Is Cambridge City Council Acquiring Technology for Pay as You Throw Taxation?

Sunday, January 4th, 2009. 2:21am

Wheelie Bins, Cambridge

While reading though the list of new vehicles which Cambridge City Council is planning to buy in 2009/10 I came across two “”On-board weighing systems” at £6,000 each” along with the waste and recycling equipment. The Council publish on their website that the amount of waste collected by their refuse collection vehicles is weighed using a vehicle weigh bridge. The Council’s What happens to your rubbish and recycling page states:

All of the rubbish that you recycle or dispose of is weighed.

This is done by weighing the collection vehicles on a weighbridge before and after they empty a load.

The use of on-board weighing systems suggests that perhaps the Council are considering gathering information in more detail about where waste is coming from. It is also possible that waste could take more direct routes, avoiding the current weighbridges. While it is likely that there are good reasons for using on-board weighing systems, I think it is important that the information collected is used carefully. I would be concerned if the City Council was introducing, by stealth, the technology required to implement pay-as-you-throw charges based on the amount of waste residents throw away. I do not think the Council should be weighing individual household’s bins without their knowledge and without residents being aware of what the Council intends to do with the information they collect.

In order to find out why the Council is acquiring this equipment I wrote to Colin Rosenstiel the councillor responsible:

Cllr Rosenstiel,

I am writing to you in your capacity as Cambridge City Council’s executive councillor for environmental and waste services.

According to the list of Vehicle Replacements 2009/10 to be presented to the Strategy and Resources Scrutiny Committee on 19th January 2009(1). The Council is planning to buy two “On-board weighing systems” at £6,000 each.

Could you please let me know what these are for. I am hoping you will be able to reassure me that the Council is not about to start snooping on how much individual households put in each bin, or start introducing the technology required for the City Council to introduce a “pay-as-you-throw” scheme charging residents by weight for the amount of rubbish they are throwing away.

1. Page 79 of 95, Appendix K to Item 5

4 comments/updates on “Is Cambridge City Council Acquiring Technology for Pay as You Throw Taxation?

  1. Richard Article author

    Cllr Rosenstiel, presumably concerned that I what I had written in the first comment/update here could be misinterpreted, has written to request a clarification. He has said:

    Can I make it clear that all that is being investigated is your email as far as I am concerned.

    If you wish to suggest otherwise on your web site do not expect to receive further replies from me.

    I had not intended to suggest that weighing individual household’s rubbish, and perhaps charging by weight was under investigation itsself.

    I presume and hope that Cllr Rosentiel is investigating the subject of my email – namely trying to find out why someone in the council wants to buy on-vehicle weighing technology and what they want to do with it.

  2. Victoria Kelso

    As Cllr Rosenstiel is away at the moment and I find myself in a position to offer some explanation, I thought I would post this comment in lieu of his reply.
    Cambridge City Council currently has no plans to introduce a ‘pay as you throw’ system for household waste charging. Using a vehicle weighing system in this way would require a corresponding investment in microchipped bins so that weights could be assigned to individual households. This kind of system is in its infancy and being tested by a handful of councils in the UK – even if Cambridge City Council was considering it, it would certainly be wise to see what the outcome of those trials was first. The weighing systems that you refer to are intended for use on the council’s trade waste collection vehicles. Trade waste is of course already charged for, but I believe this is done per lift at the moment. A weighing system would allow charging by weight, and if used on recycling vehicles might also mean that data can be fed back to companies on exactly how much they are recycling.

  3. Richard Article author

    Cllr Rosenteil has passed me an explanation:

    “The weighing equipment is for the trade waste vehicles and in particular
    to measure the waste from our administrative buildings sent for recycling.”

    He added “the City Council has no intention of going in for any pay-per-throw rubbish schemes for domestic waste. The Council is required by law to charge for trade waste and has been for many year[s].”

    Currently according to the City Council website in terms of trade waste: “Charges are based on the size of bin and frequency of collections,”

    Charging by weight would be a new development there.

    As for buying these bits of kit to monitor the council’s own recycling from its administrative buildings, that does appear to me to be overkill, there must be easier and cheaper ways to monitor what is being thrown away. In terms of trade waste the responses above suggest the council is buying these bits of kit with no firm plans for how they intend to use them; they might introduce charging by weight for companies, they might write to companies and tell them how much they’re throwing away.

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