New bin charges: what do they mean and how much will they be?

Q&A: Everything you need to know about the new waste collection system

What is the existing waste disposal system?

A typical household’s green bin of recyclable items is emptied about 26 times a year and a black bin, containing landfill waste, is collected 17 times a year. Under the current system householders pay different amounts. In some areas a flat fee of about €17 per month applies for waste collection while in other areas a pay-by-weight system already applies.

What is the new plan in a nutshell?

In a nutshell, the more you throw into the black bin, the more you will pay and under the new rules this system of calculating charges will be mandatory under law. Under the new system there will be no minimum charge per kilogram of waste and operators will be free to set their own prices. Flat fees will be phased out over a period of time. Waste collectors are expected to offer a range of pricing options to customers, including pay-by-lift, a combination of standing charges or a pricing regime based on the amount of waste collected. Adults with long-term incontinence problems will receive an annual payment of €75 from the State to help with disposal costs.


When will this new system begin?

The new waste scheme comes into force from July 1st, 2017. It is expected most households will move to the new system within 15 months.

Why is the system changing?

The new system is aimed at helping reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill and to divert more towards recycling. At least 40 per cent of the items Irish households put in their green bins, for recycling, are not actually recyclable. Earlier this year 160 containers en route from Ireland to China for recycling were stopped in Rotterdam because of contamination. The rejected waste was sent back to Ireland at a cost to Irish recycling industry of some €500,000.

The move to pay-by-weight is expected to increase household recycling levels by between 27 per cent and 32 per cent. It is also hoped it will divert up to 35 per cent more waste from landfill. The Government has warned that without these new measures, the State could run out of space in landfills.

Minister Denis Naughten has said the current one size fits all charges penalise those who actually recycle and that the new system will give households a financial incentive to recycle. Irish families are currently disposing of €700 of food every year.

Why was the scheme put on hold a year ago?

The pay-by-weight legislation was due to come in on July 1st 2016 affecting 1.2 million households. However, fears that some companies would impose steep increases on standing charges led to a freezing of bin charges for all customers for 12 months to allow time for an assessment of the new system. That freeze comes to an end on July 1st, 2017.

Have any other attempts been made to stop people from stuffing items such as nappies, clothes and food in their recycling bin?

A pilot scheme which involved mounting cameras inside refuse collection lorries was introduced by Panda Waste Management earlier this year to stop people abusing the free waste recycling system. Households disposing of non-recyclable waste in green bins faced a fine under the new scheme followed by a warning that rubbish collecting to their home could cease.

Will costs go up or down?

That depends who you ask. There will be no minimum charge per kilogram of waste disposed under the new system and operators will be free to set their own prices. The department says prices will vary around the country and depend on competition between waste operators.

Former minister for the environment Alan Kelly said last year that 87 per cent of households would see a reduction in their waste bills under the new system, 8.5 per cent would see no change and that a small number could see higher bills.

Mr Naughten says the Government has no role in price-setting but that he believes competition between firms will offer flexible costs. However, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan has warned that allowing waste companies “a free-for-all” on pricing structures could mean high costs for consumers. Sinn Féin says the new plans put lower-income households at risk and offer no incentive not to generate waste.

Will there be a cap on prices?

There is currently no cap on prices and no plans to introduce one, says the department of communications, climate action and environment. A spokesman for the department said the charges would remain a matter between companies and their customers

Is there any way to find out how much I’ll have to pay?

You should contact your waste provider immediately to find out how your current package will be affected by the changes.

One of the benefits of the past year is it has allowed operators to develop an online record of their customer’s waste, says Dermott Jewell from the Consumer Association of Ireland. This means if you go online and key in your account number it should come back with a readout of the weight of your bins and what your usage has been. Your provider should then be able to give you an indication of what the new charges will be.

Will I get a brown bin?

Under the new system, all waste collectors will distribute food/organic brown bins to households in every town with 500 or more people. People living in apartment complexes will not be provided for under the scheme as they won’t have individually allocated bins.

How can I save money?

Once your new brown bin arrives you should start composting. It’s easier than you think and requires very little time, effort and space. Turning your paper and food scraps into compost could divert a huge percentage of solid waste away from landfills. Keep a small bin on your kitchen counter where you can easily dump food scraps (including fruit, vegetables, eggshells and coffee grounds). If you live in an apartment without a garden you can drop off your compost at community garden or nearby farm.

Always check the packaging, particularly on plastic items, and if it has the recycling symbol then it goes in the green bin. All the obvious stuff can go in the green bin: newspapers, books, magazines, cardboard, cereal boxes, plastic bottles, plastic containers, tin cans and aluminium cans. Make sure they are rinsed under the tap to avoid food contamination.

Toilet paper rolls, non-aerosol deodorants and cooking oil bottles are just some of the items people mistake for non-recyclable. Repak have a clear list on their website of all the items that can go in your recycling bin .

What else is being done to improve recycling in Ireland?

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan introduced a scheme earlier this month calling for a recycling deposit system to be used to dispose of bottles and cans. The deposit scheme would incur a very small cost for manufacturers which would be refunded to consumers who returned glass or plastic bottles and cans for recycling, for example at 10 cents per item. Mr Ryan’s Waste Reduction Bill also proposes to ban single-use, non recyclable plastics in food and drink outlets.

What is Ireland’s record for recycling in the EU?

Ireland ranked sixth for recycling packaging waste in 2014 and the following year it ranked joint third in the continent for reducing the amount of rubbish going to landfill. However, the State only ranked 13th in 2014 for recycling municipal waste (waste made up of everyday items).

Meanwhile, Irish consumers exceeded the EU targets for recycling electrical and electronic waste last year. Some 34,482 tonnes of waste electrical and electronic equipment were recycled in Ireland in 2016; the equivalent of about 15 million household appliances or almost 10kg per person.

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast