Amid confusion and delays over pay-by-weight billing,we face big challenges to tackle growing waste problem
Households expecting to spend the early part of next year analysing their waste bills to see if they would benefit from moving away from a flat-fee charge can rest easy.
The Government has decided that the introduction of a dual-billing system to help show consumers how much they could save by segregating their waste will be deferred, and an option to opt-in to a pay-by-weight system has also been postponed.
Originally due to come into force in July 2015, pay-by-weight is designed to charge households on the basis of how much waste they produce. A minimum charge per kilo of brown bin or compostable waste would be applied, which was set at 6 cent, and a higher charge of 11 cent for black bin waste destined for landfill. There was to be no charge for green, or recycling, waste.
But the July 2015 date was pushed out for a year, and then last summer the Government decided to defer it again until July 2017 amid a public backlash and widespread confusion about what effect the new system would have on household bills.
But it did decide that, from January 1 next, all waste collectors would be obliged to provide their customers with dual billing as part of a plan to educate the public about best practice and highlight the benefits of recycling.
This would set out their bill under their existing price plan, and also provide a comparative bill so customers could see what they would pay under a pay-by-weight system. They also obliged collectors to allow customers opt-in to a pay-by-weight system if they so chose.
But these plans have been scrapped. The reason is because the minister is concerned that the existing price structure would not allow all households benefit by 'doing the right thing'.
A new pricing structure is being developed which will be "more flexible" and cater for different household types and sizes and incentivise recycling.
But rumbling away in the background is a bigger problem - the lack of capacity to treat the amount of waste we generate. Households have done remarkably well in this regard, and we have met most EU waste targets. But some 12 million tonnes of rubbish a year is generated, of which 2.7 million tonnes comes from municipal sources including households, and it's increasing, up 6pc compared with 2012 according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
We are running out of landfill capacity, which is at "critically low" levels, and are hugely reliant on shipping our rubbish abroad for treatment. Just six landfills are in operation, down from 18 in 2012, and some are at or near capacity. We cannot rely on incineration to solve our waste problem, and there's a real danger a danger that if the capacity of export markets reduces at short notice, there will not be enough processing facilities here to cope with existing and new demand.
We need to reduce the amount of waste we generate, and install sufficient capacity to pre-treat valuable waste such as plastic and glass which can be sold on.
We need to compost more, and invest in facilities to generate energy from our waste. These are not new concepts, but the recession put paid to a lot of investment plans. Only through investment and a change in attitudes, and by upping recycling rates, will we avoid having to deal with our waste problem on an ongoing basis.