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Saturday 22 October 2016

Q&A: So will I pay more – or less?

Published 17/06/2016 | 02:30

Housing Minister Simon Coveney will meet the bigger companies
next week, and will seek explanations as to why charges are being hiked. Pic Tom Burke
Housing Minister Simon Coveney will meet the bigger companies next week, and will seek explanations as to why charges are being hiked. Pic Tom Burke

What’s happening with bin charges?

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On July 1, every waste collector in the country is obliged to introduce a pay-by-weight system. This means householders will be billed on the amount of waste produced, bringing to an end the system of annual fees. Around 20pc of households already use this system.

Why is this being done?

Ireland is obliged under EU rules to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill, and to increase composting and recycling rates. The introduction of pay by weight is considered the best way to achieve this, because households will have to pay more to send waste to landfill, thereby encouraging them to recycle and compost. The ‘polluter pays’ principle is also applied – the more waste you produce, the more you pay. It’s estimated that 440,000 tonnes a year could be diverted from landfill under the new system.

How much will I pay?

Operators are obliged to impose a minimum fee of 6 cent per kg of organic, or brown bin waste, and 11 cent per kg of black bin waste. There is no minimum charge for green waste or recycling. They can also impose a service charge.

Is this the maximum companies can charge?

No. They can charge whatever they feel the market can bear, prompting suggestions they will cash in under the new system.

Is there any evidence of this?

The Dáil heard that families previously paying €200 would face bills of €400, while others previously paying €360 were now being charged €611. Standing charges have doubled in some cases.

One newspaper suggested that customers of one company would end up paying bills in excess of €500 a year. This is based on filling the black and brown bins with 35kg of waste every fortnight, which amounts to some 1,680kg per year. But the most recent figures from the Environmental Protection Agency suggest this is in excess of the ‘average’ amount of waste produced by the ‘average’ person, which stands at 367kg across all waste types every year.

But will some operators not make an attempt to gouge customers?

Possibly. Anecdotally, it’s suggested that some companies which had loss-making household collection services – or who were selling below-cost, which is no longer allowed – are upping their prices. In areas with little or no competition, this may become an issue.

What happens if companies are charging way in excess of market norms?

Housing Minister Simon Coveney will meet the bigger companies next week, and will seek explanations as to why charges are being hiked. But it’s not clear if he has any powers to impose a maximum charge, given it’s a free market.

How can I tell how much waste I produce?

Since July 1 last year, companies have been obliged to inform households of the amount of waste generated either online or by request. The Department of the Environment says a ‘typical’ family generates around 600kg of black, 200kg of brown and 200kg of green bin waste a year.

I live in an apartment. What happens to me?

The pay by weight system applies. How it is put in place is up to the management company.

There is no room in my house for a wheelie bin, and I currently use tags. What should I do?

Local authorities have powers to designate “bag collection” areas, meaning no change will apply. Some 156 streets in Dublin City have this designation. If your area is not listed, you must use a wheelie bin.

What about social welfare and people with disabilities with large volumes of waste?

The Government has ruled out a waiver scheme, and it is up to each company as to whether they provide discounts. Issues around people with disabilities who may produce large volumes of waste are being discussed as a matter of ‘urgency’.

Can I save money?

Yes. Video footage from one waste operator shows that paper and cardboard, glass and cans, clothes, food, newspapers, electrical and demolition waste is routinely thrown out in the black bin, which commands the highest charge.

The best advice is to segregate waste. Households should also shop around for the best price.

So will I pay more, or less?

The Government says that households of four people or fewer – around 87pc of the total – will pay less. Those with five, 9pc of the total, will pay the same; while households with six or more people will pay more. This is around 4.5pc of the total, or 76,000.

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