I have the pleasure of calling on the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, to commence the debate.
Household Waste Charges: Statements
I am delighted to be here to make this statement about household waste charges. I think everyone in this House can agree that we must act now to prevent a return to an over-dependence on landfill. As Minister, it would be inexcusable for me to do nothing and to allow a situation to develop whereby household bins would go uncollected on our streets because there is nowhere to bring waste. This is the motivation behind the proposals I have made and why I have listened carefully to those who want to contribute constructively to the debate. I include in that regard the constructive suggestions I received from Senator Ardagh regarding the legislation on litter. For this reason and to acknowledge the concerns of some households, I will establish a pricing watchdog monitoring unit that will provide monthly reports on pricing developments. I will also ask the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, CCPC, to report on the operation of the household waste collection market. This will inform the future development of national waste management policy before year end, which will in turn provide an evidence base to establish a regulator in order to prevent price gouging. This unit will comprise representatives from the CCPC, my Department, a consumer representative from an organisation such as St. Vincent de Paul and an external economic expert with market knowledge. I have been saying clearly for some time that I am not introducing a mandatory pay-per-kilo model. Such a model would be too restrictive and would not be the most appropriate for certain households. Indeed, I have expressed my own concerns in respect of those with lifelong or long-term medical incontinence.
More than half of households currently subject to a kerb-side waste collection regime are already on an incentivised pricing option and are happy to continue with this model. In fact, and this is a point that has not been sufficiently emphasised, there will be no change in their situation as a result of the measures I am introducing, with the exception of those with medical incontinence who will now see an annual reduction of €75 on their bin charges.
Over the past 12 months, my Department and I have engaged with a wide variety of different stakeholders. As a result, the Government made a decision last week on the future of the household waste collection market. As I intimated at the outset, there is not sufficient capacity to deal with household waste unless we make some changes. Either we change the amount of waste being presented by householders or we build additional facilities to deal with the waste. The choice we face is stark. We have moved from having landfill facilities in each local authority area to a situation whereby there are only four landfills accepting household municipal waste at present. None of us wishes to go back to the position that obtained previously and difficult decisions are necessary as a result.
Flat-rate fees are not a good option for encouraging behaviour changes because it does not matter how often the household presents bins or how much waste is in the bin presented. This is why flat-rate fees are being phased out over the next 15 months.
The second change facilitated under last week's announcement is the roll-out of the organic brown bin to households in communities with a population greater than 500. That will encourage households to minimise the amount of waste they generate and segregate the remaining waste. That is to ensure the minimum waste possible is presented in the residual black bin. In March of this year we ran a month-long campaign encouraging people to use brown bins for food waste and asking them to look at what food they were throwing out and to shop more wisely on foot of that. On average, families are throwing out €700 worth of food every single year. A small change in how people purchase food can have a big impact on the amount of food waste that is generated and the cost of the food waste. We also want to encourage people not to put food waste into the black bin, as many are doing at the moment, but to put it into the brown bin.
The final change is to provide a Government support of €75 per year to assist persons with medical incontinence. That is based on the average cost of disposal of 650 kg of incontinence products and was developed in consultation with industry and patient stakeholder groups.
The measures are part of a range of initiatives I am continuing to work on to reduce Ireland's waste, including the roll-out of food-organic brown bins to all communities, as I outlined; an anti-dumping initiative to support the clean-up of dumping blackspots and to target those who engage in that illegal practice through appropriate enforcement actions and the use of overt and covert surveillance equipment, drone technology and other enforcement tools, with 85 projects approved to date this year and a total available allocation of €1.3 million; the provision of €9 million this year to support waste enforcement by local authorities, the expansion of the Environmental Protection Agency's stop food waste campaign, as well as the launch of a food waste charter in March 2017 and an action group on wasted food in the retail sector; the student-led green schools programme, which promotes long-term, whole-school action for the environment with involvement from the wider community which has resulted in the diversion of 4,700 tonnes of waste from landfill in a single academic year; the Repak recycle and change for the better schools programme, launched in the previous school term, which educates future generations about the benefits of best recycling practices, changing behaviours towards recycling and ultimately reducing the amount of waste going to landfill and the level of recycling bin contamination; the introduction of a new scheme to manage end-of-life vehicles to stop the dumping of vehicles; the imminent launch of a new scheme to manage waste tyres to tackle the widespread dumping of tyres in rural areas; and the ongoing awareness and education campaign by the regional waste management planning offices to assist householders in reducing their waste and recycling more effectively.
