Ireland’s system of collecting of waste is a disaster. It is costly, inefficient, damaging for the environment and socially unjust. Instead of reducing and generating alternatives that deal ethically and environmentally with domestic waste, bin charges were introduced. Waste collection services were privatised. Companies pushed up costs to residents while pocketing huge profits. Illegal dumping has become rampant, and collection workers face increasingly worse conditions.
This is why we call it a disaster.
People Before Profit support the return of waste management services to the control of local authorities. Here is why.
Cost: The waste management companies provide little clear information on their pricing and profits, sheltering behind a regime of commercial secrecy. However, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission estimated that the annual average charge in 2016 was €228. The Journal.ie estimates that the annual average price now ranges between €230-€280.
Uncollected waste: As predicted by anti-bin charges campaigners, privatisation and the high costs of waste collection has led to a surge in illegal waste disposal and fly tipping. In the first quarter of 2019, for example, Dublin City Council received 2,849 reports of illegal dumping. The cost of removing this waste falls on the local council and in the first quarter of 2019 Dublin City Council had to spend €297,464 on collecting this illegal waste.
Inequality: Whether you are a millionaire or a pauper, you pay the same price per kilo of waste. This makes waste a grossly unequal charge. In the past, there was an attempt to rectify these inequalities with a waiver system for the poorest of households. The private companies, however, have systematically removed this waiver.
Environment: Private collection of waste means that there is little strategic direction of policy. As a result Ireland is not creating a ‘circular economy’ based on recycling, re-use and longer life products. The primary target of government policy is the individual consumer who is made directly responsible for waste disposal.
But consumers are waste receivers – not waste creators. When you go to a supermarket, you come away with large amounts of plastic and polystyrene. Large supermarket chains source cheap food from distant parts of the world and seek to prolong its shelf life for profit. A joint Friends of the Earth and Zero Waste Europe report estimated that 37 percent of all food in Europe is wrapped in plastic.
Yet while there are heavy penalties on consumers who dispose of waste illegally, there are virtually no controls on the companies that produce waste. The neo-liberal mindset of the Irish political elite thinks in terms of charges on individuals rather than regulating corporations. Reliance on private companies to then collect the waste the big corporations create, makes the problem even worse.
In 2016, for example, Ireland generated 2,763,166 tonnes of municipal waste and only recycled 41% of this. This is below the performance of many other countries who can hit recycling targets of 60%. Even the Environmental Protection Agency, which is notoriously soft on business interests stated that ‘Ireland is failing to meet the recovery and recycling targets for this waste stream’.
The private waste collection companies have no interest in broader concerns but only see waste as a source for profit. Having different companies collect from the same street, using twice the amount of diesel, is simple absurd from an environmental point of view.