Cities should have the freedoms to introduce other incentives to promote recycling in their areas
A recent article in the Telegraph announced that the Government is spending £5 million in the form of shopping vouchers to reward households who recycle more of their waste. According to the newspaper, this initiative builds on the success of existing reward schemes across the country and will only be available to councils who undertake weekly bin collections, encouraging those who switched to fortnightly collections to shift back.
As we mentioned in our Low Carbon Cities report, incentive-based policies to increase recycling are welcome, since they can be successful in encouraging households and businesses to change their behaviour by ‘nudging’ them in the right direction. In fact, arecent evaluation suggests that local authorities that used these schemes reported an 8 per cent increase in recycling rate while they were in effect.
However, shopping voucher rewards are not the only incentives that can be used to promote recycling, and research suggests that other policies – which UK cities don’t have the power to implement – might be more effective in reaching their aim.
For example, the Pay as You Throw Scheme that charges households for the amount of trash they throw is one of the main policies behind San Francisco’s 77 per cent and Portland’s 63 per cent recycling rates. This policy, while strongly opposed by the UK Government, is supported by many environment agencies in the UK.
However, the challenge with these kind of incentives schemes is twofold. First, they require long term certainty over funding that can be difficult to guarantee, thus putting such schemes at risk should wider spending priorities change. Second, if the incentive funding runs out, behaviours may revert back to reduced levels of recycling.
Notwithstanding these risks, local authorities should have the powers to implement the incentives they think will be most effective in their areas. Some of them might still choose to implement reward schemes, while others might go in the other direction. In all cases, such freedoms will allow cities to tailor policies to their own needs and potentially achieve better results in the long run.
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