Emergency measures were needed twice last year to deal with the capacity crisis which was taking place. If emergency measures had not been taken, it would not have been possible to have bins collected. This is an ongoing issue. We need to deal with the problem or we will be in a situation by 2020 where we will have no facilities available to deal with two months of waste collection. Surely no one is suggesting that for the months of July and August we should not collect bins. Rhetoric and grandstanding will not change that. Decisions are required. We are facing challenging EU targets and we need to incentivise households to do the right thing and reduce the amount of residual waste we generate. Failure to meet an existing or future target leaves the State open to infringement proceedings and potentially punitive fines.
The changes the Government is making to the proposed mandatory per kilo charging system means there is the potential for more competition in the market. Rather than only being able to offer a per kilo rate, companies can now offer a range of incentivised pricing options. Examples of these include the per kilo charge, a lift fee and per kilo charge, weight band charging and, weight allowance plus per kilo surcharge for excess weights.
What I have announced means no change for half of the households in the market using a kerbside collector, and for the other half the operators can offer a variety of plans as long as they incentivise waste reduction and segregation. If a company is not offering what the market wants, it is open to a competitor to offer a different plan which does meet market demand. That is what drives down prices, namely, open competition and pricing options.
The basic message to households is to think about the waste they produce. When price plans are offered to the less than half of the market not currently on an incentivised plan from autumn this year to autumn next year, it will make some demands on households. To control waste costs it will be necessary for households to minimise the waste they generate and to segregate the remaining waste properly.
We have to make changes and it is only right that the more waste one produces, the more one should pay. Unless people want to see the re-emergence of landfills in every local authority area, we need collectively to make the transition from taking little notice of what goes into the black bin to being conscious of what we are dumping. What we are doing is most certainly not about imposing financial hardship on families. Using our bins properly will not only make a difference to our waste costs, it will also make an enormous difference to our environment and to our future.
I welcome the Minister, Deputy Naughten, and his officials to the House. His portfolio seems to be expanding regularly with different responsibilities being added to communications, natural resources and all sorts of other commitments.
Last year the Government tried to rush pay-by-weight bin charges through the Houses. Fianna Fáil called on the then Minister, Deputy Coveney, to suspend the new charges regime until we established why families were experiencing a massive increase in their bills. To do so, the then Minister promised a public awareness campaign which did not transpire and the introduction of dual pricing in order that people could compare the cost of pay-by-weight with a fixed-charge system, something which also did not transpire. This year, the Minister went barrelling into the repetition of the same mistake by announcing these changes to the charging regime without making the slightest effort to present price gouging.
We cannot sacrifice the rights of the consumer in an effort to protect the environment and so Fianna Fáil believes that a regulator to monitor the waste collection industry and prevent price gouging must be established. We are committed to seeing that through. We are not opposed to the Government’s counter-motion which will see the Government pave the way for a price regulator. In the unlikely event that the Government's analysis does not provide for a regulator, we will introduce our own Bill on the matter. In the interim, to prevent proactive price rises by waste collectors, a price watchdog will be put in place immediately. This is a temporary measure until the regulator is established. The most important thing is that Fianna Fáil has successfully ensured a regulator for the waste industry will be established. We will continue to hold the Government to account on the waste collection system as well as related issues, such as fly-tipping and waste reduction. I welcome that the Minister has listened to the views put forward by an extremely experienced and responsible party which always has the national interest at heart.
This motion is also underpinned by Fianna Fáil's desire to improve Ireland's protection of the environment. Fianna Fáil also believes we need to get serious as a society about waste reduction. By and large, consumers, have no control over the packaging of groceries, household items or consumer goods. Fianna Fáil supports the establishment of a waste reduction task force to identify opportunities to reduce waste.
