Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 8 Nov 2006

Vol. 185 No. 2

Waste Management.

I raise an issue brought to my attention by a company, Leaf Environmental Limited, which has been frustrated in its attempt to get a licence to compete in the waste management sector. There is a general issue to be addressed in this area because Repak has a monopoly. That may not be Repak's fault but it creates a difficulty for consumers in this area, especially small businesses. Leaf's representations to me suggest that its applications in this area have been bureaucratically frustrated in a verbal communication by the Minister's Department and it has difficulty getting into this sector. It is at a loss to understand why Repak has a monopoly. What are the guidelines for applications for a licence or ministerial approval? What are the timescales for those applying? What are the restrictions and why are there bars to entry? Why can there not be a free-for-all in this area? Is it a healthy situation that Repak dominates this area?

There already is a precedent for competition in the electrical and electronic waste sector between WEEE Ireland and the European Recycling Platform. There is no reason why there should not be unfettered competition in this area. Although there may have not been too many applications, there has only been one licence refusal for a company in the waste compliance area, the reasons for which are not publically known. The broad principle is that any obstacles to smaller companies getting into this area are bound willy-nilly to be anti-consumer. If Repak is allowed to set its own prices, it will inevitably set prices which could involve profiteering. I am not suggesting this is happening but the area is open to profiteering if one company dominates the sector. If there are obstructions, what will the Minister do to remove them? Will he look benignly on applications, provided they meet existing regulations?

Senator Ross and I were councillors in County Wicklow when bin collection services were first privatised. None of us could have foreseen what the waste collection sector would become. Repak has played a remarkable role in our recycling waste performance.

In recent years there have been rapid changes in the waste management sector due to the increased involvement of a developing private sector and the changing role of local authorities as service providers and competition in the industry. When we designed the WEEE scheme, I made certain two operators were in the field. It has been phenomenally successful with 300 jobs created and several recycling centres established. I am not disposed to discouraging competition.

A more robust system of environmental regulation has been put in place to ensure the waste management sector can operate in a sustainable manner. To date no similarly comprehensive system of socio-economic regulation has been considered necessary. It is time to re-examine this issue. The 2004 policy document, Taking Stock and Moving Forward, identified the need to consider such a development.

To advance this, I recently published a consultation paper on the possible regulation of the waste sector. Submissions were invited on whether there is a need for a regulator for the sector, what model of regulator might be most appropriate and what powers any such regulator should be given. While it is recognised that competitive markets may work perfectly well without any need for sector specific regulation, the waste management sector may benefit from some form of regulatory framework. There has been a propensity for strong individual market dominance to build up in this area.

The consultation paper outlined the main issues and alternative models of regulation which could be applied. It also presented alternative courses of action which could be followed if it is decided that regulation is not the most appropriate option to take. Key issues raised in the consultation paper included questions such as which model of regulation would be most appropriate for the waste sector? Is there a more appropriate alternative to regulation of the waste sector such as incentivisation through the use of economic instruments? Is it appropriate not to intervene? Who would regulate the waste sector? Should a new regulator be appointed?

Senator Ross will be aware of my aversion to creating quangos. Should additional regulatory powers be assigned to an existing regulator? What combination of services would fall within a regulator's remit? What powers would a waste regulator have? Powers in economic issues could include the determination of an appropriate waste-charging structure and the supervision of competitive tendering arrangements. Operational issues could include the issuing and enforcement of waste collection permits.

Over 50 submissions have been received. I am looking forward to considering the views of the various stakeholders. When all the submissions have been examined, I intend to finalise new policy proposals. These will seek to ensure the waste management sector delivers not just in environmental terms but also in terms of broad support for sustainable development of our rapidly expanding economy and having regard to the need to maximise service to the public.

I am not aware of an application being discouraged by the Department. If Senator Ross gives me more details on it, I will ensure he receives a comprehensive reply.

Will the Minister facilitate this specific application provided it meets with the regulations?

I will not give an undertaking on that because I do not know what is specifically involved. The Senator referred to verbal discouragement by the Department. If he gives me a note on that, I will have it pursued and give him a comprehensive response.

The Seanad adjourned at 7.35 p.m. until10.30 a.m on Thursday, 9 November 2006.