New waste management by-laws have recently come into effect in Sligo. From 1 February all waste must be separated into three different categories and disposed of with a registered provider. Here we ask People Before Profit Candidate, Seamus O’ Boyle to analyse the system from the point of view of people’s needs.
Question – What is this new system and how will it operate?
Seamus – About 15 years ago, the Fianna Fail led government decided to privatise our waste disposal services. Previously, bins and refuse were collected by the council out of funds provided by taxation. Under the old system public trucks came around weekly, collecting refuse on the basis of people’s needs. Since then there have been a whole host of private companies providing this service on the basis of profit. This explains why most people had to originally register with a private provider. Now, however, this need is even greater as people must separate their rubbish into general, recyclable and food waste/organic.
Question – Why will this make it more difficult to avoid registering with a private provider?
Seamus – The government have commanded people to separate their food waste in order to put it into compost. This is not a bad idea in itself. However they have not made it compulsory to provide compost services at the current Environmental Protection Agency approved private sites. Up until now people could take all their waste to EPA site and dump it for €6 euro. Now they will have to register for a brown bin at a cost of around €50 a year just to take away their food waste. Not only will this be more expensive. It is also an example of the government using its powers of legislation to force more private sector services onto the population.
Question – Will it cost more to have your waste collected in this way?
Seamus – The companies state that it might not, but if you take into account of the new standing charges it is almost certain that it will cost more money. There is a number of provider’s offering different packages so it is difficult to say exactly what will happen. However a few key points should be borne in mind. The two key providers are Barna Waste and Greenstar. Both companies are introducing a standing fee (€50 for Greenstar and €80 for Barna). On top of this you will be charged each time you have a bin emptied as follows (averages or typical charges)
Black Bin – €10
Black Bin - €9
Brown Bin - €6
Brown Bin - €2
Green bin -€4
Green Bin - €2
Leaving aside the fact that the bin companies make more money on recyclable waste when they sell it on, and the fact that a genuine green strategy should incentivise recycling by making it free, it is almost certainly the case that the new system will result in higher costs. For example a family putting out the brown bin every two weeks (this is what is recommended) a black bin once a month and a recycling bin every six weeks will pay around €360 with Greenstar and €280 with Barna. Previously this would have cost in the region of €100. Quite clearly the companies are hiding behind the new laws to make more money.
Question – What would you say to people who argue that private companies are more efficient?
Seamus – This simply isn’t true. First off, there is the issue of collections. Previously everyone knew when to leave out their rubbish and one truck collected all of the waste in a given area. Now you can have as many as three or four different providers in an area, each one only stopping at the houses that have paid for their services. This is actually a very inefficient way to collect our rubbish .It costs the company almost as much to send a truck to collect one bag as the whole road and so this makes a mockery of the idea that it should cost us less. We have just argued that in fact the cost is skyrocketing as private operators squeeze as much as possible out of hard pressed families.
Question – Are there any benefits for the environment in making people pay for their refuse? This is the point that is usually made when the benefits of the private sector are mentioned?
Seamus- We often hear this same logic in relation to water. The idea is that if people have to pay for something then they will watch how much they use a service. The first thing to point out here is that in the USA where water is expensive they use almost 3 times as much each day as we do in Ireland. Obviously this is just one statistic, but it highlights the way that facts and figures can often disprove the privatisation narrative. In relation to refuse services, our taxes never went down when they privatised the services and so in a sense you could say we are already paying. Will it make the environment cleaner if people really can’t afford to pay? In my experience people without the ability to pay are more likely to finds other ways to dispose of their waste. Dumping around the Sligo areas has become widespread and systematic over recent years and this will surely get worse with these new charges.
Question –Clearly this new service is not designed to meet human needs, but finally Seamus how you would reform the system
Seamus- The first thing I would do is to argue for making the system public again. In the 1990’s Cllr Brid Smith and others from People Before Profit fought the bin companies and even went to jail. This was because we in PBP believe that hygiene and cleanliness are human rights that must not be subject to the ability to pay. Poorer people deserve to have their refuse collected whether or not they can afford to pay for it and middle class people should also expect a service that meets their need for hygiene rather than the bin companies needs for profiteering.