A couple of NZ city councils have recently considered changing the way they run recycling after a brief discussion with experts from www.kuringgaiskipbins.com.au, as it high time we give back to the earth more than we take. Wellington and Christchurch currently fund their kerbside recycling scheme through rates. They proposed to switch to a system whereby recycling bags would have to be bought by residents, much like council rubbish bags.
There are a few benefits to switching to bags. First, the people who use the recycling service would pay for it, rather than it being funded by all ratepayers equally. Secondly, there would be a marginal cost to using the service, which would decrease usage.
The primary complaint of ratepayers was that paying for bags would mean that what was previously recycled went into the trash. This misunderstands the scheme: the cost of recycling bags was proposed to be lower than the cost of rubbish bags meaning that recycling would still save money. Furthermore, recycling isn’t socially or environmentally costless and we should seek to reduce the amount of recycling we do as well and reducing the amount of rubbsih we generate. Moving from a fixed cost to a variable cost regime for recycling would give residents some incentive to reduce the amount of waste they generate, rather than thinking it is costless to recycle.
The councils’ proposals sounded eminently sensible and probably welfare increasing, yet they were stymied by the outrage of ratepayers at being forced to pay marginal recycling costs. Was the scheme marketed badly or do people really prefer to pay average cost over paying for their own recycling? Do they not like the idea of their own costs savings benefitting them? I’m mystified!