A “more flexible framework for waste collection charges” approved by Government could lead to a new wave of public protests on a par with the water charges campaign.

Announcing the scheme, Minister Denis Naughten said it will allow for a range of charging options that most consumers are already familiar with. The Minister said he has decided “not to impose a compulsory ‘one size fits all’ per-kilogramme charging system on waste collectors.”

A reason given for the change has been the increasing amount of waste being sent to landfill sites. Minister Naughten claimed it is important to act now to encourage waste reduction in order to avert a return to an over-dependence on landfill sites. Under the new arrangement, waste collectors will be given the flexibility to introduce a range of incentivised pricing options including pay by weight, per-lift, or standing charges.

The Minister has insisted that flat rate charging for households will be phased out as customers renew or enter new service contracts. A voluntary price freeze on charges, agreed by waste companies, ended on 1st July and price increases are believed to be imminent. However the Government’s proposal faced the prospect of defeat in Dáil Éireann, until a compromise was reached with Fianna Fáil for the establishment of a watchdog to ensure that waste companies don’t engage in price fixing.

Clare TD Timmy Dooley proposed the motion calling for an independent waste regulator to establish the true cost associated with waste collection and a competitive market with fair and transparent pricing. Deputy Dooley said his party’s motivation was to ensure “hard-pressed home owners are now gouged by a free-for-all pricing arrangement by unscrupulous waste collectors”. The only fair and safe method of ensuring price-gouging does not happen is through the introduction of a regulator, he said.

According to Dooley the Fianna Fáil motion did not “endanger the environmental underpinnings of this new weight-based collection system”.  Fianna Fáil, he said, recognise and support the need for Ireland to reduce the amount of waste it produces, and particularly to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill.  He insisted that Ireland, as a society, needs to get serious about waste reduction, adding, “consumers, by and large, have no control over how much packaging their groceries, household items or consumer goods come in.

“Why should the consumer, or the environment for that matter, pay the price for the disposal of this material? We need to encourage and support innovative measures to cut down on unnecessary packaging. We support the establishment of a waste-reduction task force to identify opportunities to reduce waste.”

Deputy Dooley welcomed the Government’s compromise on the Fianna Fáil motion to establish a regulator as “a step in the right direction”. He said it will take time to establish a regulator and asked for the moratorium on price increases to continue during that time. “In so far as is possible, the price freeze must, with the support of the mainstream industry, remain in place.  We must ensure that, in tandem with the work the Minister has undertaken with the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, we begin the process to establish a regulator and that we all work towards the main objective, which is to change the behaviour of how we dispose of our waste in a manner that gives certainty to consumers”.

Bríd Smith, the People Before Profit TD, Bríd Smith, denounced the planned changes saying, “This has nothing to do with polluter pays principal or cutting waste going to landfills, it’s a straightforward hike in prices to boost private waste company’s revenues that is being dressed up as some environmentally necessary tactic.”

Noting that Dublin City Council have passed a resolution calling for domestic waste to be brought back under the council’s control, Deputy Smith said that the crisis in waste management had become a disaster since the services here privatised: “Not only is this a crisis for the environment but it’s a crisis for consumers and workers in the industry; wages and conditions have been hammered, waivers for people on low incomes have disappeared and it is more difficult to sustainably manage our waste.

“We have entrusted a vital service to private for profit companies who have set up off shore entities to hide their accounts and have poor records in dealing with workers and waste; we need to see this industry back under public ownership for all our sakes”.

Smith has called on Minister Denis Naughten to reverse the decision or risk facing the wrath of the people. She added, “the only way to resist these charges is for people to mobilise like we did around the water charges.  “If these measures are not changed we will see massive resistance from the people, this Government will not get away with massive waste rises.”