Friday 21 October 2016

Better to delay the new system than plough ahead with a complete mess

Published 18/06/2016 | 02:30

'There is no point in introducing such a system unless it incentivises people to segregate their waste.' Photo: Laura Hutton/
'There is no point in introducing such a system unless it incentivises people to segregate their waste.' Photo: Laura Hutton/

Given the ongoing furore about pay-by-weight bin charges, the most sensible course of action for the Government is to suspend the introduction of the new system.

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There is no compelling reason as to why it must come in to force on July 1. Ireland is well on track to reach EU targets on diverting waste from landfill, and recycling what's left over, and it's more important to get a system which is transparent and fair, rather than engaging in greenwashing.

The public has been subjected to a most confusing introduction to the 'polluter pays' principle.

There is little clarity about how much they are expected to pay. Many of those who do know are facing very substantial increases, in some cases almost a doubling of their annual charge.

And there is no source of information allowing prices to be compared. Many of the companies are not talking - and some suggest they don't know how much they will charge, less than two weeks before the system goes live. What a peculiar way to run a business and keep their customers informed.

But the problems aren't only confined to the prices being charged. Many households using bags are unsure as to what happens to them. Must they use a wheelie bin? Is there an exemption from the new system?

Parts of the country without a brown/organic bin service face a higher charge to dispose of their food and garden waste, because organic bins are not being rolled out to all areas.

And in the cities, apartment owners are at the mercy of management companies which must implement a fair system where those who reduce and segregate their waste are rewarded.

What a mess.

The responsible minister, Simon Coveney, is meeting with the companies and could attempt to put manners on those intent on hiking prices beyond a reasonable amount by introducing regulations to cap charges.

It's very difficult to see how this could be achieved in an open market. Would it follow that retailers be told to put a maximum price on a shirt, or the ESB instructed to cap electricity charges?

The other thing being looked at is the introduction of a waiver system, or some form of assistance for low-income families. This would be difficult to administer, but could be done through the social welfare system.

However, there is no point in introducing such a system unless it incentivises people to segregate their waste.

It should never have come to this. The pay-by-weight system was supposed to come into force in July last year. The companies have had a year to outline their charges. The State has had 12 months to undertake a public information campaign on these new tariffs, something which only began last month. Consumer groups have largely remained silent.

And so instead of having a system which everyone believes is fair, we are left with accusations of price gouging and over-charging.

The most important part of this, which is being lost, is the need to not only reduce the amount of waste we produce, but also to dispose of it properly.

The first step is to introduce a system where customers are incentivised for doing the right thing and separating their waste. Those who throw everything into the black bin should pay more. The second part is to ensure that households pay the same in two weeks' time as they do today. The third is to put in place systems to ensure that people see the benefit of recycling and composting, and avoiding producing the waste in the first place.

That means providing a financial incentive in the form of lower tariffs, something sorely lacking on the evidence to date.

It's not that people need to trust their waste collector, but the cynical fees being sought do nothing to enhance the reputation of the industry. In light of very real evidence that some customers face the cost of their charges almost doubling, Mr Coveney must call a halt now. Better to get it right than introduce a system where the only winners are the operators.

Irish Independent

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