As a Deputy in Roscommon, the Minister has experience of how we endeavoured to close the Killarney waste disposal location which was a terrible blight on the area. It is now successfully closed and a recycling plant is there at the moment. There was an increase in waste disposal sites and every time there were major objections. It is in all our interests to ensure landfill sites are reduced because there is no doubt they are a problem.
I welcome the Minister's decision to work with the Fianna Fáil Party on this. Fianna Fáil wholly supports the environmental underpinning of this new payment structure. Putting waste in incinerators or landfill has huge environmental costs and it is important that we incentivise recycling and composting to reduce our dependence on landfills and incineration.
While in government, Fianna Fáil doubled the percentage of municipal waste that was recycled, from 20% in 2002 to 40% in 2011, but the State cannot shift huge environmental costs onto struggling families around Ireland, such as will happen if the Minister continues with his shambolic plans. To this end, we have also pressed the Government to introduce supports for families experiencing hardship. In certain areas, particularly in rural areas, there is no competition among providers. Even where there are multiple operators, it is extremely difficult to compare the prices charged by different providers given the opacity of many service providers’ websites. Now that waste collectors will have multiple options such as paying by lift or paying by weight, this may even get worse. However, a waste regulator will ensure that there is fair practice within the waste sector and will reward operators who behave in an efficient and consumer-friendly manner. It will prevent sudden price gouging and will promote competition, ensuring that both customers and the environment are protected.
The only company I see servicing the Castlecoote area is Barna Recycling, which charges €350 per year without any other options, although options may be now coming in. We were anxious to have a regulator to ensure companies justified any increase and that we could monitor the situation. I welcome the incentive for people with incontinence. There will be hardship and large families will be most affected. Smaller families and grown-up families will have the same regime but there is no support for low-income families who have to provide payment for a service.
In 2011 there was a tax incentive for those who were compliant and this was a great way of carrying out surveillance. There was a 20% tax claim, worth approximately €70 if the charge went up to €400. I am not saying this is Fianna Fáil’s policy but it was there in 2011. It ensured people knew who was paying and was an incentive to become a member and join the companies giving the service. This is a budgetary matter and as the Minister said he was open to ideas, he should give it some consideration for those who are compliant and willing to contribute and co-operate.
Senator Lombard has six minutes.
I welcome the Minister and acknowledge the issue he has brought to the House. It is an important and thorny issue for society and one we have to deal with. When rolled out, the policy will have an impact on some areas but in Cork, with 80,000 households, it will have no impact whatsoever. We are in this process at the moment and have been involved in pay by weight since the mid-2000s. It has been very effective and there has been a reduction in the figures, which is very important. The reduce, reuse and recycle model has been proven to work. Today, we are trying to embrace this with a countrywide model and this is positive. If we fail to embrace it we will go back to landfills in every county. There have been many campaigns on where landfills are located and how communities are affected so we need to move to a different model. The Minister is moving the brown bin into towns with populations of 500 or more, which is a reduction from the previous population limit of 1,500. This is positive because it affects people and we need to work on the momentum created by this. We need to change our psyche.
The Minister has been promoting the issue of food waste and he has championed the cause. This is a serious issue for every household and involves a change in mentality. The €700 that failing to manage our food costs every household will be a key issue for us and we need to make progress on it. In my part of the world, people are of the view that the rest of the country is catching up with us. The 80,000 households in Cork to which I referred have moved on and embraced this. As these proposals will be positive for the nation, we look forward to seeing them rolled out. They are the way forward, as has been proven in other parts of the country. If we can have major movement we will not have the reliance on landfill which we currently have. Some 15 years ago we were looking at building new waste centres, one of which was to be at Bottlehill in Cork, involving a massive €48 million spend by the local authority, but this is not now needed as we have moved away from the model.
An issue was raised regarding a regulator for price but we have such a regulator. Competition in the market is key and that should mean the regulator will not be much needed. Competition will dictate the market price. This issue has to be discussed. We cannot afford to score political points. We need to do the right thing for the country and the environment. Fifteen years ago, the environment was not a topical issue but it is now, in every household. We have to move with that and that has to be part of the message. I will conclude by acknowledging the Minister.
