Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Nudging to recycle waste

Municipal waste disposal ranks alongside the more well-known problems like pollution and climate change as the major environmental challenges facing us. As part of efforts to more sustainably address this challenge, environmentalists have advocated encouraging recycling and ultimately moving towards completely eliminating garbage disposal in landfills.

Apart from its obvious environmental damage, cities across the world spend huge and increasing amounts on treatment and disposal of garbage, besides facing problems with adequate landfill sites. As aprt of its objective to cut the amount of garbage going to landfill sites to zero within 15 years by 2025, the City Council of London has embraced a Recycle Bank scheme that uses learnings from behavioural economics to nudge people into recycling.

As part of the scheme, instead of fining people into recycling, households are given shopping vouchers or donations to charity to the value of how much they recycle. It is hoped that an average household can earn upto £14 a month by recycling their home garbage, and this gets paid in the form of vouchers, which can in turn be either redeemed in certain shops or get credited to the account of charities.

The objective is to reduce the expenditure incurred on treatment and use of landfill sites, which is estimated to increase from around £245m to £307m by 2013. London spends approximately £600m every year to collect, treat and dipose off its 4 mt of annual household waste of which just 25% is recycled. The scheme has already been adopted by the Windsor and Maidenhead councils.

The British Government has already legislated to permit local councils to impose a "pay-as-you-throw" rubbish tax on households for the garbage thrown out by them.

The same approach can be adopted to nudge people into segregating garbage at source in Indian cities, atleast in the middle and upper-income areas. Municipal governments across the country have unsuccessfully tried different approaches to induce residents to segregate garbage at source by spending huge amounts on it. Households can be "nudged" into segregating their daily garbage (into two or three bins) and handing the same to the door-to-door municipal garbage collectors in exchange for dated vouchers that include

1. Ice-cream (!!) vouchers to children who can redeem the same in the local ice-cream parlour
2. Local school or community hall vouchers that go into providing facilities and maintenance of these assets
3. Donations to specific causes like improving the local library or garden
4. Partial refunds (tax credits) on their property taxes on producing the vouchers
5. Bulk transfers (or sanction of community assets) to RWAs who mobilize its citizens to segregate garbage at source

1 comment:

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