Hey, promised we’d get back to a bit of politics didn’t I?
Our subject for today is Georgie ‘I is a greenie and I’m going to bung you some wonga in the process’ Osbourne.
OK, first lesson in recycling for George. In almost all cases there is no financial incentive in recycling. Sorry but there isn’t. One would hope that the bloke who wants to take over the country’s finances would be able to get his head around this.
Whether you like it or not, our economic structure is based on capitalism (yes, you don’t hear that word very often these days). Its driving principle is the creation of profit and that’s, well about it. There is no profit in recycling because when everything is reduced down to the hideously crude and simplistic concept of price, then barring a few odds and sods like some metals it’s simply easier (cheaper) to get new materials than it is to recycle old.
All ‘incentives’ to recycle are in fact sticks somewhere along the line. It doesn’t matter if you dress it up as we’re going to bung you some dosh to recycle because the premise on which that scheme is based is to creation of a false economy through regulation and or taxation.
In this case we’re dealing with landfill taxes on local authorities which is a pan-European scheme set up by the EU to encourage/force (choose whichever you fancy) member states to up their recycling rates because it’s been decided at a political level that reducing the amount of waste we as human beings produce is probably a good idea.
There’s nothing wrong with the introduction of targeted taxation to attempt to change societal behaviour as long as you can justify it with sound reasoning and preferably a lot of evidece to support your position too.
In the case of landfill, it’s fair to say you’d be hard pressed to find many people who think that reducing the amount of rubbish we chuck on tips is a bad idea although when you mention they might actually have to do something about it themselves or cough up a few bob then for some reason perspectives suddenly start to change a bit.
So we’re here, Osbourne’s little carrot is actually nothing more than the product of a very large EU stick that has created certain market conditions in the first place.
That of course leads us nicely on to the whole civil liberties malarky that seems to be doing the rounds of late.
The US company in question that Osbourne has so fallen in love with is RecycleBank and there’s two very interesting elements to their operation. The first being their use of ‘chipped’ bins. Yes folks we’re back to putting little bits a silicon chips in the bins to monitor how much waste we throw out.
Now for those with short memories, last year the Government was falling in love with the whole hi-tech approach of chipping everyone’s bins and forgive me for being a cynical old sod but wasn’t it all the Tories coming out of the woodwork saying it would be a crap idea (actually I agree with them on this one) and that flytipping would go though the roof.
There were a few pilots done, the first that springs to mind was South Norfolk District Council where it was such a disaster in both the technology breaking down and surprise surprise flytipping going through the roof that when the *ahem Tories took over the council they scrapped it.
Georgie boy might also want to have a word with Eric Pickles their very own local government spokesman because he said ‘they are also an invasion of people’s privacy’ on the issue of chipping people’s bins. Go on, what are the odds on another principled resignation of seat to stand in by-election moment? Nah, didn’t think so either.
To be fair to RecycleBank they seem really good folk and there’s nothing to suggest that they would use any information gleamed from such a system in a bad way. That said, they operate in the States where they have like proper bits of legislation and stuff written down on paper ensuring their citizens rights, not the data-mining free for all we have in the UK, seriously folks, the possibilities are endless.
How’s this for a wicked idea to catch out naughty people burning stuff in the back garden or flytipping. We could hand the service over to Tesco. They could monitor what we buy and if it doesn’t end up in our bin then we could get automatic fines as well, how’s that? Seriously folks, I’m here all week.
What Ozzy boy doesn’t exactly go out of his way to mention is the nature of payments, if indeed we’re taking RecycleBank as our model.
We’re not talking cold hard cash, you know, that stuff that’s readily accepted everywhere, even in the local boozer. No we’re talking tokens, and not the 30p off a box of Daz type (do they still sell Daz? Haven’t seen it for ages).
We’re talking (at least as far as can be ascertained from the information on their website) spend Â£50 in selected partner store and get Â£10 off tokens. OK, don’t quote those figures but we all know where we stand, to get the sweetener we’ve got to shell out a larger amount which is all well and good if you’ve got a reasonable income in the first place but if you’re getting by down to the last penny then are you going to have or even want to spend the extra to redeem the token?
What this approach also fails to address is the exact criticism the Tories were laying at the concept of pay as you bin last year. When you introduce a system whereby there is either a financial cost or benefit to putting less in your bin, doesn’t matter which. You will encourage fly-tipping and backyard burning because the financial incentive is there.
Of course what is continually being missed is not the actual desire or lack of from households to recycle, many aspects of the problems we face in the UK arise from the inability to recycle due to either poor facilities or, at least in my opinion poor packaging.
I’ve lived abroad, over a decade ago, seen how they did it back then. I’ve travelled about a bit, observed different recycling practices because it’s an area of personal interest but all came down to one very important factor. The recyclability of the packaging in the first place.
It doesn’t matter whether you try to penalise or incentivise recycling, if consumers can’t recycled the 2 litre bottle of coke they bought from Sainsbury’s then they can’t recycle it. They could if they lived in Finland or Germany but they can’t here. It’s the same product (admittedly produced locally under license) but in the UK it goes in the bin because it’s made of cheaper thinner plastic compared to thicker reusable (after being washed out) plastic abroad. There’s no scheme available to recycle them here, in other countries you just take them back to the supermarket, plonk them in a machine, it prints out a ticket that can be used at the checkout and hey presto, there’s your incentive system, it’s really not that hard and the whole lot doesn’t even have to be done by the public sector, you simply mandate the supermarkets to do it instead. They do after all have extensive distribution networks and it makes sense that after making deliveries they can do a pick up as well rather than driving back empty.
A bit of joined up thinking wouldn’t go amiss here.
I’ll finish on a positive point. It used to be (the last time I looked) impossible to recycle Tetrapak in the UK which is barmy. I was going to write a bit about it in this post but after some research it does appear to be picking up and your humble Penguin is planning a trip to Sandwell in the near future now he knows that he can recycle the milk cartons. Wednesbury to be precise as they apparently have a facility at the Leisure Centre. It’s just a bit sad that the most accessible facility for me is in an entirely different borough, but hey, that’s what you get from living in an area covered by Walsall Council I guess.
My final good deed for this post is a littl link to Tetrapaks recycling locator. I think I should move to Sandwell.