I wish to highlight the amendment brought forward by my Sinn Féin colleagues in the Dáil last night, in which our key priorities relating to waste charges were laid out. We are opposed to pay-by-weight charges and do not want an independent regulator. Fianna Fáil introduced a motion that would not block the new charges but would regulate them. This is a classic case of Fianna Fáil not providing real opposition to the Government. Sinn Féin is able to advance a clear policy on this issue and we did not have to ask the permission of others or to look over our shoulders.
The issue of privatisation, while dated, cannot be overlooked in this debate. In my native county of County Mayo, there has been a fundamental flaw in privatisation of waste services. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael got together in 2001 to privatise the waste services but there was nothing wrong with local authorities delivering this essential service for households. It could have been done efficiently and effectively under the local authorities but it was one of the core functions that was dragged away from local authorities to line the pockets of private providers.
That was a fundamental mistake and should be reversed. The Government is selling this new regime while championing the idea that competition will ensure prices are kept low and there are no sudden spikes. That is not going to happen. We have a lot of unlimited companies - are we going to be depending on them to keep prices low and create competition?
It has not happened in the insurance industry or many other industries. The approach has been that if we leave everything to the market, the market will take care of it but we have seen time and time again that it will not do so. We should not mess around with essential services under the pretext that if we leave everything to the market, it will be okay.
There are counties where a pay-by-weight system operates but where there is only one waste operator. How does the Minister explain that in terms of the competition regulating the market? In theory, the customers of this company are at the mercy of the CEO as to whether charges are increased. There have also been suggestions that an independent regulator will be established to regulate the industry. As I said, we already have the Department and the EPA to do this job. There is no need to establish a separate quango to do it. We need only consider the debacle regarding car insurance premiums to know that if there are too many bodies supposedly regulating the industry, nobody knows where the buck stops. There should be increased regulatory control as part of the State's overall waste reduction strategy without the establishment of an independent regulator.
The latest Government initiative is aimed at the wrong people. If the Government wants to follow the principle of the polluter pays, the biggest polluters are companies which, at a wholesale level, churn out more plastic and cardboard packaging year after year. There has been nothing from the Minister to penalise companies that flood the Irish market with excessive packaging or to incentivise them to not to use as much packaging. The polluter pays principle in the EU waste directive says that the cost of waste management shall be borne by the original waste producer or the current or previous waste holders. The directive also explicitly allows states to levy charges or fines on those who introduce excessive waste into the market. Will the Minister tell us if fines have been levied on companies that were deemed to have introduced excessive waste into the market?
Member states may decide that the cost of waste management is to be borne partly or wholly by the producer of the product from which the waste came and that the distributors of such product may share these costs. This is explicitly outlined in the directive. The Government's contention that these measures are needed because there is a waste crisis does not add up. We are one of the top recycling societies in Europe. We are in fourth place. Will the Minister confirm that? We are on target for our EU requirements on household waste recycling. The figure in this regard currently stands at 45% and we have an objective to reach 50% by 2020. It is clear from this that citizens, whom the Minister is now seeking to target, are fulfilling their role in the context of reducing, reusing and recycling. Along with not addressing waste reduction, the Minister is placing the burden on the householder. We are asking him to put in place a waiver system for low-income workers and households. The current proposal of a €75 reduction in respect of incontinence waste is totally inadequate. I am glad the Minister mentioned the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and his collaborations with it because it ends up paying the bills of many householders who cannot afford to pay the excessive charges imposed by many of these private companies.
The Minister needs to immediately withdraw the proposed changes on pricing, put in place a proper waiver scheme, commission a feasibility study on bringing the service back under local authority control and ensure that local councils will have sufficient powers and funding to stop illegal dumping. We cannot continue like this. There are many people in rural areas who cannot afford to pay. There are individuals who do not pay but there are also those who absolutely cannot afford to pay. If a waiver system were in place or if it was affordable for people to have their bins picked up, it would improve the situation. The reality is that many people cannot afford to have their bins picked up because they are unable to afford what is being charged. They will certainly be unable to pay under this new system.
