The Straits Times says

Time to think about the cost of trash

A National Environment Agency (NEA) official raised the possibility that Singapore residents may be asked in future to "pay as you throw". The move would be a part of efforts to monitor and limit rubbish dumped by households. This shift could involve bin chutes that use radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to track how much waste any one household produces. It is an interesting idea in principle. It reflects the user-pay notion, a pricing approach which holds that the most efficient allocation of resources occurs when consumers pay the full cost of the goods that they consume. As things stand now, each HDB household pays $8.25 a month for waste regardless of the amount thrown away. In effect, those who dispose of less garbage subsidise those who produce more. The new system would be fairer to the former.

Some concerns have been raised, however, by readers writing in to this newspaper. Large families and low-income households, it is pointed out, would feel the brunt of the change. Then, apart from questions of equity, it might not be correct to compare trash collection with metered utilities because sanitation is a public good crucial for public health. On the practical side, residents might seek to sidestep the new pricing scheme by dumping trash in public spaces such as common corridors and lift lobbies. Ideally, a shift towards "pay as you throw" would reinforce the habit of recycling among Singaporeans. That would be a worthwhile end in itself. However, there still would be large amounts of trash that cannot be recycled, consisting of organic material and plastic for example. That trash would have to find its way to the rubbish chute.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 25, 2019, with the headline 'Time to think about the cost of trash'. Subscribe