Rubbish Charging

Local authorities are going to be allowed to charge people according to the amounts of rubbish that they throw away, in an effort to reduce land fill fines that the UK would otherwise have to pay to the European Union. Some people have dubbed this as a “pay as you throw” tax, others have said it will encourage people to throw away their rubbish in places where they won’t be taxed, such as your local park or in leafy country lanes.

Making pollutors pay is one of the four important  guiding principles that I offer in “the Energy Age”. Consuming what we need, such as food, energy and clothing has a bad enough effect on the environment but at least it keeps us fed, warm and clothed. Consuming what we do not need is madness. It harms our environment, consumes resources that are not limitless and in the case of rubbish often produces harmful methane and carbon dioxide as it decomposes.

Landfill is a horrible way of disposing of rubbish – just ask anyone who lives near a landfill site. I recently met some people from the Small Dole Action Group in West Sussex. They live near an old claypit that has received millions of cubic metres of rubbish since 1946; ask any inhabitant of Small Dole and they will tell you just how difficult living near a land fill site is.

So, we’ve got to produce less rubbish. We have to get the polluter to pay for his or her rubbish.

I think that charging people for rubbish that they throw away is the wrong way to solve the problem of landfill. It must be easier to reduce rubbish at the point of production, rather than aim to restrict it at the point of disposal. Many people have little choice about the rubbish they generate. They want or need to buy certain things and have no option of saying “I’ll take it without the packaging”. I suppose that you could leave the packaging at the till, as some good souls have done, but that is not a long term solution.

We need tighter regulations about packaging, which in itself  comprises a great deal of rubbish. At the moment we permit supermarkets to over package food; do they really need to sell four apples resting on a polystyrene tray, covered in a plastic dome and all wrapped up in cellophane? Why do we permit soft drinks to be sold in anything except deposit charged returnable bottles? the list of over packaged items is almost as endless as the rubbish itself.

I am sure that charging the council tax payer is a quick and easy thing to do. The money raised will cover the fines payable to the Europe Union, and probably more. It will not by itelf lead to more recycling or less packaging. The council tax payer is not as powerful as the vested interests of industry who will pressure the government not to prohibit the type of rubbish that their packaging generates. 

You have to ask why so many items are over packaged and you will probably come to the conclusion that it’s all about money – the product looks more enticing, so it sells more, or they can charge more for a well packaged product.

It certainly is not about preventing waste; we are all very bad at doing that.

Cutting out the rubbish at source is the way forward and that means environmentally friendly regulations for retailers, manufacturers and suppliers about packaging. Once we have done that, then the overall volumes of rubbish will decrease, and so will the land fill and the fines to the European Union.

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