writes Jonathan Leake.

The scheme would see householders charged according to the weight of all non-recyclable waste they put out for collection each week. Green waste — recyclable paper, metal and glass, for example — would still be taken away for free.

The agency’s “pay as you throw” proposal is aimed at breaking a deadlock between government departments that has held up attempts to “green” Britain’s waste disposal system.

Tomorrow, the agency will meet senior civil servants at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) who are drafting a new national waste strategy.

So far the draft policy has been hampered by disagreements between ministers, with Defra lined up against the Treasury and the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Defra has long supported the idea of “variable charges”, as they are known, but the departments of Gordon Brown and Ruth Kelly fear such charges would have an unfair impact on people with low incomes and so have resisted them.

The Environment Agency is also cautious. It supports the principle of variable charges but fears they could cause a surge in fly-tipping.

Its proposal is that a few local authorities introduce different systems of charging for waste collection with the results monitored for social and environmental impacts.

Liz Parkes, head of waste regulation at the agency, said systems that worked well in middle-class areas might fail in, for example, urban areas dominated by tower blocks. A system of trials would highlight such problems.

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