‘Pay as you throw’ cuts waste and encourages recycling, French report finds

Recycling habits improve with "pay as you throw" schemes. [KaliAntye/Shutterstock]

Charging households based on the quantity of waste they produce is both an effective way to cut waste and an increasingly popular idea in France. Our partner Journal de l’Environnement reports.

The expression “pay as you throw” comes from the United States, where it describes a system of incentive-based pricing for waste management. France’s Sustainable Development General Commission (CGDD) has recently published a report on the issue: in 2013, 5.4 million French citizens were placed on a pay as you throw (PAYT) scheme.

The results appear to be overwhelmingly positive in the areas where the scheme was introduced. Waste sorting improved, quantities fell and disregard for the rules was no more common than elsewhere. What is more, the amount of waste produced in the bordering communities also decreased, as they adopted similar practices.

And the opportunities for developing the scheme are enormous. On top of financial and technical aid provided by the French Environment and Energy Management Agency (ADEME) since 2009, the Energy Transition for Green Growth law defines the ambitious objective of expanding the schemes to cover 15 million people by 2020 and 25 million by 2025.


This implementation of the ‘user-payer’ principle can take several forms. The commonest is to record the number of times each household puts out their bins for collection. In some communities, households pay by the volume of their containers or the weight of waste they produce. In others, the local authority sells specific kinds of bin bags or waste labels, while in other still the local dump or recycling centre keeps a running account of the waste delivered by each household.

Positive effects

Whatever technique is chosen, the effects are universally positive, according to the report. Simply communicating about the introduction of a PAYT scheme has a positive effect. The quantity of waste falls and the quality of sorting increases in the years before the scheme’s implementation, and the trend generally continues for two years after the implementation. Glass collection tends to remain stable, as do deliveries to recycling centres.

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After an initial breaking-in period, the results speak for themselves: 67 kg of household waste per person (28% less than the national average) and 14 kg of sorted waste per person (packaging, newspapers, magazines etc, 33% more than the national average).

Delicate analysis

A host of factors come into play when analysing the success of such a scheme, including the previous financing of waste collection, local demographics, the potential for improvements to waste sorting and reduction, the acceptance of the scheme by the local inhabitants, electoral promises, the state and availability of collection and waste treatment infrastructure and the existence and performance of collections for outsized or organic waste. Not to mention the number of tourists in the area, the age of the residents, the size of the companies in the area, its proximity to the sea, etc.

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The CGDD concluded that the communities that have implemented a PAYT scheme “have seen a much faster reduction in the amount of residual household waste than in similar communities, and a significant increase in sorted waste”.

Rewards for bad waste sorters?

But one question that cannot be ignored when it comes to PAYT schemes is whether they reward people who sort their waste badly?

According to the CGDD, which accepts the fact that more sorted waste does not necessarily mean better sorted waste, the answer is no. The report does not indicate any increase in irresponsible behaviour (poor sorting of waste to reduce the collection bill for residual waste) or bad sorting due to a poor understanding of the rules. But it does point to an increase in the volume of packaging, newspapers and magazines refused by recycling centres after the implementation of the scheme. This then falls back to normal levels after two years.

Financially, the share of the cost of waste collection that is incentivised generally represents less than half of the total cost to households. This is both to smooth out potential variations in the amounts of waste collected, and to ensure a stable revenue for local authorities.

The report did not reveal the overall balance sheet for France’s PAYT schemes.


Life Terra

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