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The bin charges crisis one year on: where do we stand?

After a year on hold, the government has made a decision regarding a controversial proposal around bin charges put forward last year. The question is, what will the changes mean for you?

Just around this time last year the country was facing a bin charges crisis. Waste management firms were being accused of opportunistic profiteering, the government was being accused of incompetence and threats of increased illegal dumping were being made across social media. There were fears that the bin charges outrage could develop into a crisis similar to that which surrounded water charges.

The source of all the controversy? A proposed law that would have come into effect on the 1st of July 2016 making pay-by-the-weight bin charges compulsory for all waste management companies.

The proposed idea was intended to encourage bin users to recycle more by ensuring that households who pollute the most, pay the most. It was not met with enthusiasm, mainly because of the concerns that it would dramatically increase charges. After just a few days of pressure from various groups, the government gave in and agreed with the bin companies to suspend the introduction of pay-by-weight charging for 12 months until now…

So, a year on, where do we stand?

On the 27th of June The Department of Communications, Climate  Action and Environment announced that they will not, after all, be enforcing a pay-by-weight system. They will however, begin phasing out flat rate bin charges.

On the 4th of July 2017, after much backlash and criticism from political parties and consumers alike, the government struck a deal with Fianna Fáil in response to the demand for the establishment of a waste collection regulator.

It was decided that a new watchdog (known as the ‘Pricing Watchdog Monitoring Unit’) would be set up in lieu of a proper regulator. The watchdog will be tasked with ensuring that waste collection customers will not be subject to ‘price gouging’ by waste collection companies and its duties will involve tackling emerging cartels in the industry, as well as bringing criminal convictions against firms suspected of price-fixing or collusion.  

Quoted in The Irish Independent, Environment Minister Denis Naughten said that a more “flexible approach” for waste collection charges was needed and claims that the abolishment of flat fees will allow companies to charge based on the number of times the bin was lifted, by weight, through a weight allowance coupled with a higher charge per kilogramme produced above this or through a combination of all.

So what exactly will change?

Three things are set to change:

  • Flat rate bin charges will no longer be allowed to be applied. Bin companies will be free to use several options or combinations of charging methods such as standing charges, pay per-lift, pay per kilogramme, pay-by-weight bands, and weight allowance charges. Standing charges are still going to be allowed but waste collection companies will also have to incorporate a charge that relates to the amount of waste a household produces.

  • Brown bins are coming.  If you live in a town of over 500 people your waste collection company is now obliged to provide you with a brown bin for food and other organic waste. This measure again is designed to shrink your black bin waste; food waste is typically the heaviest, so by putting all your food waste in the brown compost bin you will reduce any weight related charges on your general waste.

  • Government subsidies. The government promise to help people with long-term medical incontinence in the form of a subsidy towards bin charges of €75 a year. This payment will be to help towards the extra cost of disposal of incontinence products.

When will this new system come into effect?

Initially supposed to come into effect from the 1st of July 2017, the changes will now come into force in September. It is expected most households will move to the new system within 15 months.

Why does the system need changing?

As mentioned above, the move to pay-by-weight is designed, and is expected to increase household recycling levels. According to The Irish Times, it is hoped that these measures will increase recycling by between 27 and 32%. The government has also warned about a lack of space in landfills and hopes that these new measures will divert up to 35% more waste from landfill.

The Irish Times continues; “Minister Denis Naughten has said the current one size fits all charges penalise those who actually recycle and that the new system will give households a financial incentive to recycle. Irish families are currently disposing of €700 of food every year.”

How much will I have to pay?

The good news is that for the majority of people bin charging methods probably won’t change much. The establishment of a watchdog is also, for the most part, good news for the consumer, though it is not definitive. It is indeed a step in the right direction, but the lack of a concrete regulator means that consumers are still vulnerable to the whims of waste collection companies.  

Be vigilant and make sure to contact your waste collection company to find out how much your current package will be affected by the changes.

Most collection companies now maintain online records of their customers’ waste, meaning that you can go online and key in your account number to obtain a readout of the weight of your bins and what your usage has been. Based off of this information your provider should then be able to give you an indication of what your new charges will be.

Have your say

Waste collection charges are obviously a sensitive issue for the Irish public and in the face of so much protestation it begs the question, will this solution work?

Is there a need for a waste collection regulator? Should there be fixed pricing? What do you think the government should do? Let us know your opinions in the comments below. 


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