Councils charging households for disposing of any waste and packaging they don’t recycle, a system known as pay-as-you-throw (PAYT), has the support of one in three people according to a new study.

The survey of 1,000 UK householders, undertaken for waste management and environmental communications consultancy Pelican Communications, also reveals that when the potential environmental benefits are explained in more detail, support jumps to over 65%.

According to the research findings, UK householders are overwhelmingly in favour of recycling, with 89% of the survey respondents saying recycling was ‘important’ or ‘very important’ to them and 86% saying that they are trying to recycle more. 

What’s more, one in three say they have changed their shopping habits to reduce waste, 51% say they repair and reuse items and almost 60% say they donate or swap items. However, this positive sentiment towards recycling doesn’t automatically translate into support for PAYT.

“Unsurprisingly 86% of respondents hadn’t heard of PAYT, but once the system was explained to them 34% indicated they were in favour, with a further 37% saying that they might be in favour,” said Pelican Communications managing director Michael Bennett.

When asked to consider which potential benefits of PAYT appealed to them, 79% said that the possibility it would encourage more recycling was the key factor, as well as being seen by 60% as a significant incentive to reduce waste production.

The perceived fairness of PAYT also appealed to many respondents, with 40% saying that it would be fairer on small households and one in three saying it was better than introducing a flat fee for waste collection.

However, increased expense, fly tipping and people dumping rubbish in neighbours’ bins were cited as key objections by the 29% not in favour of the idea. Concern that it would not be affordable for people on lower incomes was also a worry given by 62% of those against PAYT.

When asked, 76% of all respondents were ‘concerned’ or ‘very concerned’ that any scheme would lead to increased fly tipping and 75% were concerned or very concerned that PAYT could lead to ‘bin dumping’.

Attitudes to PAYT changed when all householders surveyed were asked about increased product consumption, reduced waste and increased recycling. Sixty per cent, of those surveyed, said they would be more supportive of PAYT if it was guaranteed to tackle increasing waste production and product consumption. This went up to 65% being more supportive if PAYT schemes were guaranteed to increase recycling and have a beneficial environmental impact.

“This research highlights the importance of winning the hearts and minds of residents for councils considering introducing PAYT,” said Mr Bennett.

He added: “Councils need to ensure they make a convincing environmental case for the system, that they are able to demonstrate that such schemes deliver positive environmental results, and that they can be managed fairly and effectively.

“In addition, they need to be very sensitive to the concerns of the third of respondents who are worried about increased costs and the adverse effects on lower income households and ensure the system is equitable.”

The survey also asked householders about their preferences for PAYT alternatives, with 45% saying they would prefer rewards or payments to encourage more recycling.

Respondents were also asked if they felt recycling services should be treated as a utility, allowing them to change suppliers and find cheaper options. This concept was generally unpopular, indicating a preference that councils retain responsibility for waste management. Thirty one per cent said they felt it was a terrible idea, whilst 11% said they would like this option to be available now. A further 18% said they felt it would be a better option that PAYT.

Mr Bennett added: “Households are clearly engaged with recycling and waste management issues as these results reveal.

“PAYT has the potential to give household recycling in many local authority areas a much-needed shot in the arm. However, there are significant educational, legal and political challenges that will have to be overcome and only a very committed council would embark on its introduction at this time, without funding and political leadership from a city region, devolved administration or national government.”