"That Dáil Éireann:
— the importance of incentives to encourage recycling so that Ireland's dependency on landfill is decreased;
— the importance of a properly funded and consistent awareness and education campaign for the general public about waste management, reduction and recycling;
— the need for greater focus on waste reduction initiatives from Government and industry to help consumers create less waste;
— the crucial need for an efficient, cost-effective waste collection processing sector;
— the concern about lack of competition in some areas leading to excessive costs;
— the recent increases in illegal dumping in urban and rural areas; and
— that a sudden and unexpected increase in the cost of waste collection will create a disproportionate burden on low-income families and must be avoided;
— illegal dumping which is destroying our countryside;
— unilateral unjustified increases in bin charges; and
— the exclusion of some communities in rural areas from availing of free brown bins for food waste;
— that waste collectors need to be open and transparent in relation to their transactions and costs for customers;
— that there should be an incentivised, fair and transparent pricing structure that allows for best value for money for the consumer;
— to monitor waste collection providers to prevent the formation of cartels; and
— that unilateral increases to waste collection charges are unacceptable;
and calls for:
— the establishment of a new independent waste regulator to:
— establish the true cost associated with the collection and processing of waste by the waste collection industry;
— ensure an effective, competitive market with fair and transparent pricing; and
— ensure that households with special needs, including large families and those with incontinence needs, are not unduly penalised where they have already made full efforts to reduce their waste;
— the Environmental Protection Agency to analyse the increased frequency of illegal dumping, to assess whether this has coincided with the privatisation of waste collection and to make recommendations;
— increased funding for local authorities so that they can detect and introduce increased fines for those who dump illegally; and
— increased funding to local authorities to allow them to clean up and dispose of rubbish which is having a negative impact on many urban and rural areas."
I welcome the opportunity to address this important debate in the House. Fianna Fáil's motivation for the presentation of this motion is to ensure hard-pressed home owners will not be gouged by a free-for-all pricing arrangement by unscrupulous waste collectors. We are deeply concerned over the potential for this practice to continue and believe the only fair and safe method of ensuring this price-gouging does not happen is through the introduction of a regulator. They say history repeats itself but I did not know it would do so in such a short timeframe until the Minister, Deputy Naughten, announced his plans to change how waste collection charges are determined. His plan to introduce a new weight or lift-based system without any information on how these structural changes will affect prices for consumers bore more than a passing resemblance to the plan of his Cabinet colleague, the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, last year. Therefore, consumers unfortunately find themselves exactly the same situation as last year, which is completely open and exposed to the whims of the most unscrupulous waste collection operators in the marketplace today.
Last year, Fianna Fáil called on the former Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, to suspend the new charges regime until we established why families were experiencing a massive increase in their bills. In addressing this, he promised a public awareness campaign, which did not transpire, unfortunately, and the introduction of dual pricing so people could compare the cost of a pay-by-weight arrangement relative to a fixed-charge system, which also did not transpire, unfortunately. Therefore, it is very clear that in the intervening 12-month period, nothing by way of an effort to convince the public of the necessity to go away from the flat fee has taken place. This year, we will again challenge the Government not to make false promises. We are calling for the establishment of an independent waste regulator, which will establish the true costs of waste collection and management and ensure that consumer prices directly reflect these. This regulator will make it easier for consumers to shop around and compare their options, and prevent price gouging. In other words, it is to give certainty to the consumer that he or she is getting value for money from the operator in his or her area, whether there is a competitive environment or a single operator.
Unlike proposals put forth by certain other parties present, Fianna Fáil's motion does not endanger the environmental underpinnings of this new weight-based collection system. We recognise and support the need for Ireland to reduce the amount of waste it produces, and particularly to reduce the amount of waste that we send to landfill. I know of no community that wants another landfill in its area. Doing what we propose will require a multi-pronged approach. In the first instance, we must ensure that landfill is the last resort for everyone involved. Under the landfill directive, Ireland has been directed to divert biodegradable waste, such as food waste, timber or garden waste, away from landfill. I am happy to say that while in government, Fianna Fáil successfully ensured that Ireland's first target under this directive was met.
