A rubbish idea


Yesterday saw the start of a new trial in the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead designed to encourage recycling.

Under this scheme, households will ‘earn’ vouchers to be used in local stores with each kilogram of waste that they recycle. 3,800 bins have been fitted with microchips in order to weigh household trash. There are several reasons why this trial seems somewhat idiotic.

Firstly, the council is trying to encourage its occupants to act in a ‘socially useful’ way, yet the scheme could well promote the opposite. By rewarding people for recycling as much as possible, it lowers the incentive for people to choose goods with less packaging. This distorts the market signals sent to shops and manufacturers that prompt them to cut down on unnecessary wrapping. If this were adopted nationwide, it would limit the way in which society reduces waste directly.

Such a system can be easily exploited by the placement of heavy, non-recyclable objects inside the chipped bin. While a spokesman for the trail claimed “rewards are much more effective than fines, which are complicated and expensive to administer", the council still needs to monitor the programme, which it proposes to do with on the spot checks and the withdrawal of access to vouchers - which is likely to be costly and unproductive.

This leads on to another issue: the cost of it all. Where is the funding for this scheme coming from? Landfill tax stands at £40 a tonne and a household can earn up to £130 a year through this trial, and so the setup, maintenance and payouts of the scheme can hardly be achieved through the reduction in rubbish arriving in landfill.

No, the answer is that the money will be coming out of council tax, so in effect households will be rewarding themselves for their own good behaviour. In fact, some will be rewarding the daily life of others; those with less recycling to be done such as the elderly will be subsidising payouts to families who inevitably consume and therefore throw out more.

Once you add this to the fact that the scheme forces the residents of Windsor & Maidenhead to have their recycling movements stored on an online database (what will we have monitored next, the frequency of our showers to reduce water consumption?), it can be seen that this scheme basically stinks.