I welcome the Minister. I will not do what my party leader, Deputy Eamon Ryan, just did in the Dáil Chamber and pull out a bag of plastic to show the Minister the types of plastic we are finding in our environment and which are contributing to waste. To put it in context, the world created and used 480 billion plastic bottles last year. If we think about it, that is a staggering number. If we were to stack those bottles on top of each other, they would reach half way from the earth to the sun. All of the plastic waste that finds itself loose in the environment and in our lakes and seas contributes hugely to the global problem of marine plastic pollution.
The Green Party has something that it feels will contribute to the solution of waste reduction. I refer to the Waste Reduction Bill 2017. I appeal to my colleagues in the Seanad to consider this legislation. It is a very good Bill which is ready to be taken by some party or Independent and used in their Private Members' time. We do not have the opportunity to introduce the legislation but we have it ready. We would be very happy for another party to take this on and table it with our full support. There are two components of the Bill, which is fairly straightforward in nature. The first component involves a ban on disposable non-combustible tableware, that is, the plastic cups, glasses and plates that we find in the canteens here in Leinster House and in shops. We are asking that this type of plastic be banned from 1 January 2020. The other component is a deposit-and-return scheme, about which people are excited. I lived in the Netherlands for years. When we bought plastic bottles of drinks and, when they were empty, we returned them to the supermarket. There was a conveyor belt system outside the shop. We put our bottles onto the conveyor belt and went in to do our shopping. When we came to the checkout we had a voucher to subtract money from the cost of the shopping. This is a very creative way of dealing with waste. It puts the onus on companies that are producing packaging to reduce the impact of waste. We will support any party or Independent who would like to take this Bill forward on our behalf.
It is lovely to hear Senator Lombard talk about the environment being discussed in every household. Over a 20-year period, we have seen concern grow about the impact of waste and the importance of all aspects of a clean environment for our health and well-being, for communities and for our tourism offering. We have been working over the years with Green-Schools, Tidy Towns and many others to reduce, reuse and recycle.
The Minister talked about brown bins. Some years ago, county councils gave out compost bins. Many Senators probably have these in their back gardens - they are brilliant. I have one that I have been using for the past ten years. It eats waste. One puts in all one's peels and it even takes a bit of meat or fish waste. One can put the waste into one's bin in the back garden - if one is lucky enough to have that space - and it breaks down and can be used in a vegetable patch. It is all part of the circular economy. We are trying to teach people that if waste is dealt with properly, it can have an added advantage. I echo what Senator Conway-Walsh said. I wish the waste services were back in the hands of local authorities. I have concerns about private operators because they are profit-oriented.
The Minister has spoken about the brown bin. Some years ago, county councils were giving out a compost facility
That is the bottom line. Of course they are providing a service, but their bottom line is profit. With that, I would like to see the service returning to the local authorities and local authorities taking responsibility on behalf of the State and on behalf of communities. Generally, this whole issue which the Minister is raising is something which, if treated properly and if we get it right, can be a win-win for everyone in the community.
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach. I also welcome the Minister to the House. He says that there is nowhere to bring waste. In that case, I wonder why there was such fuss about the incinerator. Surely the incinerator is a place which has been added into the regime where one can bring waste. I am glad the Minister is introducing a pricing watchdog but it is, to a certain extent, a fig leaf. As I said, what about the incinerator? What about packaging? I could see nothing in the Minister's speech about packaging and addressing the question of excessive packaging.
It is there.
It is. I apologise to the Minister. There are approximately half a dozen firms in my area. They are up and down the street at all hours of the day and night regardless of whether people are trying to sleep. Some of these firms are crooks. Does the Minister remember when there was gang warfare? It was like the mafia. They were burning our each other's lorries in car parks. These are the kind of people to whom we are handing over our waste collection. I agree with Senator Grace O'Sullivan and others who have said that privatisation was a huge mistake. Rubbish collection is part of the utilities system. Utilities should never be privatised. What about these companies? I have not been following them recently but in the old days they were based outside this country financially and they returned their profits outside the jurisdiction.
