Calls for councils to take back bin collection services following report

Consumer report says a new regulator should license waste firms and set prices

Green bin for recycling household domestic waste material in Dublin. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Green bin for recycling household domestic waste material in Dublin. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

Calls for the State to take back control of household waste collection have been made following publication of a major review of the sector commissioned by the Government.

Waste collection companies, however, insisted the market was operating in the best interests of the consumer and the environment, and strongly rejected the conclusion that having several waste collection firms serving in a district was not delivering competition.

The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) review recommends that a regulator should license waste firms and set prices where necessary, and be backed by strong enforcement powers.

Rejecting the findings, Conor Walsh secretary of the Irish Waste Management Association (IWMA) said the market for waste collection services was fully functioning and working for the benefit of consumers. Members of the IWMA collect 75 per cent of household waste currently managed in Ireland.

He said that since waste collection services were privatised, consumers have benefitted from increased collection services as well as the introduction of recycling, compost collections and reduced costs.

This was borne out by the CCPC report which states that the average cost for household waste collection in Dublin was €228 in 2016.

“This is €140 less than the equivalent figure for the cost of waste collection in Dublin city in 2004,” Mr Walsh said.

The CCPC report recognised most people were happy with their waste collection service and 65 per cent of households indicated a preference for a choice of operator so the existing system is popular for most people, he said.

Despite the complexities in the market, he siad, the system was working well for householders and for the environment.

“Any disruption of the current system has the potential to result in higher prices and/or reduced environmental performance,” he warned.

Minster for Environment Denis Naughten said the report clearly supported the policy decision he took to introduce an incentivised pricing model by abolishing flat-rate fees rather than a blanket pay-by-weight system proposed previously.

The report showed daily waste collection costs are between 63 and 77 cent and only 6 per cent of people cite cost as a reason for not having their waste collected, he noted. This indicated, he said, that “consumers have seen price stability across the sector over the last 12 months with no evidence of price gouging”.

Competition models

Mr Naughten welcomed the fact that the CCPC does not call for a one-size-fits-all type of regulatory approach and that different competition models could be introduced for different geographic areas.

The findings must be studied “with care and diligence” to ensure consumer wellbeing was protected and environmental goals were met. The complexity of the market required “a carefully planned approach to ensure price shocks are avoided and the household waste collection service continues to function,” Mr Naughten said.

He acknowledged the CCPC view that the current regulatory system needed to be developed to address market structure, customer needs and environmental targets.

Siptu said the report “confirms that the only long-term solution for the industry is the return of services to local authority control”.

The union said that in concluding that Ireland exhibits the characteristics of “a natural monopoly”, the commission failed to follow the logic of its own findings. “The only organisation that can be trusted to operate a natural monopoly is the State,” said Siptu official, Adrian Kane.

“Ireland is falling behind the increasing trend of the re-municipalisation of waste services. From Germany to Norway, even in the UK, more and more waste services are being returned to the control of local authorities. This is because privatisation has proven to be bad for citizens, the environment and for workers in the industry.”

Fianna Fáil environment spokesman Timmy Dooley said any delays in the establishment of a regulator would heap more pressure on already hard-pressed consumers. “It is incredibly alarming that the CCPC has suggested that current waste policy is inhibiting the ability of the State to implement current environmental policy,” he added.

People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith called for the State to take back ownership of the bin collection service given the report showed waste collection companies were in danger of becoming an “unregulated monopoly”.

This monopoly was “the bitter fruit of flawed policy which has led to waste companies behaving like mafia organisations”, she claimed. “An industry that is profit-driven cannot deliver an efficient and environmentally sustainable waste collection service.”