Waste policy

One of the themes in the discussion about the Poolbeg incinerator is that it is perfectly in line with the official waste policy of the Department of the Environment while being firmly opposed by the Minister of the Environment. The Minister has now submitted a new Statement of Waste Policy for consultation.

The Statement is rather short, 26 pages (with only 13 pages devoted to policy measures), and not very specific in most places and often ambiguous if not muddled. Presumably, this means that the new waste policy is still some years into the future, and may not be ready during the term of the 30th Dail Eireann.

The Statement is firmly based on the Eunomia report, and does not even acknowledge the existence of the Gorecki report.

The first four policy measures aim to strengthen the role of the state, the counties, and the private sector (at whose expense, one wonders); to decrease costs and increase quality (always a great plan); and to achieve cost-efficacy by imposing additional constraints (a mathematical nonsense).

There is a proposal for the separate collection of six, perhaps seven streams of household waste: clothes and perhaps glass would collected at the kerbside (in lieu of the current bring banks); paper, aluminum, and plastic would be separated at sources (instead of mixed); and brown bins (for food waste) would be rolled out nationwide.

There is to be an arbitrary cap on residual waste (black bins), with financial penalties for counties that do not meet these targets (on average). County councils may respond by tacitly encouraging people to stuff their waste in green, brown, yellow, red, blue and purple bins instead. (There will be a tax credit cq supplemental benefit for the colourblind.)

The Statement reiterates the plan to raise landfill levies by 150% between now and 2012. As there is an EU-imposed cap on landfill, a system of tradeable permits would have been a better choice of instrument.

The Statement invokes the polluter pays principle and calls for an (unspecified) incineration levy that is unrelated to its emissions. There will be another attempt to declare incineration ash to be hazardous waste (it is not). In a separate proposal, there will be an arbitrary cap on incineration.

There will be arbitrary targets for recycling, but no policies to ensure that these are met.

Producers will carry a greater share of the cost of waste management. Newspapers and magazines are mentioned as an example.

There will be an awareness campaign to convince people to waste less.

And plenty of jobs will be created, innovation stimulated, and we will all become terribly rich.

On the one hand, the proposal is an improvement as the Minister now follows the proper procedures of a parliamentary democracy, and some of the hare-brained ideas in the international review have been dropped. On the other hand, the Statement itself is weak. Little thought has gone into costs, incentives and practicalities. The Statement strictly follows the green dogma of the waste hierarchy, a lexicographic ordering of options for waste disposal.

There is also an opportunity missed. The current Irish waste policy is sound (at least on paper). The main exception is household waste collection, with duplication of services and private operators competing with public operators-cum-regulators. The International Review recommended that this be replaced with a system of auctioned concessions, one of the few recommendations that it shared with the Gorecki report. The Statement did not adopt this recommendation, offering only vague language.

30 thoughts on “Waste policy”

  1. Go to some major European cities and a lot of public waste bins will be separated into glass, paper, aluminium etc. all alongside one another. Are we too cheap to introduce this simple innovation?

  2. @dave, al
    Many city-dwellers do not have enough space for all those bins. In the country, waste collection is expensive because houses are far apart — separated collection is more expensive still as you’d have different trucks picking up a little bit of waste from each house.

  3. Go to some major European cities and a lot of public waste bins will be separated into glass, paper, aluminium etc. all alongside one another. Are we too cheap to introduce this simple innovation?

    One might expect a Dutch citizen to be familiar with such things, at least.

  4. @dave
    Public bins collect only a fraction of all waste, and the discipline of separation is not great in public.

    @ewi
    You forgot that I lived in Germany for a long time.

  5. @Richard,

    I often wonder if the whole separating waste thing is not just a matter of developing good habits.

    We live in an apartment in a major European city and don’t sort (!) simply because we are too damn lazy. The apartment is a 60sq metre 1br, but I cannot honestly claim that it would be impossible for me to have the four bins (packaging, paper, glass and black bin) which my conscience and the city officially requires.

    If someone fined us, even once, we would do things the right way.

    Getting households to sort is like getting little kids to brush their teeth.

  6. You forgot that I lived in Germany for a long time.

    And never visited your homeland in that time?

    where exactly are we to put these rainbow of bins?

    Where exactly does everyone else?

  7. Ribbit makes a good point. There is a limit to how much time people will to give to waste sorting. The public are not a bottomles pit of free labour. We do not all finish work at 3.30 pm like a lot of our TD’s did when working and most of us don’t finish bang on 5.00 or 5.30 like most of our civil servants. Time is very precious when you work in the private sector (or when you are commuting for a couple of hours a day).

    We sort green bin waste from black bin waste in our house and we bring bottles and garden waste to the bring centre. We put some waste in the brown bin but frankly do not have time to be dividing up brown waste, wrapping bread and meat in paper to stop vermin and rinsing packaging. All in all we give a good number of precious hours to waste processing a week.

