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Explainer: Pay-by-weight bin charges are coming but what exactly does that mean for you?

Will it spark water charges-style protests?

Image: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

AFTER MUCH POLITICAL toing and froing, the government and Fianna Fáil reached a deal last night which paves the way for the introduction of pay-by-weight waste charges across the country.

But what exactly does that mean for customers?

In short, nobody is quite sure yet. 

Working off the government’s hope, if you get better at recycling, your bills should go down. But that will rely on private companies playing ball.

The only thing we know for sure is that more people are getting bins to collect organic waste, which should see their general waste bins lose some weight every week.

Why now?

It was announced last week that flat-fee bin charges are to be abolished in favour of the new system.

Put simply, that means waste collectors will no longer be allowed charge an ’all-in’ rate.

Instead households will face a service fee and separate charges for every kilo of rubbish collected in their general waste and organic waste bins.

Under the new arrangement, waste collectors can offer a range of incentivised pricing options.

The system comes following two years of growth in the amount of waste being sent to landfill.

The government has insisted that the new pricing structure is needed to improve recycling rates.

It says the goal of pay-by-weight is to reduce the amount of waste being sent to landfill.

As part of the new system, general waste will incur a higher price per kilo, while there will be a lower price for organic waste (which is most commonly put in brown bins), and no charge for recycling waste.

In the Dáil last night, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said it will be mandatory for waste collection companies to roll-out brown recycling bins for organic waste.

He also said that more money has been allocated to local councils to crack down on illegal dumping.

Options for customers

Minister Denis Naughten said the customer will be able to control their own bin charges through a number of options.

Waste collectors can offer a range of pricing options to customers to encourage people to recycle.

These options – although not yet announced by individual companies – include the option of standing charges, per-lift, per-kilogramme, weight-bands, as well as weight allowance charges.

The new bin-charges system will be phased in gradually over a 15-month period, as people’s contracts run out.

Opposition

Since it was announced, opposition parties have raised concerns that the new system would lead to big hikes in fees for customers.

The scheme was due to come into place from 1 January 2017 but it was delayed last December amid fears bin companies could abuse the system.

Watchdog but no regulator

The proposal was facing defeat in the Dáil this week until the government and Fianna Fáil reached an agreement that will see the establishment of a new watchdog to take on the role of ensuring waste companies don’t engage in price fixing.

Fianna Fáil had tabled a motion calling for the establishment of a regulator, but the party accepted the compromise of a watchdog working towards the establishment of a regulator’s office.

The body, known as the ‘Pricing Watchdog Monitoring Unit’, will be given specific powers to combat price fixing in the industry, as well as bringing criminal convictions against waste collectors.

The agreement between the two biggest parties has been extensively criticised by Sinn Féin and other opposition parties who maintain that the new system will result in significant price hikes for customers.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald called on the Taoiseach in the Dáil to abandon the current plan and put in place an extensive waiver system for vulnerable people.

She said the proposed €75 grant per year, which will be paid to people with long-term illness who must use incontinence pads,  “would make Ebeneezer Scrooge blush”.

“Incredibly, the Taoiseach seems confident that a measly annual grant of €75, which is less than €1.50 per week, will make a difference,” she told the Dáil.

It is in keeping with a nasty, mean-spirited government implementing its nasty policies and mean-spirited choices with no regard for how ordinary people live.

Protests
Campaigners have said there will be widespread public backlash, akin to water charge protests, if the new charges results in higher fees.

Solidarity-People Before Profit says that bin services should be paid for through general taxation and have called for a boycott if prices increase.

Bríd Smith denounced the planned changes saying: “This has nothing to do with [the] polluter pays principle 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.

Speaking on The Pat Kenny Show on Newstalk this morning, independent TD Clare Daly said people will take to the streets if the new charges threaten their standard of living.

Read: ‘Dignity in the House’: TD presents a bag of his plastic household waste in the Dáil>

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Ceimin Burke

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