Out with flat-rate household waste charges (at last)

Consumers require protection against excessive fees and the emergence of cartels

A nationwide ban on flat rate charges for household waste collection services will take effect from next week.  Photograph: Alan Betson

A nationwide ban on flat rate charges for household waste collection services will take effect from next week. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

It has been a long time coming but, finally, a nationwide ban on flat rate charges for household waste collection services will take effect from next week. Remaining customers on such charges will not face increases until their contracts are renewed. Way back in 2004, as landfill sites reached capacity and pressure mounted from the EU, the then government announced a new charging system, based on weight, designed to reduce the amount of household waste going to landfill. As the transition from local authority bin collections to private companies took place, however, flat rate charges continued in some areas.

Following its disastrous handling of water charges, the Government approached the issue with trepidation. But something had to be done. Room was running out at the few remaining landfill sites. So a ban on fixed rate charges was revived last year. In an attempt to reassure voters, the Government set maximum charges for various collection methods. Under immediate attack, it held its nerve for only a week before abandoning the scheme. These modified proposals will now allow companies set their own charges without reference to government. Standing charges, along with pay per lift, pay by weight and weight allowances can be used and competition between companies is expected to keep prices down. The collection of green recycling bins will be free.

While the Government and Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment Denis Naughten seek to insulate themselves from consumer anger by abdicating responsibility for setting prices, they retain a duty of care to consumers. Householders will require protection against excessive charges. And the emergence of cartels should be guarded against. At the same time, consumers have a duty to protect the environment by minimising household waste and recycling suitable materials. Greater use of brown compost bins, specifically for the disposal of food waste, will help to control charges for compliant customers. But those who engage in ‘fly-tipping’ and who dispose of household rubbish in green bins should be identified and penalised.

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