Charging on the Continent

Though they’re currently banned in the UK, pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) schemes where people pay for how much they use, following the ‘polluter pays’ principle, are popular on the Continent. Jennifer McDowall takes a trip around Europe to find out what we can learn from PAYT practitioners. 

This article was taken from Issue 84

Flanders, Belgium

Flanders, the northern, Flemish-speaking region of Belgium and pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) devotee, has been hailed by some as the vanguard of waste management, achieving the highest diversion rate for household waste in Europe. Before the implementation of the first Flemish Waste decree in 1981, however, all Flemish authorities had their own landfill sites.

A lack of space, a large population, the environmental challenges associated with landfill sites and ‘NIMBYism’ were some of the reasons for the introduction of waste management schemes such as PAYT, according to Jan Verheyen of OVAM, the region’s public waste agency: “If you have a population of 400 or 500 inhabitants per square kilometre like in Flanders, that means almost everyone lives or works in the vicinity of an incineration plant or an old landfill site, and nobody likes that. That’s why there was a lot of pressure, both environmental and spatial, to find other solutions for our waste.”

These pressures gradually changed the way the region dealt with its waste, starting with improving landfill sites and phasing in incineration facilities. However, it was PAYT, which was not implemented until the mid-’90s despite being embedded in the Waste Decree of 1981, that was the driver behind the high levels of recycling now achieved by the region.