To reduce household waste, a growing number of local authorities in Europe have started putting microchips on waste bins and charging people for the amount of trash they throw away.
‘Pay-as-you-throw’: The microchips conquering Europe’s waste bins

As part of the Green Deal, the European Commission has made reducing and recovering waste one of the priorities of its ecological transition.

In France, some local authorities believe that reducing household waste must start with raising people’s awareness of how much they throw away, and making them pay accordingly.

To achieve this, some French municipalities have adopted a smart waste metering system, also known as pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) scheme.

Launched this year by the Suez Group, the system involves adding an electronic chip to the waste bin allocated to each household.

When the chip comes in contact with the waste collector, it tells households the exact weight of trash thrown away. If they discard more than the minimum, households will pay more, and if the quantity is less, their bill will be reduced.

“We have smart water, gas and electricity meters, so why not have a smart waste meter?” said Antoine Bousseau, managing director at Suez Recycling & Valorisation France, who spoke to BFM Business in December last year.

This smart waste meter is coupled with a smartphone application that gives households information about the volume of waste they produce by category.

“The aim is to see whether I’m throwing away a lot, more or less than before, more or less than my neighbour,” Bousseau explained.

This data will also be available to local authorities, enabling them to monitor and anticipate the volumes of waste produced. Thanks to a dedicated dashboard, local authorities can adapt their public waste reduction and sorting policies.

This smart waste metering system will be available for the first time this year to 80,000 Montauban residents in southwest France.

And it seems to work. According to a study by the French Agency for Ecological Transition (Ademe), almost half of the local authorities that introduced pay-as-you-throw schemes saw a 30 to 50% reduction in residual household waste.

In 2022, 6.4 million people in France were covered by pay-as-you-throw schemes. The target is to increase this to 25 million by 2025, according to the French government’s Energy Transition for Green Growth Act, adopted in 2015.
20 EU countries have adopted PAYT schemes

France is not alone in adopting an incentive-based waste collection scheme. In the European Union, 20 member states have already adopted a pay-as-you-throw system, according to the European Environment Agency (EEA).

In Belgium, the first smart bins appeared in the French-speaking Wallonia region almost 17 years ago. Today, nearly half of all local authorities use them to encourage sorting and reduce the amount of waste.

The first municipality to introduce the system was Chastre in 2016. The results are impressive, with the average amount of waste per person dropping from 135kg to 74kg.

According to Jean-Marie Thiry, a local counsellor in Chastre, the system enables the municipality to identify the households that produce the most waste and “get closer to the polluter-pays system”.

For those who go above the limit, a surplus tax of up to €600 was added to their basic local tax, he told RTL info.

Compiled by the European Topic Centre on Circular Economy and Resource Use (ETC CE) based on the EEA early warning assessments related to the 2025 targets for municipal waste and packaging waste (EEA and ETC CE, 2022). [EEA and ETC CE, 2022]

An effective tool to reduce household waste

Jack McQuibban, from the green campaign group Zero Waste Europe, says this type of policy is “really effective in reducing household waste”.

However, pay-as-you-throw schemes are even more effective when combined with other tools such as “specific organic waste collections, prevention measures and a reduction in the frequency of unrecycled waste collection,” he told Euractiv.

“The initial investment to put this policy in place is significant, but it often receives funding from the States and Europe,” he replies when questioned about the limits of the PAYT system and the cost of implementing it. In addition, once the system is in place, “the returns are largely positive in terms of the cost of waste treatment and its financing,” he adds.

One key challenge is to apply the system to large urban areas where collective housing is the norm, mainly because of the need to set up voluntary drop-off points accessible via a specific badge like Parma and Ljubljana have done.

Another potential problem is that some users, fearing the charges for excessive waste will be too high, will throw their waste in nature or in a bin other than their own.

Privacy concerns

Privacy and data protection is yet another hurdle to widespread adoption of pay-as-you-throw schemes.

In the UK, privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch warned that the roll-out of microchips in people’s bins would allow local city councils to examine household waste and sell the information for commercial purposes.

“Councils are waiting for the public to take their eyes off them before they start monitoring our waste habits, invading people’s privacy and introducing punitive taxes on what we throw away,” said Alex Deane from Big Brother Watch.

“The British public wants none of this technology, none of these fines and none of this intrusion,” he said in press comments made back in 2010.

Privacy groups are also concerned that data collected from smart bins could indicate when people are on holiday, and open the door to abuse by criminals.

The Local Government Association responded that microchips were only being placed in bins to improve services to the public. “Microchips simply identify which house a bin belongs to; they do not allow councils to analyse what people throw away or fine them,” a spokesperson told The Guardian.

For local authorities, the installation of microchips in rubbish bins enables councils to provide the public with a better service at a lower cost.



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