A market for waste

 

MINISTER FOR the Environment Phil Hogan is walking into a potential legal quagmire with his attempt to reverse a High Court judgment on the Dublin Regional Waste Management Plan and introduce an entirely new regime for the collection of household waste. Instead of “competition in the market”, the discussion document issued by the Department of the Environment last June favours “competition for the market”.

This may seem like a jesuitical distinction, but it isn’t; the current system of open competition would be replaced by “franchise bidding”, whereby waste management companies would be required by local authorities to tender for the provision of household waste collection services, with contracts awarded to the lowest or most favourable bid for a specified period of time.

One might expect that proposals for such a radical change would be underpinned by hard evidence that the current regime has failed and is not serving the best interests of consumers. But the Government’s discussion document merely notes that “a number of informed commentators have remarked on perceptions of high prices for household waste collection services, which may be accounted for, in part at least, by the current structure of household waste collection markets. If costs, and therefore, prices are unnecessarily high then we must seek to reduce those costs, if necessary by restructuring markets”.

The only conclusion that can reasonably be drawn is that the Minister is seeking to put local authorities back in the driving seat, a position they effectively lost in December 2009 when Mr Justice Liam McKechnie quashed an attempt to introduce franchise bidding. This was a huge setback to the city council’s effort to take ownership of the household waste stream, and the Minister is clearly minded to find a legislative route to ensure that local authorities dictate how this stream of some 1.6 million tonnes per annum is controlled and directed.

One has to ask why? Panda Waste Services is not alone in believing that the real purpose of the exercise is to feed the controversial incinerator being planned for Poolbeg by US waste management company Covanta. The proposed incinerator is “grossly oversized”, according to the Irish Waste Management Association. Mr Hogan would be better employed dealing with that over-capacity problem rather than seeking to impose a regime to feed it.