‘Wild west’ privatised waste collection has failed householders, Oireachtas committee told

Trades unions Forsa and Siptu say sector is poorly regulated with considerable environmental costs resulting in ‘quasi market’

Richy Carrothers of Forsa has called for a revised 1996 Waste Management Act to provide for the return of waste collection services to local authorities. Photograph: iStock

Privatisation of municipal waste collection services has led to “a wild west” that has failed householders and is no longer best practice in major European cities where control has reverted to local authorities, according to trades unions Forsa and Siptu.

Many councils, faced with an unviable business model for domestic refuse, exited waste management, resulting in a “quasi market” for waste which is poorly regulated with considerable environmental costs, Richy Carrothers of Fórsa told the Oireachtas Committee on Environment and Climate Action on Tuesday.

Private refuse services were not only unaccountable, but cartel-like collection services were uncompetitive, inefficient and unable to provide affordable services or consistent coverage, he added. The committee is examining how the circular economy relates to the waste sector.

“It is estimated that 23 per cent of households do not have a waste collection service at all. This leaves room for a significant number of illegal practices such as illegal dumping or fly tipping in both urban and rural areas – 44,868 tonnes of waste were unmanaged in 2016 – with the ultimate clean-up costs borne by local councils,” Mr Carrothers added.


He called for a revised 1996 Waste Management Act to provide for the return of waste collection services to local authorities.

“There is a compelling logic for a service deemed to be ‘a natural monopoly’ to be provided by the State,” said Adrian Kane of Siptu. “Local authorities must be permitted to tender for provision of the service, but for this to happen side-by-side competition within a municipal area must be eliminated and replaced with a procurement procedure for the entire municipal market.”

Cllr Daithí Doolan (Sinn Féin), chair of Dublin City Council’s re-municipalisation working group, said: “Dublin is the wild west of Europe when it comes to waste management. We have all but abandoned responsibility to the private sector where by the main driving force is not environment, service or sustainability. But profit, profit and more profit.”

“Re-municipalisation is happening right across Europe. Not just of waste services but other services too – including water and housing maintenance,” he added.

Ireland is the only country in the world where every bin is weighed with weights reported to customers and the authorities in a highly regulated sector, said Conor Walsh, secretary the Irish Waste Management Association which represents municipal waste collection operators.

Re-municipalisation was likely to require an upfront spend of between €1.3 billion and €2.7 billion, while costs would continue to be significantly higher, with the result that householders would have to pay up to 85 per cent more annually.

“It will not deliver lower prices or a better service,” he added.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times