“Pay as you throw” tax is a waste

There is one good thing to come out of the government’s attempt to impose “pay as you throw” waste taxes on homeowners. It has brought attention to some of the bizarre excesses of the waste disposal regime that is already imposed upon businesses.

I have a neighbour who runs a small publishing company which, inevitably, produces small quantities of office waste. Until recently, he sorted out the paper from the paperclips, and put the former in the council’s fortnightly recycling collection.

Everyone was happy; except, that is, for the local council’s waste police, one of whose crack investigators decided one day to go rummaging through his recycling bin. Shock, horror: there was some headed notepaper that indicated he wasn’t just living at the property but he was running a business too. And this meant that his office waste should on no account be mixed up with his personal waste.

Instead, he must separate the two and take out a contract with the council’s business waste disposal contractor.

Now he has to buy plastic waste disposal bags at £2.40 each, which are then collected by a lorry that drives out specially to the village for the purpose. Every time his business waste is collected, he must fill out “transfer notes” indicating the nature of the waste and keep a record of where the waste contractor is planning to take the waste. He must keep an eye out for the lorry every time it calls outside his home so he can go out and ask the driver – not easy to do when he has meetings to attend, some in Africa.

The theory is that there must be a paper trail for every item of waste, to allow waste streams to be monitored. This is reasonable in the case of spent nuclear fuel rods. But for the odd shredded letter and broken paper clip?

The government says it wants us to cut waste, yet instead creates a large paper mountain of pointless data. Moreover, it is far from clear whether my friend’s waste paper – which now goes in a general waste sack – is recycled as it was before.

There is a cheaper and simpler way of disposing of rubbish; one which one or two rogue businesses have discovered for themselves. That is to drive out into the remote lanes around my village and dump it into the nearest ditch – with no expense, no paperwork involved.

Might you get caught? No. For obvious reasons I am not going to tell you exactly where I live, but I know from experience that anyone could dump a load of old tiles, or set a car alight in the undergrowth, and get away with it.

Under the Freedom of Information Act I asked my local council two things: how many fly-tipping incidents had been reported in 2007; and how many prosecutions it had brought against fly-tippers. The answer came back: 350 and zero.

Don’t worry, the council told me: it had just invested in a CCTV camera with which it planned to capture fly-tippers. The idiocy is astounding: there are hundreds of miles of lanes and tracks in Cambridgeshire. Is the council really hoping that fly-tippers will be so obliging as to tip their waste directly in front of the camera?

There is an obvious solution: remove the incentive to dump rubbish in the countryside. If it were simple to dispose of rubbish legally, a rogue tradesman would not bother driving 30 miles from Bedfordshire to tip rubbish near my village.

What about a deposit scheme for cars and so on, with the deposit being repaid to the owner when the goods are legally disposed of. If rubbish had a value, who would dump it in a hedge?

As for my neighbour’s paperclips, surely this is more efficiently collected through the domestic waste collection system. We should be entitled to just a little something back from our business rates.

Picture: source

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