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Thursday March 08, 2007 15:02 by IMPACT newsreader
Local authorities are helping private companies to cherry-pick profitable bin routes. Taxpayers, workers and local communities are picking up the tab says Johnnie Fox
During the height of the bin tax battle, Anti-Bin Tax activists argued that the introduction of bin charges would lead to amongst other things, fewer jobs, increase in collection routes for remaining workers, increase in illegal dumping, introduction of private operators and the end of the waiver system. In two articles in the IMPACT news it would seem that the penny has finally dropped there. I post the articles here in full as non-IMPACT members might not get to see these articles.
A load of rubbish
Ten years ago, waste collection was a fairly straightforward operation. Local councils collected the bins and most waste went to landfill dumps. But growing costs, new technologies, recycling and European laws have changed all that.
Household and commercial waste is now separated into different categories and disposed of in different ways. And this multi-billion euro market has attracted an explosion of private companies offering a variety of disposal and collection services.
The rapid growth in private companies was accelerated by the 2002 Government decision to introduce bin charges. On foot of EU laws, local councils have also had to introduce pay-by-weight or pay-by-use systems.
Unsurprisingly, domestic waste charges have changed people's attitudes. Most now see recycling as a real alternative to expensive charges. And they no longer see the local council as the only player in the market.
The irony is that local authorities have to issue waste collection permits to private companies who have a competitive advantage over public providers. That's because local authorities must provide a comprehensive system of waste management and cleansing to all our communities. But private operators can cherry-pick the most profitable collection routes, leaving local authority workers to do the rest, while taxpayers and householders pick up the tab for the less profitable collections.
The system doesn't require private companies to offer waivers on charges to the less well off either. Nor do they have to collect waste dumped illegally on the streets, alleyways or beauty spots.
No wonder public cleansing services are finding it harder and harder to compete.
This matters to householders and their communities because the evidence shows that, without public provision, charges go up in the long-term, waivers for the less well off disappear and taxpayers end up with a big bill for the removal of illegally dumped waste. It also means the end of the universal public service and the loss of relatively good public sector jobs.
IMPACTS’s Municipal Employees division is now at the forefront of a tough campaign to stop privatisation and keep public waste collection in the four Dublin authorities.
For seven years we've argued for the green waste collection, currently done by the private company Oxigen, to come back in-house. We've also proposed that the four authorities offer an integrated household collection service covering residual waste (grey bins), biodegradable waste (brown bins) and recyclable plastic waste (green bins).
It makes sense to deliver this integrated service to everyone in the Dublin region. It would mean an efficient, cost-effective and equitable waste collection service worthy of a modern European Dublin capital. And it would stop privatisation and underwrite decent jobs and service quality.
IMPACT members in Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown have seen the effects of the permit system and pay-by-weight first hand.
The new charging system has encouraged householders to recycle in greater numbers. But it's also triggered a massive increase in illegal dumping, with 20% of domestic waste now illegally dumped at a massive cost to the taxpayer and the environment.
Meanwhile there are fewer grey bins to lift, 25% fewer jobs, and a 30% increase in the size of collection routes for the remaining staff.
At the same time Dublin City Council, which issue permits on behalf of the four Dublin authorities, recently authorised a private company to offer services in the area. The result of this madness is that householders are switching to the new company, resulting in even few presentations of bins and more pressure on jobs.
Needless to say, the new incumbent is cherry-picking profitable routes, offers no waivers, and does nothing about the collection and removal of illegally dumped waste.
The local authorities are generously helping private companies to cherry-pick their way to a profitable future at the expense of taxpayers and local communities.
Johnnie Fox is IMPACTS’s assistant general secretary in the Municipal Employee’s division.