    We also do not have room to store the bins. Our small front garden now has three bins on it which has destroyed the lawn. Bins inside gardens and outside garden dominates one’s impressions through sight and smell as one strolls down the street. This is apart from the uncollected (unpaid for) city council bins on the footpath that provide a putrid obstacle for pedestrians.

    I am happy to pay for waste to be sorted if I don’t have time. I am also happy to bring my waste to an odour free receptacle at the end of the street. The current system falls short of improving the living environment in the city.

  8. @ewi
    Waste separation at source is further developed in Germany than in the Netherlands.

    @ribbit
    Of course it can be done. Waste separation works even without enforcement in Germany and the Netherlands.

  9. Placing higher fees on landfill is not a good idea. There are already serious problems with illegal dumping across the country which has been spurred mostly by the unafforadbility of legal means of disposing of waste.

    We’ve come a long way on waste disposal in the last 10 years, but there’s still a way to go.

    To me, any waste policy is misdirected if it does not address the problem of consumer goods packaging. The most volumous and most unrecyclable of our current waste production, I firmly believe that European regulation is merited here. Promoting biodegradable packaging or (ideally) less packaging is the single biggest thing we can do to lessen the fiscal and environmental costs of waste disposal. It seems silly to me that we spend a fortune every year throwing out items which cost fractions of a penny to purchase.

  10. Lets just ignore the politics on this new statement on waste policy, and pretend Minister Gormley doesn’t have an incinerator to frustrate.

    On waste. We have pay per use (plus a hefty standing charge) for black wheelie bins, a brown bin with a per usage charge, and a green bin free.

    We all have enough time to sort but my guess is that the uptake on sorting is influenced by cost saving as much as anything else. If you can get an extra 2 weeks without putting out the black bin, thats a tenner saved.
    Same with the plastic bags, all the education in the world doesn’t have the same effect on behaviour.

    For anyone in receipt of a waiver on bin charges there is no incentive to sort.
    Though I’m sure if neighbours on all sides are putting out the green bin then this peer behaviour has some effect.

    I suspect theres scope for some research there for some of ye academics who want to get your hands dirty 🙂

  11. @Brian Lucey

    where exactly are we to put these rainbow of bins?

    NAMA has a lot of vacant lots.

  12. @Dave Those public bins you saw in Antrim are around Ireland too. Pretty sure I’ve seen them in shoppping centres in Galway, and maybe in Hueston Station.

  13. Putting my waste into the correct bin (I have 4 here in bungalow land in rural Galway*) takes me almost no time more than putting it all into one bin.

    It is bringing the bin for glass into the bottle banks that takes about 30 mins per month. Kerbside collection of glass would be fantastic for me, but maybe not economical to provide to me. In which case more bottle banks is the solution. Ideally, every shop that sells bottles should take them back. In reality the shops won’t agree to that.

    * Landfill/Black bin, recycle bin and then my own compost bin and my own bottle bin.

  14. @Eoin
    The Statement announces a study on deposit-refund schemes. Cornershops in the cities are the problem, as they do not have the space to store empty bottles (or so they will claim).

  15. @Ger

    Fair enough.

    I just wonder about people who think it is always a brilliant idea to constantly out-source work to unpaid private individuals.

    For instance, people are now paying solicitors and accountants to do most of the work of revenue offficials. The Revenue think it is a great idea to tie up businesses and their advisers in red tape while they reduce their head count even though the transaction costs it imposes are hugely inefficient.

  16. “Waste separation works even without enforcement in Germany and the Netherlands.”

    Yeah, but isn’t there a inverse relationship between how cool and laid back people are, and how well things like rubbish sorting work?

    I mean, everyone loves the hot-blooded and romantic Italians, whose Naples rubbish scandal stank up headlines across the world.

    On the other hand, nobody likes the boring and sobre Germanics, who cut the little plastic windows out of business envelopes in order to sort the paper more correctly.

    Everyone loves the Irish, whose craic is legend the world over. On the other hand, have you ever heard anyone say “let’s go to a suburb of Gothenburg and marvel at the famous environmentally sustainable municiple waste stream at Åarenbörga”.

  17. “where exactly are we to put these rainbow of bins?”

    There’s no need for a rainbow of bins – a number of dry recyclable streams can be co-mingled in a single bin, as they are at present.

  18. “The Statement strictly follows the green dogma of the waste hierarchy, a lexicographic ordering of options for waste disposal.”

    The waste hierarchy is not just “green dogma” – it’s enshrined in the EU Waste Directive. Of course the Gorecki report suggested it should just be treated as a “rule of thumb” and not be used “as a formal guide to policy implementation”.

  19. @Richard
    I don’t see where it says that. The statement talks about minimum standards for collection but it only talks about source segregation in respect of biowaste. The International Review, on which the recommendation is based, is I think pretty clear that the standards don’t need to lead to a multiplicity of bins.

  20. The waste hierarchy is not just “green dogma” – it’s enshrined in the EU Waste Directive.

    Yes, but you’re talking to a member of ESRI, here, and they don’t have a great track record in having heard of such things.

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