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Lee Marshall: Direct charging for waste will change behaviour

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Last month the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee issued a policy paper, The Future of Local Authority Waste Funding, the first time as an organisation we had produced a substantive forward looking policy document.

The purpose of the paper was to start the debate about local authority funding for waste services.

With a new resources and waste strategy due from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs by the end of the year and the public engagement on all things plastic there is plenty of talk within the industry about reform of producer responsibility policy and waste policy more generally. However, in these discussions there is not much talk of how funds will flow through to local authorities to support and increase the collection and treatment infrastructure they have worked hard to develop. The general consensus is that packaging producers only pay about 10% of the costs of collecting and sorting household packaging, the public sector picking up the other 90%. This means the concept of producer responsibility in the UK falls well short of actual responsibility being placed where it should be.

The report has been well received by the waste industry in general, which it was aimed at, and less so by mainstream media who it wasn’t aimed at. One of the concepts discussed in the paper is direct charging for household waste collection. We know it is a contentious issue and it is why we believe that there should be more research into it before the possibility of implementing a discretionary scheme is taken forward. That said there are numerous countries that have made direct charging work and there are lessons that the UK could adopt.

A direct charging system should not be seen as an alternative to getting more funds flowing through from producers, but as complementary to it. Direct charging not only delivers funding but also brings behaviour change in residents, a bit like metering water, gas or electricity does. In is interesting that in all this public outcry following on from Blue Planet there is calls on retailers, producers and councils to do more but not on individuals. Will we see an upsurge in plastic recycling levels as everyone does their bit to stop oceans plastic? I am doubtful and so a tool like direct charging could be key in getting more waste into the recycling containers at the kerbside.

With the adoption of the EU Circular Economy Package that contains 65% targets for recycling, without an injection of funding, from whatever source, the chances of the UK hitting such heights are slim at best. Even if you don’t agree with some of the ideas LARAC raises, most can agree that change in the funding system is needed if recycling services are to avoid any further cuts.

Lee Marshall, chief executive, Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee

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