If half a dozen private companies can make a profit from waste collection, why in the name of God can the local authorities not make a profit as well? I speak up for the Dublin binmen because they were the ones I knew. They were very decent people. They made sure that rubbish was not scattered all around and all over the roads. Now, because of the pricing, what do we have all over the city? We have fly-tipping. Nice decent middle-income people from the suburbs drive in in their motorcars and fire out plastic bags onto my doorstep. It is all over the street. There is a very small number of companies as it is now largely a residential street but there are some which do not tie up the bags, which allows the waste to go out all over the street. As for the bags - my God - the green bag is so utterly flimsy that if one puts an envelope into it, it bursts. It is a complete and utter waste of money and a waste of time.
Why should we pay for the bins? We have property tax. What is the property tax supposed to do? I do not know why on earth we have property tax. I will come back to that in a minute. The roads are paid for by car tax, the water is paid for by water rates and the bins are covered by bin charges so what is there left for the local authorities to charge for? Property tax is utterly inequitable. I am amazed that people did not take it on when they were taking on the water charges. Water charges at least had some functional reason behind it because the treatment and delivery of the water must be paid for. That is obvious. One gets sweet damn-all for one's property tax. The charges are paid for out of other income. It goes back to the 19th century and the rack-renting of landlords when, if a decent tenant farmer dared to increase the value and improve his or her property, the landlord immediately increased the rent. This is what is happening with property tax. There should be a rebellion in this country against it because property tax increases automatically with the values of one's house. If the Luas goes past one's front door, the tax automatically increases. The owner has done nothing. He or she has no extra income, but he or she is squeezed again. It is rack-renting. On the back of the bin charges, I believe we should raise a protest against the property tax. We pay twice or three times for everything in this country.
Cuirim céad fáilte roimh an Aire. Tá sé ar nós déjà vu nó groundhog day. Bhí muid ag plé na ceiste seo an t-am seo den bhliain seo caite. It was a different Minister but a similar debate this time last year. The Minister has certainly been given a bit of a hospital pass with this can which has been kicked down the road. It came from the regime of Deputy Alan Kelly and was passed on to Deputy Simon Coveney who last year, while under pressure from parliamentarians, decided to put this to a committee of the Oireachtas for discussion. I do not know whether that has happened at all. That was the agreement which was made last year when this issue was brought up. That was certainly what Fianna Fáil was pressing for then. I am not sure whether they are still pressing for that now, because it would be good to have it discussed at an Oireachtas committee and to look at all the different questions which have been raised here today and particularly to bring in some of these companies and ask them about the types of profits they are making, how their money is being spent and so on. Sinn Féin is opposed to the introduction of these new charges as the Minister well knows. We tried to block them by bringing forward a motion because we are opposed to the pay-by-weight charges which the Minister is proposing. Fianna Fáil and the Minister's party have obviously colluded to bring in this new model of seeking to regulate the companies, which only shows that we can not trust Fianna Fáil on this issue-----
It is co-operation not collusion.
-----as on many others. Senator Leyden's party colluded.
It was co-operation.
Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael worked together and colluded to make sure that the Sinn Féin motion would not come to the Dáil.
The Senator was not even there.
Sinn Féin facilitated last night. Sinn Féin did not turn up.
We are saying that Fianna Fáil is letting the Government off the hook on this issue.
Sinn Féin did not turn up last night.
I did not interrupt Senator Leyden. I will have a little bit to say about him and his contribution in a moment.
The Senator will run out of time so he should say it before I start ringing the bell.
Our fundamental issue is with the privatised model. We call for a study on the feasibility of the re-municipalisation of waste services. We want to see if it is possible to bring these waste services back under local authority control. I pick up on the points mentioned by Senator O'Sullivan. There are serious issues around some of these companies and there are also issues around workers' rights in these companies. The people who worked as binmen for the local authorities, who have been mentioned, certainly had reasonably good terms and conditions but there is much to be questioned about some of the terms and conditions of people working for some of these companies in particular.
