Private operators reject waste policy plans

 

HOUSEHOLDERS AND businesses will pay higher bin charges if the Government goes ahead with proposals to regulate the waste collection market, private operators have claimed.

Domestic waste charges had decreased by an average of 26 per cent nationally over the last seven years, a period which saw the growth of private waste collectors taking over from local authorities, the Irish Waste Management Association said.

Proposals to allow local authorities to control the market by choosing a private operator to collect in their areas would “re-monopolise” waste services, destroy competition, and give operators no incentive to provide value-for-money services, the association said.

However, the Department of the Environment said the proposed policy would reduce costs for householders, protect lower-income families, and ensure the maximum number of households used a waste collection service.

There was “no scientific, economic or environmental evidence” to back up the proposed change to the waste market, the association said, and, in addition to increasing charges for householders and businesses, the change would put up to 5,000 jobs in the sector at risk.

The association’s views are contained in its submission on Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan’s waste policy review which contains a proposal to replace competition among bin collectors with a system whereby companies bid for franchises to collect waste.

Dublin City Council tried to introduce such a system in 2007, but a High Court action taken by waste firms Panda and Greenstar stopped it gaining this control. The council is appealing the court’s decision, but this appeal may be superseded by the new waste legislation.

Association chairman Jim Kells said the Government’s proposals to interfere in the market were “fundamentally flawed” and that this view had been endorsed by the courts.

“No credible evidence has been put forward to support the most invasive interference possible in a well-functioning competitive market, an interference that will increase costs to the consumer, damage Ireland’s business competitiveness, and which threatens jobs in the waste sector across the country.”

Household bin charges had fallen by 26 per cent nationally since 2004 and by up to 55 per cent in Carlow, 48 per cent in Laois and 45 per cent in Kildare, according to the association.

A spokesman for the department said it would not comment on any individual submissions but the objectives of the introduction of competitive tendering were to reduce costs to householders and protect the environment.

“Numerous informed commentators have commented on high prices for domestic waste collection in Ireland.

“At a time of economic difficulty, it is all the more important that costs are reduced for hard-pressed households.”

The level of competition between private companies in some areas had led householders to complain about the number of vehicles operating on their streets and the associated pollution, he said. The proposed new policy was a commitment of the programme for government, he added.

Mr Kells said the association wanted to have constructive discussion with the department in relation to the current structure of the market and hoped it would not have to return to the courts.

“We would hope that any problems that the Minister thinks there is with the market could be sorted out through bylaws or permits rather than primary legislation. Going to the courts would be the very last option in my view.”