ISB Global’s Future of Waste Series: Part 2 – The current state of play
Pay As You Throw (PAYT) schemes are now working in many parts of the world. Each is slightly different, depending on a number of factors. Most commonly, schemes are either measured by volume or by weight. Cost differ in the USA, for example, from one city to another, and the way schemes work is also dictated by what was in place before and the mix of urban and rural communities in place.
A common case study for successful PAYT is the city of Taipei. The capital of Taiwan is home to around 2.7 million people, and is situated in a country once known as ‘Garbage Island’. In the early 2000s, following a campaign against using incinerators to burn waste, Taipei introduced a PAYT scheme. Alongside this, it also introduced an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme.
An article on the Taipei approach in Asian news journal The News Lens, says that introducing EPR schemes helps authorities to raise money to fund the infrastructure needed to launch a successful PAYT scheme, and indeed, many PAYT schemes are part of a wider focus on reducing unnecessary waste both in packaging and in household waste management.
A transformation in waste collection
In 1993, across the whole of Taiwan, the collection rate for waste was only 70%. Taiwan’s geography – in an active tropical storm area – means that landfills are difficult to manage, so the government had suggested building a large number of incinerators. This plan was actively opposed by communities, and far fewer incinerators were built than the government originally wanted. A continued drive by Taiwanese – and particularly activists in Taipei – made city authorities think differently about how to manage the waste problem.
After introducing the Pay As You Throw scheme, the city quickly introduced a food waste composting system – possibly the first of its kind – in 2003. As The News Lens reports:
“Since the launch of PAYT, per capita waste generation in Taipei fell 31 percent in 15 years from 1.26 kg per person per day in 1997 to 0.87 kg in 2015. The financial penalty drove recycling, increasing recycling rates from 2 percent to 57 percent. While Taipei adopted the scheme first, a similar trend was seen across Taiwan. Taipei city boasts the highest recycling rate in Taiwan of 56 percent thanks to the PAYT and EPR schemes.”
According to commentators, Taiwan – a country that does not have the wealth of its neighbour Japan, or indeed of western countries – has built a multi-dollar recycling industry while improving its global reputation, cleaning up its streets and having a positive environmental impact.
The impact of communities
Where PAYT schemes exist, it is often because of a number of factors. Certainly, authorities want to look for better ways to manage increasing amounts of waste. And, in many cases, they are also legally required to collect and dispose of waste in a more efficient and environmentally friendly way.
The biggest external factor, however, is the demands made by local communities. As people have become more aware of the climate crisis and the role of waste in creating and compounding it, they have demanded that producers, waste management companies and local governments do their bit. In Taipei, the impetus for a Pay As You Throw scheme was almost entirely driven by community action.
The USA in particular has a huge problem with waste. It’s estimated to produce 12% of all the world’s municipal global waste, with each citizen producing 1,700 pounds of waste every year. Some US cities have had a form of PAYT for several decades, while others are still some way behind. Yet, communities now have a greater expectation that authorities should take the issue seriously, and factor it into their voting decisions.
For example, San Francisco has achieved a 77% recycling rate and Portland in Maine has a recycling rate of 63%. In fact, 138 communities in Maine operate a PAYT scheme, and 55 communities in Massachusetts. Denver introduced a PAYT scheme at the start of 2023, and more cities and local areas are likely to adopt them – both because communities are demanding them, and because existing schemes have proved to be both economically and environmentally successful.
PAYT is improving waste behaviour
Schemes running across the EU, like those in the USA and Taiwan, show that introducing Pay As You Throw schemes – while there may be initial resistance – do improve recycling and reduce residual waste. As long as authorities consult properly with their communities, clearly communicate the operation and benefits of the scheme, and have the right infrastructure in place to manage it, they see success fairly quickly.
For example, one of the most common concerns from communities is about how the charges impact those on low incomes or who might find the scheme difficult to operate. Where authorities take this into account and make allowances for the varied communities in their area, buy-in to PAYT schemes is good, and reports show that once the scheme is bedded in, populations are happy with it.
Introducing PAYT – are you ready?
If you are involved in considering a PAYT scheme in your area, you’ll need to make sure that you have the right infrastructure – including technical infrastructure – in place. This extends to waste management companies bidding for work in this area, who need to be able to show that they can collect, weigh, dispose and charge for waste correctly and responsibly.