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Conservation and recycling - only driven by incentives?

In emerging economies, there is often an innate emphasis on conserving resources. Take as an example newspapers in India. Families from different economic strata recycle their newspapers. Every month there shows up a person who is colloquially called the “old paper man” (loosely translated). The “old” is not a verdict on his age. The “old paper man” buys the used newspapers by the kilogram (or pound if you are metrically challenged) and sells them to paper mills that produce recycled paper. The money might not be much, but most households meticulously recycle used newspapers. Moving down the socioeconomic strata, there are many who make their living by rummaging through garbage to collect plastic that they sell to recyclers.

No poor families would waste electricity – not because they care about conserving energy but for fear of opening up their wallets to the electricity board. Conservation is practiced instinctively and instilled early in younger generations as it is a question of survival. In a country where every penny makes a difference, the majority of the population actively strives to conserve and recycle resources. Here, conservation of resources and recycling wherever possible is implicit in lives.

This begs the question (with apologies for generalizing) - Is money the sole motivation? If so, how can we better incentivize people to conserve and recycle?

Let us take power consumption as an example. What if we measure average power consumption for a family (normalized to the number of members). If a family of similar size uses significantly less power than the average give them a discount on their bill. What if we penalize those who use significantly more than the average by adding a luxury tax of sorts?

Related - an interesting article by Monbiot. To summarize, he argues that there are strong social reasons for helping people to manage their reproduction, but weak environmental reasons.

However, this might be open to contention as the emerging economies are slowly increasing their (wasteful) consumption of energy as well.


Raj said...

Money seems to be the incentive again in your solution... In the former case conserving energy helps the person save money, while in the latter it is getting them extra money...I thought the energy companies do have brackets in our energy consumption and charge you more for KWHr for the higher brackets...

xpercept said...

That is my question - How else can we change people's attitudes? Money seems to be the incentive in most cases. Hence, the (crazy) idea I threw out also had money as the incentive :). As far as I know the energy company brackets and tax does not consider the size of the family.

Sangeetha Ramamurthy said...

I think different strata of the society needs different motivational reasons to change its wasteful environmental habits (strictly speaking for non environmentalists). Saving money is definitely a powerful incentive for the hardworking lower and middle class families.Moving up the ladder to upper middle class, convenience might actually score over savings in many departments.
Similarly, I think different habits need to be promoted in different ways. For eg: I agree with you that personal monitory savings are extremely effective in ensuring that people regulate their usage of electricity and water supply. However, the same set of people may not be as responsive to say abandoning the practice of using plastic bags even if it has monitory benefits associated with it. Here convenience of usage and easy availability take over financial savings and any alternate option to the plastic bag must address these issues.

I think even though promising monetary benefits is and will be an effective way to end many wasteful habits, it is limited in scope while our list of wasteful habits is pretty exhaustive.

xpercept said...

@Sangeetha - Very good point. I completely agree. There needs to be a framework of sorts to tackle this at different levels. Also in terms of incentives there should also be some to the manufacturers (as in the case of plastic bags maybe). So a complete framework which addresses the incentives for all the participants in the flow of resources from creation to consumption would be highly beneficial.

IT disposal said...

The developed world certainly does harbour some extremely wasteful habits. This is indicative of our society as a whole and is clear in the current trend towards increased greenhouse gas emissions globally, during a global economic downturn. The two factors, which have until now been traditionally pegged together are now charting in opposite directions, reflecting a global change in Economic standings, with Brazil and China now being economic powerhouses, fuelled by Capitalism. Basically, it's Capitalism that fuels our wasteage. Cutting down on our consumption of electricity may be even harder than cutting out gasoline/ oil.

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