The Bin Tax

So, some sense at least:

Gordon Brown has been forced to intervene to shelve controversial Government plans to levy "pay as you throw" bin taxes on millions of households across Britain.

Excellent. It would simply have led to an increase in fly tipping and thus a decrease in public health at the same time as increasing the total costs of the rubbish collection and disposal system. However, there\’s one further problem:

However, the decision to shelve the plan will infuriate local councils who face fines of up to £3 billion under EU laws if they fail to increase recycling.

How are these targets to be met and these fines to be avoided? I\’ve still not been able to find an argument in favour of these taxes in the first place. Other than "we must save resources" which is, as anyone who actually looks at the problem knows, drivel.

Can anyone tell me why they are being imposed? Anyone at all? Anyone point me to a justification of them? Don\’t get me wrong, a certain amount of recycling makes very good sense. Steel, copper and aluminium cans, for example, make straight economic sense all on their own. That\’s where we get the results from the WRAP report from: not, as many assume, a reduction in CO2 emissions from what we "will" recycle under the new schemes, but a counting of what we already acheive with what we already recycle. But because it makes sense to recycle some things does not mean it makes such to recycle all things. My consumption of a couple of thousand calories a day to keep body and soul together does not thus mean that my consuming twice or thrice that is a good idea now, does it?

There are things where, because of externalities, simple market pricing does not lead to the optimal calculation: for example, pricing in the methane from things rotting in landfills. But we\’ve solved that because now we collect said methane. We\’re also not running out of land for landfills, not in any way.

There are also things which cost more in emissions and in money to recycle than landfilling them would: these are things which make the environment worse if we do recycle them. Even WRAP tells us that green glass for roadfill is one of these.

So, other than the idea that the EU is a group of know nothing control freaks, why will we be fined if we continue to use the best, both economically and environmentally, method of waste disposal, landfill?

Seriously, is there anyone out there able to tell me why we have this lemming like rush to recycle? Willing to argue the point?

10 comments on “The Bin Tax

  1. We also get the “we’re running out of space to landfill” bull. We are ALWAYS running out, until the next site is opened.

    Someone predicted that if the US did not curb its growth in population nor waste, the entire landfill needs for the next 1000 years could be contained within a space 5 miles square (25sqMi). I do not have the link to hand, but I think it is in the Penn and Teller Bullshit! vid on the subject.

  2. p.s., I think this is being pulled temporarily to reduce the EU-controlfreak message. Similar to the Imperial measures one. Once the Treaty is in place Imperial measures can be outlawed centrally.

  3. Yes.

    I do worry about the fact that plastic seems to be uneconomical to recycle, when surely there is a very good chance that we’re going to run out of oil to turn into plastic at some point. Then we might regret throwing so much of it away.

    Also, surely it depends on how the energy to do the recycling is acquired? If one is using renewable energy sources to recycle non-renewable materials, surely that is a good thing? (I’m not saying that that is what we are currently doing, merely that such a scenario seems beneficial.)

  4. How about advocating an intermediate policy? We recycle the rubbish that is economically viable to recycle and the rest we just sort (plastics, metals, glass, etc.). Store it, bury it, whatever. Then it just sits there as a resource waiting to be easily tapped if the need ever arises, i.e. the economic circumstances change either through technological advancement or resource scarcity. Present landfills may well prove future mines.

  5. “There are also things which cost more in emissions and in money to recycle than landfilling them would: these are things which make the environment worse if we do recycle them”

    Tim, you’re the only person I’ve seen repeat this mantra, and I’ve never seen you link to any research confirming it (I mean in emissions terms rather than money terms, obviously). Please could you provide such a link?

    Tim adds: What? Are you denying that there could be such a class of things? Or just that you don’t know of any members of that class? Recycling concrete back to it’s constituent parts so that it can be used as virgin concrete again would clearly be insane in energy and emissions terms. That’s why we don’t do it of course.

    But if you want an example of something which we do do which does increase rather than reduce emissions, try the WRAP report.

    The recycling of green glass as material to use in road building increases rather than reduces emissions.

    You might recall the one about nappies: wash cloth ones or use disposables: the result from Defra was that they were about the same. Except, except, they didn’t include that we capture the methane from landfills. Similarly, the recent one on wormeries and landfill for garden waste. Equal CO2 -e outputs….except, they disregarded the fact that we convert the methane in landfills to CO2, thus making wormeries more emittive than landfill on a CO2 -e basis.

  6. All we can do is not recycle as much as possible. The recycling bins at work have never gotten a thing from me, and my ordinary dustbin at home is very well fed.

  7. Tim, you persist in implying that all methane emissions are captured from landfills but this is simply not the case. Despite numerous studies we simply don’t know the proportion of fugitive emissions that escape from a modern landfill. In the UK we assume that circa 75% of emissions are captured over a landfill’s lifetime and this is considered by many to be merely a best (optimistic) guess.

    Modern PPC-permitted landfills remain a large source of methane emissions, and this is the reasoning behind government policies designed to support alternative processes, such as anareobic digestion and other forms of energy recovery.

    Tim adds: Err, no, I don’t persist in any such thing. When I’ve actually mentioned a number it was 85%. But if you think it’s 75%, then fine, I’ll accept that.

    Now, we need to go back and redo all of our calculations on the desireability or not of recycling and landfill, because currently we use 0% as our number.

  8. The history I remember is that Denmark and the Netherlands, who are running out of landfill areas, lobbied the EU for this legislation, which was then applied across the board, regardless of local conditions.

  9. Phillip Thomas , that is not a bad idea at all. At least this way all the organic stuff can (not) have the methane syphoned off.

    Of course, all the stuff that is economically viable should be open for us to sell, as happens in Asia, where people come to collect your recyclable rubbish and PAY you for it.

    Me? I think it a scam in the UK – parasites running such companies hovering about councils waiting for the next grant allocation.

  10. The question of how much Methane gets captured is interesting but not crucial in answering the question of whether we need additional charges like the EU directive. The TPA’s green tax study showed that Landfill Tax already covers most estimates of the social cost of methane emissions from landfill even if none of the methane is captured.

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