Local Authority Waste Charging Scheme
Best Practice Evaluation Study
- This report has been prepared by Enviros Aspinwall (Aspinwall) on behalf of the Scotland and Northern Ireland Forum for Environmental Research (SNIFFER) and presents the findings of a research study into local authority charging schemes for household waste. The primary purpose of the project is to review international experience in developing and implementing charging schemes for household waste, and to identify best practice. Directly charging householders for the collection and disposal of their waste is one of a number of measures that have been adopted in other countries to encourage householders to participate in recycling and waste minimisation.
- The research identifies the range of waste charging schemes that are commonly used internationally and focuses on a number of case studies from each international area to demonstrate their effectiveness and performance in meeting their stated objectives. The geographical scope of the research covered:
- United States
- Selected European countries including Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland
- An overview of the charging schemes in place in each country together with detailed case studies of individual schemes are provided in Chapters 3 (North America), 4 (Europe) and 5 (Australia). The study has focused on case studies where the responsibility for municipal waste management lies with the local authority and where services are provided directly by the authority or by a contractor on its behalf. The strengths and weaknesses of the different systems have also been assessed.
- Overall the most commonly-used methods of variable rate charging for household waste collection and disposal services can be classified into four types:
- Bag or Tag/Sticker Schemes: under this system the waste collector only picks up waste that has been placed in specially identified bags or containers. Householders may purchase either special bags or tags/stickers which must be fixed to the regular bags or containers used by householders.
- Volume-based schemes: whereby householders choose a waste container or bin of a certain volume and an annual charge is based on the container volume, and often the collection frequency as well.
- Frequency-based schemes: the main characteristic of these schemes is that householders choose the frequency (within limits) of their waste uplift service and are charged accordingly for this service.
- Weight-based schemes: involve the use of collection vehicles fitted with automated weight-recording devises, these record the mass of the waste during the collection operation at each household. Bins are fitted with a high-frequency electronic identification transponders for logging of the household data relating to each waste uplift.
- In addition many authorities have implemented 'hybrid' systems comprising different components of the above systems. In addition many charging schemes comprise a fixed fee component (i.e. for a basic level of service provision) and a variable fee component (i.e. for a more frequent collection service or for the collection of additional containers of waste above the specified minimum limit).
- The results of this research study can be summarised as follows:
- The main driver behind the development of household waste charging schemes internationally appears to have been the introduction of new waste legislation (either at a national or local level) that has required a reduction in household waste arisings or a reduction in the waste disposed of at landfill. The use of fiscal measures by national or regional governments to require municipalities to implement waste charging schemes does not seem to be widespread. Our research has indicated that all of the schemes implemented have benefited from strong political support.
- International experience appears to indicate strongly that the introduction of variable charging for household waste has been successful in encouraging the reduction in waste for final disposal, increasing recycling/diversion rates, and to a more limited extent, encouraging waste minimisation. However, these results have been achieved in conjunction with the introduction/further development of recycling and composting schemes to handle the diverted wastes.
- Most of the schemes investigated involved an initial pilot scheme and the subsequent development of a full-scale scheme was tailored to suit the local conditions (i.e. physical, demographic, social and regulatory). It appears from the results of the study that charging schemes have been successfully applied under a wide range of national cultures and local conditions (i.e. urban, rural, mixed). This suggests that in principle there are no particular reasons why such schemes could not be applied successfully in Scotland or Northern Ireland, provided that sufficient account is taken of local conditions during the development and operational management of the schemes.
- A number of different types of charging scheme (and combinations of schemes) have been implemented. Volume and frequency based systems appear to be the most popular; however bag and tag/sticker systems are also popular in North America. While weight-based systems are used less extensively (due to perceived technical limitations and opportunities for errors to occur in the weight measurements) in North America and Australia, they have been successfully implemented as part of a hybrid weight/volume measurement system in parts of Belgium, Denmark and Switzerland.
- Implementation of charging schemes has encouraged householders to decide on the level of service (weekly or fortnightly collections) and the type and size of containers they require. It is possible that less frequent refuse collections could pose a health hazard, but no problems were reported in the responses obtained. It is apparent that in some North American communities householders have the choice of a range of different containers, whereas most Scottish and Northern Ireland councils are more prescriptive about the type of container used.
- Many elements of the charging schemes examined reflect practices which already occur in Scotland and Northern Ireland such as imposing specific charges for garden waste (e.g. pre-paid sacks), bulky wastes and special uplifts. Charging directly to industrial and commercial premises is already common practice.
- While the waste charging strategies used by municipalities range from full cost recovery (this is quite common) to a partial costs recovery system; both types of system appear to provide an equally effective incentive to householders to reduce the quantity of household waste for disposal. Waste charges are primarily applied through the councils' annual property tax (or rates demand), which may include a visible waste charge; however, non-payment of the charges does not appear to be an issue for municipalities as in most cases they already have significant powers to recover unpaid debts from residents. For flat annual fees and volume-based systems, payment is normally requested in advance (either annually or bi-annually), while for other charging systems, retrospective payment is used.
- In some locations (for example San Jose) concerns over social exclusion have been countered by providing free tags or reducing the charges for those members of the community receiving benefits. However the number of case studies which reported specific measures to address social inequalities (e.g. through the provision of subsidies to low income households) was very small. This may be due in part to the additional complexity in administering the charging system and also that in most cases, the annual cost of the waste collection service for each household is not high (compared to other utility charges) and typically less than £100-£150 per annum.
- Many of the case studies reported problems during the initial implementation of the charging schemes due to a combination of adverse community reaction and also lack of understanding about specifically what behavioural changes were required of individual householders. In some instances this resulted in a short-term increase in illegal waste tipping; however all of the studies indicated that this phenomenon was relatively short lived. Once the schemes gained community acceptance they were successful in ensuring a high degree of participation by local communities and in achieving reductions in household waste quantities. However, country-specific cultural, social and organisational factors are considered likely to have a strong influence in this respect.
- The level of the charge does not appear to be a dominant factor in determining the success of any scheme and low-charge schemes report a similar degree of success as schemes with higher charges.
- Many of the case studies, but particularly highlighted by North American experience, emphasised the importance of a carrying out an effective public education campaign prior to and during the implementation of the charging scheme. In some cases the public education campaign was continued for a significant period during the operation of the scheme.
- It would appear from the results of this review that a number of factors need to be considered in designing and introducing such variable charging schemes; these include:
- strong political support at all levels is essential for the successful implementation of any type of User Pays waste charging scheme;
- the type of existing waste management systems (including local availability of recycling facilities) and the general level of awareness of waste management issues amongst residents, including the need to restrict the rising costs of waste disposal and reduce dependence on disposal to landfill;
- given that the major impact of variable charging appears to be to increase diversion of waste from landfill its introduction needs to follow or be in tandem with the development and introduction of recycling infrastructure and services;
- considerable promotional effort and awareness raising is required;
- local authorities need to have the flexibility to adopt schemes which suit their individual circumstances and requirements;
- administration of the system needs to be reliable and cost effective; for this reason there would seem to be advantages in linking it to the current billing system for local taxes/rates;
- current legislation in the UK specifically excludes local authorities from charging for the collection of general household waste contained in the provided receptacle; therefore in order to provide local authorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland with the necessary powers to be able to charge householders for waste management services, a change in the primary legislation will be required along with the appropriate amendments to the secondary regulations.
Copies of this report are available from the Foundation, price £15.00, less 20% to FWR Members.