In a carefully choreographed move, Frank Conway, the head of the Government’s Price Monitoring, Group has rushed in to back waste management companies by claiming that new re-cycling charges are ‘inevitable’.
The reason he states is China’s ban on the imports of plastic that came into effect from January 1st 2018.
However, the major waste collection companies have been trying to introduce new charges for two years. Most of them base their headquarters in the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands to avoid paying tax.
The original excuse used to privatise waste collection was that it would lead to greater re-cycling. But, ironically, the latest argument reveals the scandal that lies behind these bogus claims.
Ireland is the top producer of plastic per head of population in Europe. We produce 61 kilograms of plastic per person year per year. So two decades of supposed re-cycling has been a complete failure.
But it gets worse. The waste companies that collect our plastic do not engage in any genuine re-cycling.
Instead 95 per cent of this plastic is shipped to China where, up to recently, is was sorted manually by the poor. It is often mixed in with other waste electronic products.
An investigation by Shantou University Medical College’s of the “world’s largest electronic waste dump” – in Guiyu, Guangdong province – found that up to 80 per cent of children in the town had excess levels of lead in their bloodstream. Other investigations found widespread mixing of toxic materials with imported scrap plastic. The recycling companies in China were also dumping many of the waste imports in landfill sites.
But why send these waste products half way around the world to China?
The reason was purely economic. It is cheaper because it is placed on ships that would otherwise be empty when they return after delivering Chinese consumer goods to Europe.
The waste companies now want to shift the export of plastics to other South-East Asian. They want the new charges to boost their profits and to cover any extra cost of shipping to countries like Vietnam.
The waste companies have no genuine interest in re-cycling. In fact the more plastic they can export abroad, the more profits they will make.
We need an entirely new approach to waste management than the ones proposed by supporters of privatisation.
Waste collection should be immediately brought back into public ownership and a new political approach to reducing waste must be adopted.
Instead of trying to influence individual consumer decision making by price incentives, the government should take political action to stop the production of plastic.
- There should be an immediate ban on single-use plastic utensils such as straws and plastic cups.
- Retails chains and food producers should be given a limited time to move away from plastic wrapping. There is no need, for example, to wrap meat and vegetables in plastic.
- The government should establish alternative production facilities to the use of plastic – such as greater use of seaweed as a base material.
Instead of relying on a profit driven market to solve this crisis, we need radical political action to save our planet from becoming a plastic waste ground.