Register to recycle: progress or a step back?
We recently got a leaflet from our county council to inform us that if, in future, we want to take a vehicle to one of the county’s recycling centres (or tips as they are locally known), then we would have to register this vehicle via an online service.
The council went on to explain that this procedure was developed to prevent people from other counties using the recycling centres and to save costs for the council.
When trying to encourage a specific behaviour from a group of people i.e correct waste separation and recycling, it is important to follow these two principles:
Make it really easy to carry out the desired behaviour
Make it really difficult to carry out the undesired behaviour
I don’t think that the council paid attention to these fundamental principles of eliciting behaviour; the new process adds another level of bureaucracy to get through in order to carry out the desired behaviour i.e. recycling and disposing of waste correctly.
Two problems exist with this system:
- When you change your vehicle or address or want to take a different vehicle to the recycling centre, you have to remember to change your details via the online system. Nobody will remember to do this. Think about it, this isn’t going to be the first thing that pops into your mind when you get a new car or house is it?
- If you fail to register a vehicle before going to the recycling centre, you will be turned away from using the site. This can only lead to frustration on part of the resident and possible failure to dispose of waste correctly in the future. Once you have loaded up a car full of waste and driven down to the recycling centre only to be turned away, the likelihood is that you will find alternatives to this system in the future to prevent your time from being wasted.
But the reality is that somebody has to bear the cost of accepting, storing, transporting and processing our recyclable and landfill materials. The councils do have to make difficult decisions about who is eligible to use the centres and what they will accept, and ultimately they are spending tax payers money to manage these systems so they have to be efficient with expenditure.
However, I do feel like a certain amount of short-termism reactive behaviour is happening here; the new registration system is doing nothing to tackle the problem of waste elimination or reduction, it only tackles the costs of processing the waste once it has been produced. Money and time are better off spent on proactive measures to avoid producing waste in the first place, rather than trying to manage the waste once it has already been produced. Proactive approaches provide the benefit of reducing costs all the way along the waste-management lifecycle; if you have less waste, you have less waste to manage.
And so I couldn’t highlight this issue without linking it to pay-as-you-throw schemes (PAYT); PAYT systems make the most wasteful in society pay the most to dispose of waste. This cost is used to deter people from continuing with wasteful practices and behaviours. I believe that this is a good idea and one that has been shown to actually reduce waste and increase recycling levels, the article: Pay as you throw explores a PAYT system in the United States and gives the following evidence to support it’s success:
According to city figures, in 1999, 59 percent of Loveland’s residential waste stream was recycled instead of land-filled. Prior to PAYT all waste was land-filled.
As a zero-waste champion I see this new process as even more evidence that having a low-waste or zero-waste lifestyle is beneficial and less stressful. For me it is very simple and I cannot stress this enough:
The less waste you have, the less you have to manage it.
So it is unsurprising that I am an advocate for eliminating and then reducing your household waste in order to avoid dealing with these kinds of bureaucratic systems and policies. I feel like my time and yours is better spent on enjoying life than sorting and transporting waste.
I will be engaging with my local council over the next few months and hope to provide them with some ideas on how they could cost-effectively be proactive about waste elimination and reduction in the county. If your community or local council have any good waste practices that you are keen to share, please let me know in the comments below and I will collate them and pass my recommendations on to my Councillors.