Sunday 18 March 2018

Only clear arguments can allay rubbish fears

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaks at a dinner in Dublin Castle last night. Picture: PA
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaks at a dinner in Dublin Castle last night. Picture: PA
John Downing

John Downing

One of the great eye-openers for a young kid in times past was a trip to the local municipal tip. It was an anarchic haven for rats, bedevilled by frequent fires which belched out toxic black smoke. It was in a locale where only the poorest people lived and visitors' main objective was to unload their rubbish as quickly as possible and then abscond.

In this era of the wheelie bin, those nightmare tipheads are a lifetime away.

But our rubbish does not just disappear - it is disposed of at some considerable monetary and environmental costs.

We make very heavy weather of what should be simple enough administrative tasks. We have failed to deliver a charging system to help end 50pc water leaks and the poisoning of 40 water courses with raw sewage.

Now we may be set to repeat the same thing with the new bin charge regime currently before the Dáil.

It is striking that in efforts at explaining the new water regime in 2012/2013, we heard very little about the need to tackle rampant unacceptable pollution.

Now as we move to a regime aimed at changing people's behaviour, we have heard precious little about the need to reduce our rubbish output, recycle more, and compost more. One year ago, we were about to move to a system aimed at doing just that.

The flat-rate annual bin charge, which applies to half our citizens, was to be ended. We were to move to a system of paying either by weight of rubbish or by the number of times the bin was emptied.

There was an understandable anxiety that this change would be bonanza time for the waste companies, which could seriously hike charges. Note the parallel with fears in spring 2014 that families would face huge water bills.

Things were put on ice for 12 months in July last year. Preparations were to be made, including a public information campaign. Spool on another year and we find absolutely nothing has changed and there has been no information campaign.

New Taoiseach Leo Varadkar got up on his hind legs in the Dáil yesterday and fought the case on the need to change our behaviour. He fought the case for reusing, recycling and composting, and warned about the scarcity of landfill space.

Mr Varadkar was in fact rather good and he even, again, promised a public information campaign.

But we need to hear these arguments voiced more clearly. Above all, people need to hear from the waste companies about their new charging regime.

Fianna Fáil wants a regulator but the experience in other sectors is not convincing. The Taoiseach's promised "watchdog" needs more explanation.

Irish Independent

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