The concerns which we raised this time last year are being brought to the fore. We know that there are state-run waste services in many EU countries which work very well. We currently have 67 waste collection operators in this country. That means 67 different cost regimes and no common approach. We raised this last year. We have one company delivering these services in Connemara and delivering the same services, at a much reduced rate, in Leitrim. There has been an awful lot of talk about competition but there is no competition in Connemara, and I am sure it is the same in many other rural areas, because there is only one company delivering the service. There is a monopoly scenario where everybody is over a barrel and has to pay the price which the company charges. The Minister is now giving them carte blanche to set the price at whatever they wish. There will be no common charges across the country. We do not believe that an increase in private operators will lead to increased competition and therefore a reduction in prices.
We also need to seriously address the issue of waste by producers. Take toothpaste as an example. It is sold in a tube, which in turn comes in a cardboard box. The consumer is paying for this waste at the retail stage and under the Minister's scheme they will pay again at the stage of waste disposal. We should also look at Christmas and the amount of packaging that comes with toys and so on at that time of year. We need to look at the whole issue of packaging as well.
The fact that this is a regressive cost which will hit lower-income families does not seem to bother Fianna Fáil whatsoever. This is very much a regressive new tax. The fact that there is no waiver for lower-income families - some of whom may be bigger families - is absolutely inexplicable and unacceptable. We have also raised the issue previously that some of these private companies will not service certain areas and will not go up certain roads. I get phone calls regularly, as I am sure the Minister does, saying that operators will just not go up a road because it is not commercially viable to do so because there are not enough houses.
That really has not been addressed. We will be opposing this in the Houses and on the streets, and ask that this be put back to an Oireachtas committee at least so that we can examine this in full, and to pause the introduction of these charges at this stage. We need to fully examine them and to do this properly.
I thank the Members of the House for their contributions. Everyone is genuine about this, whether they agree or disagree with the proposals that are before us. My primary objective is to protect the public. I know that Sinn Féin does not want to acknowledge this, but we have a situation where within three years, we will have only enough landfill capacity for ten of the 12 months. I presume that Sinn Féin is not proposing new landfills. I definitely presume that Deputy Brian Stanley is not proposing new landfills, because the most likely place they will be is in his own constituency of Laois-Offaly in the centre of the country. That does not make sense. I do not want to see the landfill in my constituency, outside Kilconnell, expanded either, and neither does Senator Ó Clochartaigh.
We did not say that, in fairness.
These are the options.
The Minister is being disingenuous.
Sinn Féin is saying it does not want user charges for bins.
That is different.
That means that we are going to continue to generate the same amount of black bin refuse. I am asking where in Ireland we should put it. Should it be put in Galway, Mayo, Laois or Offaly? We have four landfills at the moment. There is only enough capacity by 2020 for ten months of the year. Those are the facts.
It is disingenuous to say that this is the only thing the Government has done on the matter. The first step that I took as Minister was to deal with the issue of brown waste. Families can make a significant saving. Larger families in particular have a greater potential to save. That is why we launched that campaign in March, and on top of that, after Easter when the kids went back to school we had a specific campaign targeting both brown and green waste, encouraging people to use the recycling bins, and targeting children on that issue to bring that message home. That all happened before we got to this stage. People tend to brush that under the carpet.
I can understand the argument made by some people that private is bad, commercial is bad, and public is good so that is the only way to go. Senator Ó Clochartaigh was making the point that in rural areas bin collection is not good. He is right. However, I remember, as does Senator Leyden, when Mr. Gerry Woods of Wheel-a-Bin Service provided the first service in Galway and Roscommon for rural areas. It was not the local authority, which could not have cared less about people outside the major urban centres. It was a private operator that came in. He has left that business and Barna Waste has taken over. Correct me if I am wrong, but for the last decade there has not been an increase in bin charges from Wheel-a-Bin and now Barna Waste. It has said that because people were recycling it was able to make savings. It has rolled out the blue bins, which are the equivalent of the green bins in the rest of the country. The brown bins have now been rolled out in the urban areas, and that has allowed them to reduce the amount of residual waste that is being generated.
It is still a monopoly scenario in many cases.
