Weight-based charging: a weighty issue we can’t ignore
Some heavy questions are floating around in the waste and recycling industry recently – specifically around weight-based charging (WBC) programs. WBC has made some traction in the household waste management sector, however, commercial waste bin collections are by and large still charging on a volume basis.
At this year’s Australasian Waste and Recycling Expo (AWRE) with support from the Waste Management Association of Australia (WMAA) have organised a seminar sessions devoted specifically to this topic. Four experts will present the case for a weight-based system in Australia, analysing the pros and cons of shifting from volume to weight charging.
Mike Ritchie, Director of MRA Consulting highlights in an article that Australia generates 48 megatonnes of waste a year (according to the National Waste Data Report 2014). Despite steady increases in the rate of recovery, waste generated between 2002 and 2009 grew by 40% with a population increase of 10%. This means that with population growth, waste generation is growing exponentially. On the bright side, the report shows that recycling is growing at a significant rate, fast enough for a reduction of total tonnage of waste to landfills.
The National Measurement Institute backs WBC and has approved systems for charging by weight, what is still outstanding is State Governments and industry to drive reform via trials and approval of WBC systems. Malcolm Bartlett, Manager, Trade Measurement Services, National Measurement Institute (NMI) said: “There’s quite a variation amongst weight-based service providers and what we hope to do is get to a point where there’s transparency for the customer to see what they’re paying for, and for costs to be similar across the board.”
Aside from a lack of a nationalised standard when it comes to weight-based charging, there are also other pros and cons for Australia to shift towards a weight-based charging system. While the system has taken off successfully in Europe, there are some specific issues, such as legislation that are current obstacles to greater uptake.
Working against weight-based charging is that volume-based systems, being traditional and mainstream, are significantly less expensive to set up, operate, maintain and administer. There are few changes when moving from one volume-based system to another (say, changing providers), but moving to a weight-based system can be disruptive. Also, the cost of new expenses can be significantly large - deterrents to change.
It’s not all doom and gloom for WBC though, as volume-based programs have their drawbacks. Perhaps the biggest problem it poses is the social one, where it does nothing to incentivise minimising waste that goes to landfills. Using the residential sector as an example – waste removal fees are based on the size of containers, and thus, there’s a tendency to try and fit as much trash as possible into each bag, or container which makes trash collection and compaction difficult. Volume-based, flat rate fees also do little to encourage recycling. This is where weight-based charging could help change society’s mindset, providing a direct incentive to reduce waste, as every kilogram of trash that residents divert from the landfills, be it by recycling or composting results in direct savings.
As mentioned earlier, the residential scene is where weight-based charging shows its best potential. Commercially, there are many kinks to iron out. In order to effectively introduce weight-based charging in commercial sectors, there’s a need for more efficient streamlined processes – variances in weighing methods and the need for extra staff for weight-based charging are greater challenges for commercial sector. At the crux of the matter is how moving to WBC affects the customer’s bottom line.
We could however learn from our European counterparts. Some key facts from studies carried out in Europe:
- In the UK, WBC drove a 45% reduction in waste to landfills during 2000-2006 (ESRI for EPA study)
- A Swedish study in 2013 found waste generation decreased by 31% after WBC was introduced for the household sector
- In the Netherlands, there was a similar finding with WBC driving a reduction of 30% of waste in 2004 when WBC was introduced.
Interestingly enough, a key finding of the Swedish study found it was the concept of WBC, rather than the change/increase in fees that triggered the results.
Perhaps the slowest to change would be society’s mindset. We often look at trash in terms of volume not weight. It is only with education and key leaders in industry and government driving reforms can Australia emulate the success WBC has enjoyed in Europe. WBC can drive society to be more recycling conscious and also to make the culture of minimising waste the norm.
Learn more about weight-based charging in a seminar session on Wednesday, 12 August from noon to 1.30pm, and purchase a seminar pass, you can find more information at awre.com.au/seminars.
Into its sixth instalment, the Australasian Waste & Recycling Expo (AWRE) is back in Melbourne in 2015. It attracts exhibitors and industry professionals from Australia, New Zealand, Asia, UK and North America looking for cutting-edge innovation in end-to-end waste management solutions.
When: 12-13 August 2015
Where: Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre
For more information on AWRE, seminar programs and list of exhibitors, please go to www.awre.com.au.