Under the waste directive, we have to achieve reuse and recycling targets of 50% by weight of household waste derived from paper, metal, plastic and glass by 2020. This includes metal and plastic estimates from household WEEE. As Ireland's landfills rapidly approach maximum capacity, we now have to increase the amount of biodegradable waste that we divert.
Our conversation cannot end at better management of waste, however. Even when material is recycled, its initial production, transportation and disposal have a huge impact on the earth's resources. It is totally unacceptable, and I do not need to remind my fellow Deputies of the immense humanitarian, environmental, and societal costs that await us if we do not change our ways on this issue.
For these reasons, Fianna Fáil believes we need to get serious, as a society, about waste reduction. Consumers, by and large, have no control over how much packaging their groceries, household items or consumer goods come in. All of us have had the experience of buying a tiny electronic device that comes in a box ten times its size, or of buying a piece of fruit that is wrapped in layers of plastic. 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, and for this reason we support the establishment of a waste-reduction task force to identify opportunities to reduce waste.
Also related to waste disposal is the regrettable phenomenon of illegal dumping and fly-tipping. Too many communities around the country are totally blighted by mounds of waste that have been unscrupulously emptied onto green spaces on housing estates, back roads, riverways, and other community assets. Sadly, illegal dumping is often most likely to occur in remote scenic areas, such as viewing points, forests and nature hotspots. It is a visual blight on the landscape, places an undue burden on communities and has dire impacts on the ecosystem. We believe the Government must devote more resources to analysing and addressing the underlying causes of illegal dumping, in addition to taking progressive steps to crack down on those responsible.
All this aside, we must ensure we do not shift the cost of waste from the environment onto the consumer. To do so would be unfair and counterproductive to our long-term goal of building an environmentally responsible nation. To return to my earlier point, this is where a regulator comes in. The regulator does not need to be a bulky operation to work well. It must have teeth, but its remit is, by definition, narrow in focus. The Environmental Protection Agency already does a good job in ensuring that all waste collection operators meet our environmental standards in terms of how they handle the waste that they collect. Simply put, it must have the ability to monitor the true costs of providing a waste-collection service and prevent any egregious price increases by companies.
The regulator must be established as quickly as possible, although I accept it will take time to establish it. If this does not happen, unscrupulous operators can simply swoop in and hike up their prices before the regulator is even established. The Government's proposal today on the establishment of a watchdog can be seen as an interim measure, but will be acceptable to us only if it ensures that an appropriate regulator is put in place at the earliest opportunity.
We are not opposed to working with other parties to ensure that reasonable politics wins out for the sake of the consumer. Compromise is possible provided that it protects and supports the consumer. To this end, I come to the Government's motion, which establishes a regulator. This is a considerable shift from its original position, which saw it use every excuse under the sun as to why a regulator could not be established. Instead, it is now committed to introducing a regulator, with the watchdog as a temporary measure to prevent proactive price increases while it is being established.
Furthermore, in response to our motion, the Government has backtracked on its initial proposal to provide assistance only to those people with long-term medical incontinence needs. The Government is also now committed to providing support to families experiencing genuine hardship, a much-needed recognition of the impacts that altered prices may have on households, such as low-income families or those with many young children who simply cannot cut down on the amount they put into their black bins. This is a much-needed and more humane policy, and one for which Fianna Fáil takes some responsibility of ensuring that the Government has included.
In short, we believe that while we have not yet reached where we need to go, we have made considerable progress. Rather than allowing a vicious free-for-all to unfold, in which waste collection charges are hiked up without any reason or rhyme, Fianna Fáil has today ensured that waste collection operators must operate in a manner that is fair to the consumer and to the environment. I reiterate that our only objective in putting this motion before the House is to ensure that consumers are treated fairly and equitably, that they get value for money for the service provided and that a regulator is put in place to ensure that unscrupulous waste collectors cannot gouge home owners out of their hard-pressed earnings.