Columnist Susana Rodrigues (Waste-Collection): LIFE PAYT Project

In fact, southern European countries are a long way from the experience of central and northern European countries, where the implementation of PAYT systems is common, implying an average reduction of approximately 10% of the total amount of waste produced and an increase of recycling by more than 60%. In the final report of the study commissioned by the European Commission from bipro, on November 2015, in which the selective collection systems of 28 European capitals are evaluated, the implementation of PAYT systems stands out as one of the fundamental pillars for increasing selective collection and European targets.

The project now launched aims to “develop pioneering methodologies that can later be transferred to similar regions in Europe” to reduce municipalities’ costs with waste collection and treatment, contributing to its economic sustainability. It is based on the development of a fair tariff model for the waste producers, encouraging the adoption of prevention, separation and selective disposal practices.

This project thus continues with other municipal initiatives for the introduction of the polluter-pays principle through PAYT systems, as in the case of Maiambiente, EMARP, Óbidos or Guimarães, of the rising systems, such as Lipor and Resialentejo, still in the design phase.

I do not have many doubts about the importance of the implementation of these type of systems, which at the moment appeares to be the main tool for cost recovery through municipal tariffs, and to increase the adhesion to selective collection in Portugal, thus fulfilling the goals established by EU.

But is the waste sector prepared for its implementation? This was a question that I asked in a previous article, and which I hope this new project can help answer.

Different issues have constituted barriers to the implementation of these systems in Portugal:

  • Despite the fact that waste payment schemes based on production have, in theory, unquestionable advantages, the application of a new tariff structure may involve changing the behavior of the population and public contestation may rise when charged for a service previously perceived as “free” or “Already paid for taxes”. ERSAR recommends the gradual conversion of the tariff into a fixed component (or “base service”), and the introduction of a variable component of the PAYT type, but this conversion must be accompanied by an enormous effort to raise public awareness.
  • The necessary changes and investments in equipment and software are also a barrier to be overcome: there are reconfiguration needs associated with collection equipment that pose challenges for technicians and manufacturers. In Portugal, it is very common to have more than one collection system in the same municipality, which makes the implementation of a PAYT system very complex, as it involves different technological solutions. Concretely, the “proximity” collection system based on collective deposit containers (the most common at national level), can evolve towards the introduction of a PAYT system by user identification (with prepaid bags or tags), while in municipalities that use door-to-door collection systems, a PAYT model based on individual contracted bins must be implemented.
  • It is also necessary to consider the technical and legal complexity associated with the management and control of user’s information databases, which requires the creation of information systems that guarantee that the service bill is paid according to the amount of waste actually produced in each household or by each user, through the identification of all waste producers, household typology, and systematic records of the quantity produced, among others.
  • Service quality is also an issue, since the service coverage offered to the population, that is, the physical accessibility of the service (proximity of the household to the waste disposal equipment) is different for the undifferentiated waste bins and recycling bins (aka “ecopoints”): if the same accessibility to recycling and undifferentiated deposition equipment is not guaranteed, it will be difficult to implement a PAYT.

There are still formal and logistical issues particular to our country that must be analyzed: with some exceptions, selective collection is typically carried out by multi-municipal systems, at “high”, while undifferentiated collection is managed by municipalities, at “low”. It is important to analyze whether it is  time to think globally about the value chain and end the “segregation” of collections – selective and undifferentiated and the corresponding costs and profits, which are decisive in the success of a PAYT.

In conclusion, without a doubt, the expanded implementation of PAYT is the impetus we need in Portugal. The greater or lesser success of this implementation depends on adequate responses to local questions in each collection system. It is important to involve all stakeholders in the assessment of the tariff structure to be applied and the starting point for cost recovery, as well as in the selection of the technical model that best suits the collection system in operation and finally the type of communication that will be used with the population. The project that will now be presented in Lisbon may thus constitute an important incentive to make PAYT a national reality, the results of which must be enhanced by all stakeholders in the sector.

Susana Sá e Melo Rodrigues has a degree in Environmental Engineering from Instituto Superior Técnico (IST / UTL) and a postgraduate degree in Integrated Management and Waste Recovery from the Faculty of Science and Technology (FCT / UNL), where she is carrying out a PhD in Environment, focused on the analysis of waste collection systems. She is a member from the group of researchers from FCT / UNL, Waste @ Nova and MARE – Center for Marine and Environmental Sciences, focusing her research work in the area of ​​Waste Management. She started her professional activity at the Instituto da Água, where she was a member of the Monitoring Committee of the Water Framework Directive. She was a consultant in the area of ​​project and environmental inspection of works at FBO – Consultores, SA (DHV international), and from 2004 to 2014 she worked at HPEM – Sintra municipal company responsible for the collection of urban waste and public cleaning, as Manager of the Department Planning and later in SMAS Sintra. She has performed EcoAmbiente, S.A., as Director of the Technical and Commercial Department, currently at Luságua – Serviços Ambientais, S.A., as Coordinator of the Waste Area.

Original news published in AmbienteOnline.