Waste management firms are being accused of opportunistic profiteering, the Government is being accused of incompetence and threats of increased illegal dumping are being made across social media. And some commentators are even stating that the emerging bin charges controversy could develop into a crisis similar to that which has surrounded water charges for the past two years.
Here is everything you need to know about the developing crisis.
On July 1st, a new law will come into effect, meaning that all waste management companies in the country will charge for bin collection on a pay-by-weight basis.
The EU Waste Directive Framework says that all EU member states must incorporate the ‘polluter pays principle’. That means that the Irish system needs updating to ensure that the households that pollute the most, pay the most.
Former Minister for the Environment, Alan Kelly, signed the ‘Waste Management Collection Permit Amendment’ in January, forcing all waste management companies to charge a minimum of 11 cent per kilogram of black bin waste, 6 cent for a kilogram of brown bin waste and 2 cent for a kilogram of green bin waste from July 1st.
Significantly, there was no cap placed on the maximum amount companies can charge. More on that later.
For those unsure, green bins are for recyclables such as cardboard, tin cans and soft plastics; brown bins are for food waste; and black bins are for everything else.
The purpose behind Alan Kelly’s pricing is to divert waste away from black bins and into the brown and green bins, thereby enforcing the ‘polluter pays principle’ and encouraging recycling.
Simon Coveney is the new Minister for the Environment and he decided to scrap the minimum 2 cent per kilogram charge on green bins in May, following criticism from The Green Party, Anti-Austerity Alliance and others. They believed that the 2 cent per kg charge would, in fact, discouraging recycling.
When announcing the legislation, the Government claimed that households with four or less members – that’s 87% of the country – would save money as a result of the changes. Households with five members would pay the same and those with six or more members would end up paying more for bin charges. So, according to Alan Kelly and co., only 4.5% of the country would see prices go up.
On top of this, the Government predicted that the changes would result in a 25% reduction in waste going into landfill sites. All of this sounds rather reasonable and even quite positive for a country keen to encourage more environmentally-friendly waste disposal.
There are nine main waste management companies in Ireland and some of them started writing to their customers over the last few weeks, informing them of the new charges. And this is where the trouble started.
Greyhound, which has 120,000 customers in Dublin City and South Dublin, will be charging 35 cent per kg of black bin waste, 23 cent per kg of brown bin waste and will be increasing its service fee from €59.95 to €169, to be paid in weekly instalments of €3.25. That’s an increase of 182% on the service fee alone.
Thorntons, which has 60,000 customers, will be introducing a black bin charge of 35 cent per kg, a brown bin charge of 20 cent per kg and an annual service fee of €104, which is an increase of €54 or 108% on what it is at the moment. People Before Profit organised a protest outside Thorntons Recycling Plant when the new charges were announced.
Greenstar will be introducing an annual fee of €157, along with a 33 cent per kg charge for black bin waste and 20 cent per kg for brown bin waste.
None of these companies will charge anything directly for green bin collection, but it’s clear that this cost is being covered through other charges.
The majority of other companies have yet to reveal their pricing, but even at a glance, there is a pattern of large increases for bin charges underway.
Due to the fact that the volume of each type of waste that a household produces varies between households, different people will face different changes. bHowever, we are yet to hear of a real-life example in which pay-by-weight will reduce costs.
The Government’s prediction that 87% of households will save money under the new regime seems a little far-fetched already. Fine Gael backbencher, Noel Rock, referred to the claim as “nonsense”. His words, not ours!
Let’s look at a working example though.
Greyhound states that the average household produces around 500 kg of black bin waste every year. Currently, the company charges €23.50 a month for two black, brown and green bin collections. So, €282 a year.
Under the new pricing, the average customer will pay €344 a year for black bin collections alone. That's an increase of €62 or 23% before brown bin costs are even considered.
TD Joan Collins illustrated another example in the Dáil this week. She said that a household having its 240 litre black bin collected 26 times a year would see a 36% price increase from €267 to €364.
Social media and the airwaves are awash with other examples of large price increases while TDs are frantically reporting that their constituents are “incensed” at the news.
Unsurprisingly, the new Government has come in for some hefty criticism from the opposition and the public for bringing in legislation that has triggered these increases in bin charges. But it claims to be taking the issue seriously, with Simon Coveney calling an emergency meeting with the waste management firms on Friday night.
At the meeting, the Minister proposed delaying the introduction of the pay-by-weight pricing structure and giving a short-term guarantee that consumers will not face higher prices if they don't produce more waste that they are at the moment.
The firms are due to meet to consider the proposals, and Simon Coveney is scheduled to meet the Attorney General before bringing a proposal to solve the crisis to Cabinet.
Meanwhile, opposition parties including Sinn Féin and the AAA-PBP alliance are preparing motions of their own to call for the reversal of the charges.
It’s likely that we'll see some form of action implemented before the end of the week, as the calls for the Government to either freeze prices or to introduce a price cap to limit the maximum amount that can be charged for bin collection continue to get louder.
Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald has said that the “spirit of legislation was not intended to be an excuse to top up the basic charges” and that regulations will be introduced “if necessary”.
Whatever develops over the coming days, there will have to be some concrete action taken before July 1st, as opposition parties call for mass marches and disgruntled members of the public threaten to illegally dump their waste in protest at the charges.
The emerging bin charges crisis could be about to get very messy in more ways than one.
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