In many civilized countries households pay a fee for funding the public waste disposal service. This system, however, stems from the age when garbage was dumped at landfills and waste was considered as a valueless annoyance. Though many developed countries has switched to incineration as their primary method of waste disposal, waste was and is still seen as the useless by-product of consumption.
Within that paradigm it makes sense to let people pay for the disposal of their own garbage, under the principle of “the polluter must pay”. This principle would be useful for the reduction of waste, if the waste disposal fee one has to pay, would depend upon the amount of waste one produces. However, in some countries this fee is either fixed or does dependent on the number of household member, rather than on the amount of waste produced.
Under a fixed fee there’s a perverse incentive for people to produce a great amount of waste. After all your waste disposal becomes cheaper if you have more waste to dispose. And the cost of your waste disposal will be shifted to those who produce less waste. It’s not hard to see how this would lead to a vicious circle to more and more waste.
The question is then why governments does choose for a fixed fee? The answer is simplicity. It’s difficult for tax authorities to make an accurate estimation of how much waste someone actually produces. Levying a fixed fee, or making it dependent upon the number of household members, is much easier for the government.
But we do not want to have landfills in space settlements, and due to the abundance of solar power in space waste incineration does not make much sense either. Therefore we should consider whether this linear paradigm is actually the correct frame to look at waste. As have argued in a previous post, recycling should be the corner-stone of the waste management system of space settlements.
With recycling garbage should not considered as valueless waste, as one’s garbage is another’s resource. Consequently waste processing is not longer a service which prime focus is managing of a public annoyance, but rather a productive and value adding industry. The revenue generated through the sale of the products of recycling plants, should be used to fund the waste management system of space settlements, rather than charging households for the disposal of their waste.