Dec 29, 2009

the war against/for waste

bin with a promise

This waste bin on the Sandymount DART station in Dublin promises that 70% of its content will be recycled. Nice to see, but far from a perfect solution.

From the marriage of increasing primary resource scarcity, hiking landfill prices, growing social awareness on one side and cheap-accurate-invisible object tracking on the other, hopefully soon we will see a transparent and precise, granular yet simple solution.

Today you pay for waste disposal at home, by the bin. Not when using public bins.
- paying for throwing away anything, anywhere.
- different micro-payments for each piece of waste at disposal, based on recycling-ease, material-value, total-volume-per-person-per-month, sorting.
- paying the harshest price (unsorted, etc..) up front at purchase for everything, to then get refunded for the difference (if any) at disposal.

Such system could encourage:
- making the effort to sort over not-sorting,
- buying (therefore also producing) packaging-light products, favoring easily recyclable materials, methods,
- fixing, reusing goods over throwaway culture,
- growing local, composting-biodegrading.


littleborka said...

great idea!
how do you recognize the moment of throwing away? how do you track when sy just throws it next to the bin?
if you charge it already in the store, how do the consumer know, that it is for the waste?

Hakayati said...

That's a very interesting approach to a classic economical problem. Waste that is disposed improperly can be regarded a negative external effect (, - a market failure, on a small scale. In my opinion, regulating the market in a way to force internalization of costs not covered by the market price is an excellent solution, in theory. Ideally, producers of pollution have to pay the equivalent of the costs to restore the environment to the ex-ante condition.

What you propose is a variant of a Pigouvian Tax idea (, which suggests to include the costs of anticipated external effects in a product's price. In real world, Pigou's solution suffers foremost from the difficulties of quantifying and attributing external costs. Now, I really love the thought of how much nano-scale tracking technology could contribute in both of these regards. Inspiring post, Gyula!

g. said...

Thanks for the great comments!

@littleborka: Once a product is purchased, it carries the identifier of its new owner (tracking the credit card for example), so any waste thrown next to the bin can be traced back to its latest owner, and that person can be charged. Also, if you charge up front, it is in the best interest of the owner to sort and throw away properly, since it gives him a partial refund.

@Hakayati: Indeed, quantifying and attributing external costs is often difficult, but with new technologies going mainstream and transactions going digital, the ability to capture such costs can come within reach.

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