A Timely Reform by Ian Ridley

Blog & web site of Ian Ridley

Chips ‘n’ bins: liberals and environmentalism

I have been a little taken aback at some dissenting voices from fellow liberals on environmental policies such as:

  • charging people for the weight of recyclable waste they produce;
  • taxing high polluting cars;
  • introducing a system to discourage a wasteful “standby” mode on electrical appliances

Liberals need to position themselves somewhere on the divide between allowing people to become voluntarily environmentally responsible and using compulsion.

We need to start by making it easy to be environmentally responsible. Once these measures in place we need to use tax to penalise polluters and those who generate excessive un-recyclable waste.

Looking at the landfill/incinerator waste issue, helpfully sensationalised as a Bugs in Binsstory by the Mail on Sunday, we still need to:

  • bring kerbside collection of all recyclables to all houses that currently have a landfill waste collection;
  • legislate to reduce unnecessary waste packaging, encourage the use of recyclable packaging and ensure all recyclable packaging is clearly identified. Most of my landfill waste is unrecyclable plastic nowadays (my local council collects types 1 to 3 but a lot of packaging does not display the type of plastic).

Once these are in place then we can look at charging people by the amount of non-recyclable waste that they produce. This would assume that a workable system could be found. For a starter it would have to be an individual allowance rather than a household one. There are plenty of practical problems that might arise – increased fly-tipping, neighbours using each others’ bins. I thought some EU countries had systems in place but cannot find anything on the net.

So my concerns about weighing rubbish are more practical than liberal. Can all householders easily recycle waste and compostable material? Are manufacturers being forced to reduce packaging and use recycleable materials? And finally, can a weighing system work?

“Liberal” arguments against weighing rubbish or a tax on polluting cars or taxing those manufacturers who insist on keeping a wasteful “standby” button on your TV do not impress me. In fact, I’d class these as more coming from a libertarian perspective – an argument for small or non-existent government overriding environmental concern

Mill wrote, “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” This is often seen as shorthand for modern liberalism.

By unsustainably polluting the planet, we are all harming each other. This needs to be tackled by compulsion as well as enabling people to be more environmentally responsible. The devil in the environment is in the detail: 3 or 4 appliances left on standby in one home may add up to hardly anything in the UK’s energy budget but multiply that by tens of millions of homes….

Calling a chip in a bin a “bug” is a good old Wail sensationalism. It’s no more a bug than getting your pet microchipped. Like your pet, the chip in the bin stores which property the bin comes from. It does not transmit weight, sound or other dynamic data.

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