If you don’t recycle, you’ll pay more for your trash

Author | Esther Fuldauer

That’s, in essence, a new normative imposed by the Zamudio Municipality in Bizkaia, Spain. The waste tax will penalize those residents that deposit more waste in the grey bin, the refuse fraction container. However, this tax scheme will also reward those who recycle more through positive tax returns.

The scheme is part of the Waste4Think project, funded by the European Commission and which includes Cascais (Portugal), Halandri (Grecia) and Seveso (Italia). The goal of the project is to grow the recyclable waste index to 30% in the four municipalities.

Taxation works like this: each household pays a fixed waste tax of 26 euros quarterly. They are allowing up to thirteen 25-liter waste bags to go into the grey bin every month of the quarter, which comes to be about 1 per week. Then residents have to prove they are recycling correctly, and if they do so, they get to pay a reduced tax of only 16 euros. For this, they have to throw the rest of the trash, another thirteen bags, to the organic, plastic and paper waste bins, and one more bag to the glass bin.

In the case that a neighbor goes above the thirteen bags during the same quarter, they will have to pay 2 euros more per bag. Unless they can prove they are recycling, in which case they will add only 1 euro per bag.

But how can does the municipality know if a resident is recycling correctly?

Many years ago, some of the municipalities of Euskadi including Zamudio, gave citizens an electronic card for waste. You can only open a waste bin by holding a card next to one. Until now, this system had only been used to collect data. Now the town hall wants to take it a step further and calculate the quarterly tax, learn more about what type of waste residents are producing, and the frequency of trash disposals.

The project preparation phase ends on November 30th, 2019 and will launch by April 2020. The system will affect 3.250 residents of Zamudio, 1.400 homes, and all the businesses. The cost of the project is of about 1M euros, 80% funded by the European Union.



The citizens of Zamudio themselves participated in the design of the tax scheme, a Pay-As-You-Throw system with great success in other parts of the world.

The idea behind PAYT is to make it a fairer tax by having residents pay to the same degree that they pollute. Those who recycle can have savings of up to 40% while those who produce a lot of waste and do not separate correctly are penalized, and could pay more than double.

The results are encouraging. A survey conducted by Public Policy Polling in 2014 in the U.S. showed that attitudes of people who participate in a PAYT are very positive. 68% saw it fair, 74% saw it easy to perform, and 62% said it had a positive impact on their environment.

The benefits of PAYT to municipalities are enormous when you realize them:

  • Rewards those who generate less waste, increasing fairness and accountability.
  • It’s an effective way to raise consumer awareness of the waste content in products purchased.
  • Reduces waste management tonnage to collect, transport and dispose in landfills or incinerators.
  • Lowers emissions and distance travelled by waste trucks.
  • Increases recycling and composting rates.
  • Reduces air, water and soil pollution.

PAYT success depends on the education and training of citizens and municipal agents. The Zamudio project included an exhaustive environmental education program and awareness campaigns. An essential campaign consisted of explaining to residents how the PAYT system works and how the containers operate together with the electronic cards.

Improving recycling rates is not just a matter of technology. It is critical to work with communities raising awareness to encourage responsible behaviour and to build a “sense of ownership” of the waste management systems.

In addition to developing the 20 eco-solutions, Waste4Think seeks to become a practical waste management framework for other municipalities. It has adopted an open data policy that facilitates the sharing of all project results with the rest of the world.

Images | Bas Emmen, Lisa Fotios