More than 30 councils are fitting microchips to wheelie bins in advance of a possible "pay as you throw" scheme for landfill waste, it was reported today. Local authorities do not have the power to charge householders according to how much rubbish they produce, but many have invested in technology capable of weighing the contents of a bin to within 500 grams.

According to a report for the BBC1 programme Real Story, some are activating the technology to pinpoint areas with low recycling rates. But later this year, the Local Government Association (LGA) is expected to propose that councils be allowed to introduce a "pay as you throw" scheme, whereby households are charged according to the amount of landfill waste they produce.

Paul Bettison, chairman of the LGA's environment board, said many councils were buying microchipped bins now because it was cheaper than fitting the technology later. "If you were going to go to a system of charging it is a fair assumption that you would need to a way of doing this without having someone read it and jot it down," he said. "Certainly a chip in the bin would be one way of doing that if a council wanted to be given that option in the future."

A spokeswoman for the LGA said such a scheme would not mean extra charges for homeowners. "If a 'pay as you throw' scheme were introduced, that would mean a reduction in council tax and a separate charge for waste collection and disposal," she said. She added that such a scheme would require legislation and would not be imposed on councils, who could opt to use different measures to boost recycling. Councils are looking ahead to 2010 when they could face fines for failing to reach a 40% recycling target for household waste imposed by the European Union.

In August, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) said charging households different amounts depending on how much waste they produced was the only way to improve recycling rates in Britain. The thinktank said similar schemes had worked in Europe, citing the example of schemes in parts of Germany where homeowners are charged 18p a kilo for waste that isn't recycled. Across the country as a whole, 58% of waste was recycled in 2003-04, compared with just 18% in the UK, the IPPR said. However the idea of microchipped bins has so far proved unpopular with homeowners.

According to recent newspaper reports defiant householders have been removing the microchips and either dumping them or posting them back to their local town hall. In Bournemouth, councillors estimated that 25,000 "bugs" - one-third of the total - have been unscrewed.


Subscribe to IEMA's newsletters to receive timely articles, expert opinions, event announcements, and much more, directly in your inbox.