The commercial sector is able to look very quickly at innovative ideas. We did not see much innovation in the old local authority system. The local authorities were not interested in providing services outside the towns. The commercial, private operators did that. Now it is being called terrible. Some people are suggesting that we go back to the old system and leave the people in rural areas high and dry, the way they were left before. That is not the way to go about fixing this issue. It is true that the commercial sector drives innovation, whether we like it or not. It has always driven innovations because there is an incentive for it to do so. I know one particular operator is looking at segregating paper out of the green bin because there is a commercial value for having that clean paper. There are incentives now to try and make sure that what is in the green bin is clean and reusable.
About 40% of what is going into our green and brown bins - if people bother to use the brown bins of course - is contaminated. It is worthless. We had 160 container-loads of cardboard sent back from Rotterdam because people were putting nappies into cereal boxes and putting them in the recycling bin. The contents of those 160 containers had to go into landfill because people were not prepared to segregate it out. Those are the issues that we are dealing with.
We have examples in Dublin where everyone will put out their black bin on collection day and only 2% or 3% will put out the brown bin because people are throwing food waste into the black residual bin. What we have been trying to do, and what we did in March, and what we have been doing with schoolchildren across this country is trying to encourage people to not generate food waste in the first place. The people who will disproportionately benefit from that are larger families. I see it myself, on foot of the awareness campaign, looking at the amount of bread that we throw out in my own house, and managing the amount that we buy. All of us have to change. We cannot continue throwing food waste into our black bins, but people do it because there is no consequence for that at the moment, even where the brown bins are available.
Apart from the cost of disposal, people are spending €700 a year in cash on food that is being disposed of. That is equivalent, on average, to twice the cost of house insurance on an annual basis. It is equivalent to twice the cost of bin charges in County Roscommon, and this is just being thrown away every year. We are trying to get people to think about how we can change what we are doing. Mr. Anthony Mulleady spoke on my local radio station last week about animals being thrown into the recycling bins. That is the sort of thing that is going on at the moment. Do we continue to tolerate and allow that? I do not think that we should or can allow that.
The waste of plastic is a huge issue. I took up the running on this as Minister last autumn and worked with the OECD and my Council of Ministers colleagues on the issue of microplastics in cosmetics and so forth. I know that the Green Party is coming on board with that idea as well, which is very positive. We can make significant progress on that. The problem with plastic is that it is an extremely difficult waste stream to manage because of the different types of plastic. Some are recyclable and some are not. This has to be dealt with at a multinational level, at a European level, and we are very engaged with our colleagues on this issue.
If I had the money to set up a bring back system I would probably put it into other recycling initiatives. It would be a better use of the money. We are all agreed on the objective. The mechanisms to get there are important. I am open to suggestions from everyone on this issue. I do not have all of the solutions and nor do I claim to have them. As I said at the start, I know that everyone is genuine and sincere about this issue. Our ultimate objective here is to try and protect householders in every way that we can, but we have to incentivise people to think about what they are throwing into the black bin. We do not have a choice. I do not want to see the landfill in my constituency, the only one outside of the Dublin region, expanded. Why should we have to take Senator Norris's refuse? He is saying that no one should pay for bins. If no one pays for bins more rubbish will be going into the black bin. Why should my constituency have to take Dublin's refuse? I do not see that we should have to do that, or any other county for that matter. It should not be the case for Galway, Roscommon, Mayo, Laois and Offaly either.
There is a cost involved in the treatment, segregation and recycling of waste.
A question was asked about an incinerator.
I have tried to deal with as many of these issues as possible. The incinerator is coming on stream. Even with that, there will be a shortfall by 2020. In response to Senator Leyden, last year, on two separate occasions we came very close to stopping bin collections because we had nowhere for waste to go. That is the reality of the decision, and I had to introduce emergency legislation, with the consent of local authorities, to find space for refuse that had been collected. Sadly, this is a problem that I will have to deal with until we reduce the residual waste. We cannot brush this under the carpet. We do not have that luxury. If someone can provide me with another solution to reduce the amount of material going into landfill, I will be quite open to that but it has to be for now and not for five years’ time when we will have to open a new landfill or reopen existing landfills, and none of us wants to have to do that.