‘Bring it on’: Waste collection industry ‘would welcome’ regulator

Industry insider says ‘common sense’ over pricing would prevail under watchdog

Almost 60 per cent of customers nationally already pay by weight, the remaining 40 per cent or so being mainly in Dublin. Photograph: Frank Miller

Almost 60 per cent of customers nationally already pay by weight, the remaining 40 per cent or so being mainly in Dublin. Photograph: Frank Miller

 

Ireland’s waste collectors would welcome the appointment of a national regulator, industry figures have argued, despite the Government’s initial reluctance to create a new watchdog.

“We’ve no fear of a regulator watchdog whatsoever,” one source said. “It’s easier to go to a regulator [to make a case on prices] than it is to go to our customers.”

However, senior industry figures are reluctant to enter the current debate publicly, preferring to wait to see what exactly the Government is proposing.

Following agreement between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, rubbish collections throughout the State will be charged under pay-by-weight rules, underpinned by an as-yet-unspecified form of regulatory oversight.

Almost 60 per cent of customers nationally already pay by weight, the remaining 40 per cent or so being mainly in Dublin, where flat charges predominate.

The problem with flat-charging is that it does not discriminate in favour of the customer who produces least waste, and is therefore environmentally unsound. There is no incentive either to recycle more of what is being put into the black bin or to compost organic waste at home.

No gouging

Sources suggest that when the proposals are clear, there will be formal comment on the record, but for now there is no industry-wide agreed position. However, senior figures say that while some price rise is inevitable in the near future, competition militates against gouging.

“In reality,” said one source, “there’s been a price freeze for the past 12 months [since a meeting in Athlone when the Government backed down on introducing pay-by-weight] but our costs – fuel and wages – haven’t been frozen since then, and the value of recyclables has also gone down.

“So there is merit is some price increase of 2, 3, 4 or 5 per cent, that sort of range, but I don’t see it across the board. There’s massive competition and that works strongly against putting prices up.”

According to him, the national household average charge for black bin (landfill) waste removed in 2004 was €366 per annum. Today the charge is about €300. “That’s down to competition.”

While the industry does not fear a regulator, or watchdog, to which it can argue its case for a price increase, it does fear competitive tendering.

Another source argued that the likely outcome of competitive tendering would be multinational players underbidding each other and winning five-year contracts based on prices that were unsustainable in the long term.

However, in the interim, indigenous waste collection competitors would go out of business, leaving local authorities unable to resist higher prices when contracts come up for renewal.

Behind the figures

Sixty seven waste collection companies have permits to operate but only 53 offer wheelie bin collections. Of those about half are major players operating in highly populated urban areas; the rest being smaller, local players. So competition is not quite what the figures suggest.

However, most collectors accept that a pay-by-weight pricing system is by far the best way to change individual behaviour.

“The best way, the fairest way, of doing all this is charging according to the amount of waste put out by a household,” said the second industry source. “If you choose to run a large household, choose to consume a lot, then you have to pay more for disposal of your waste. It’s simple and fair.”

The problem with those opposed to charges was, he maintained, “they always want someone else to pay”.

Singling out Sinn Féin and far-left activists as people who think “this can all happen for free”, the source said that with a regulator overseeing prices, and the industry having to explain and justify charges, “common sense kicks in – bring it on”.