Guest blog ‘Incentives: A Tool Not A Solution’
Since before the 2010 election, the Government has been keen on incentives to promote recycling. It was seen as the other side of the coin to both regulation and the timid experiment of the last government with Pay As You Throw. Between them Defra and DCLG have committed significant sums to further trials of incentive schemes.
So why, in my recent piece in LAWR
about England’s stalling recycling rate did I not mention them? In short I do not see them as a solution. The first results
from the latest trials
, and what Local Authority Directors have been telling me for years, support that view.
Why incentives do not work
In my view the reason why incentives do not work, on their own, goes back to the analysis in my LAWR article. The barriers to recycling are many and varied: they include service delivery, convenience, confusion and motivation. The barriers affect different groups differentially and in practice motivation to recycle is generally high. There is, therefore, except in the mind of a devout market economist, no reason to think that incentives on their own could make a significant systemic difference.
There are practical problems too. Dead weight costs may be high, that is paying for behaviours that would happen anyway. Systems for linking individual behaviours to rewards can be costly (chipped bins and on board weighing) or impractical (flats and HMO’s) leading to rewards for group effort, which dilutes incentives and encourages free riding. Incentive schemes can also be costly to plan and execute in management time and that is now in very short supply.
How incentives can work
That does not mean we should ignore incentive schemes. They can be used in the right circumstances, perhaps to encourage the take up of new services like food waste collections or to provide motivation in specific hard to reach areas.
Some of the management overhead can be contracted out, for a price, to schemes like Greenredeem –
formerly Recyclebank or GreenPoints
. If you can afford them, a by-product of these schemes is the on-line opportunity to present other messages, including waste minimisation and away from home recycling, to registered users visiting the site to check their rewards.
In short don’t rule out incentives, but think very carefully about how and why to use them: using good data about local circumstances and the barriers that need to be addressed. Incentives are a tool not a solution.