Avoiding high bin charges requires all households to change behaviour
The easiest way to avoid bin charges, it appears, is to avoid using your bin. A year after the furore which erupted after the Government attempted to introduce pay-by-weight bin charges, it's back on the agenda. But this time, the proposed system is somewhat different.
Environment Minister Denis Naughten insists a pay-by-weight system is not being introduced. Instead, it's an "incentivised pricing system" which has the same net effect - the more waste you produce, the more you'll pay.
If all your waste is going into the black bin and destined for landfill, expect to be hit with very high charges. On the other hand, a "good" recycler who has a compost heap in the garden and only uses the black bin as a last resort, should come off best. But it appears no matter how committed you are to the recycling agenda, your prices will rise, although the minister insists it will not be by a "significant" amount.
Ireland does have a waste problem. The amount going to landfill has increased over the last two years, and we are obliged to reduce this under the polluter pays principle - a concept first introduced 40 years ago in the Waste Framework Directive - or risk fines from the EU. The simplest way to achieve this is to improve recycling rates.
Last year, it was estimated that 440,000 tonnes of waste a year would be diverted from landfill to recycling and reuse if we paid based on the amount of waste produced instead of escaping with a flat fee. But the introduction of such a system would result in higher bills for some.
The Dáil heard that families previously paying €200 would face bills of €400, while others previously paying €360 would be charged more than €600. It is not clear what the net effect of these rule changes will be, but last year the Government estimated that four person or less households - around 87pc of all household types - would pay less.
There is a bigger issue too about how householders can be encouraged to reduce waste.
The 'average' family throws out food costing around €700 per year, much of which arises from supermarket deals where customers are encouraged to buy increased amounts of fruit, vegetables or bread which have a short shelf life.
Much of this inevitably ends up in the bin, and the Government is working with supermarkets to phase out these practices. German supermarket Lidl has already committed.
There's also the issue of packaging on consumer goods and foodstuffs which could be reduced, and there's merit in the Green Party's proposal to introduce a deposit scheme for glass and bottles.
There are problems with this new system, which is far from perfect. Many people in rural areas and those living in apartments do not, and are unlikely to, have access to a brown bin in the near future to allow them to compost food waste. That means they will pay more, as they will be forced to put this waste into the black bin. Many will rightly feel aggrieved at this.
A proposal from the Green Party to require collectors to tender to collect waste in particular areas also has merit. This would reduce the number of trucks on the road, with local authorities in a position to help drive down household prices through competitive tendering. There is also merit to a waiver scheme for low-income households.
It stands to reason that the more waste you produce, the more you should pay. But companies cannot be seen to be gouging customers or we will be right back to the controversy of a year ago, and our waste problem will continue to grow. Everybody should be rewarded for doing the right thing.