Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 9 July 2024

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action

Circular Economy as it relates to the Waste Sector: Discussion.

11:00 am

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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The purpose of the meeting is to have a discussion on the circular economy as it relates to the waste sector. It will be a reasonably short meeting, unfortunately. We will finish at 12.30 p.m. I will push it along as quickly as I can. We have quite a number of witnesses. I will give them all as much time as possible given the limited time we have.

On behalf of the committee, I welcome from SIPTU, Mr. Adrian Kane, who is divisional organiser in the public administration and community division. Mr. Ciprian Lenghel and Mr. David Sweeney are joining us online. Mr. Michael Gleason and Mr. Pat McCabe, sector organiser, are also in the room with us. They are all very welcome. From Fórsa we have Mr. Richy Carrothers, head of local government, local services and municipal, Ms Aisling Cusack, policy and research officer, and Ms Julie Flood, senior vice president. They are all very welcome this morning. From the Dublin City Council working group, I welcome Councillor Daithí Doolan, chair of the working group on the remunicipalisation of waste.

Before we begin, I will read a note on privilege. I remind the witnesses of the long-standing parliamentary practice that they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity either by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable or otherwise engage in speech that might be regarded as defamatory to the good name of the person or entity. If witnesses' statements are potentially defamatory in respect of an identifiable person or entity, I will direct them to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative that they comply with any such direction.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I remind members that they are only allowed to participate in the meeting if they are physically located in the Leinster House complex. In this regard, I ask members joining us online to confirm, prior to making their contributions, that they are on the grounds of Leinster House.

I invite Mr. Kane to make his opening statement on behalf of SIPTU.

Mr. Adrian Kane:

I had allowed Councillor Doolan to go first if that is okay.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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Yes, that is fine.

Mr. Daithí Doolan:

Thank you, Adrian. I thank the committee for giving me the opportunity to make a presentation on this important issue. The remunicipalisation of the domestic waste collection service, or more easily put, bringing the bins back into public ownership, really is a win-win situation. We hope to highlight today why this should be done and how it can happen. I will give a broad overview while my colleagues from SIPTU and Fórsa will give more details, including on the circular economy and how we can take the waste management service back into public ownership.

The bin collection service was privatised in Dublin in 2012. This was done by a simple majority vote of Dublin city councillors following a court case in which the main private companies forced local authorities in Dublin to open up the market to privatisation. Despite our outright opposition to the privatisation of this essential service, we fully understand that the world has moved on, and so have we. We do not want to simply turn the clock back to Ireland 2012 and return to Dublin City Council collecting bins. Too much has happened and too much knowledge about climate change and the environment has been gained since then. We want to design and deliver a new 21st century waste management strategy for a modern Ireland. This service can be comprehensive and accessible, environmentally friendly and cost-effective, good for workers and, importantly, good for householders as well.

The first challenge to the current privatised system came ahead of the 2019 local elections. At the time, a trade union campaign, "More Power to You", asked prospective councillors to support a number of objectives including the remunicipalisation of the waste collection service. This campaign gathered momentum and cross-party support.

Following the local election, a motion committing Dublin City Council to the re-municipalisation of the service was passed. A cross-party working group was set up, which in turn became a formal subgroup of the city council’s environmental strategic policy group. The group included cross-party membership, trade unions and management. I was elected as chair and have remained chair in recent years. A key piece of work was an independent piece of research carried out on behalf of the group, which was done by the Institute of Public Administration, IPA. The terms of reference were clear. A comparative analysis was to be done to compare Dublin City Council’s method of domestic waste collection, namely the operation of an outsourced, "side-by-side" competitive model within the local authority area, with the typical single provider method of collection in operation in similar sized European cities. Additionally, a legal analysis was to be carried to outline: the legal and regulatory context in which domestic waste collection operates within the State; practical steps Dublin City Council could take to begin to re-enter domestic waste collection and to de-commodify the collection of domestic waste; legislative changes that would have to take place in order to provide for the re-municipalisation of domestic waste; and the process in a similar State whereby the domestic waste collection service was successfully re-municipalised.

The report turned out to be hugely important. For the first time, independent research confirmed what we already knew. In this study carried out by the IPA, similar sized cites, including Copenhagen, Oslo, Salzburg and Stockholm, were compared to Dublin. It confirmed Dublin is the wild west of Europe when it comes to waste management. We have all but abandoned responsibility to the private sector whereby the main driving force is not environment, service or sustainability, but profit, profit and more profit. Dublin is out of step with the rest of Europe. It is now clear that change must happen. Re-municipalisation is happening right across Europe - not just of waste services but other services, which include water, housing maintenance and housing construction. The report confirmed that 11 companies were registered to collect waste in the Dublin City Council area. Dublin is the only one of the five cities surveyed to have a fully privatised service of waste collection, which is where the problem lies. According to the IPA:

In all other cities there is a strong element of public involvement, with waste either collected by the municipality directly by publicly owned companies, or with publicly owned companies ...

Crucially, the report found:

To the extent that a trend is observable from the four comparator cities and their respective countries the trend appears to be towards greater municipal involvement.

The report highlighted that Dublin is out of step, that this is not the norm across Europe and things can change for the better.

Earlier research commissioned by the then-Department of Communications, Climate Action and the Environment published in 2018, six years after the service was privatised in Dublin, was critical of the private market in Ireland. It suggested that the current market is not supporting the interest of the consumers or Government environmental objectives. This is crystalised by the fact that according to the IPA 32% of households had not received a brown bin despite it begin a legal obligation to do so, and the householders are paying for it. Privatisation of the service has been a failure. It has particularly failed the householder. The cost of the service continues to increase. Even brown bins are now being charged for, which flies in the face of the regional waste management strategy. Brown bins were kept as a free service by private companies in order to reduce volume of compost waste entering the general waste service. The profit motive overrides the industry’s commitment to waste management and the environment. Only last week it was announced that the household recycling bin collections could be on the way up again and that the cost would be increased. Waste collection companies are set to increase the cost of collection simply because the public is bringing cans and plastic bottles to their local deposit return centre. Once again, the private companies profits are more important our commitment to protecting our environment. Even when the public is doing the right thing, it is punished by private waste companies and hit again in the pocket.

While canvassing Belfast in the recent Westminster election, I had reason to see up close how a comprehensive system can be put in place. Some 90 miles up the road from this room, householders have their recycling, glass, cans, brown waste and black bin waste all collected as part of the kerbside collection and the total cost is covered by household rates. This is all easy, accessible and cost effective. This style of service can be introduced here in Dublin and other cities and towns across the Twenty-six Counties. A comprehensive waste management scheme under the control of the local authority will remove the profit motive and will be driven to protect the environment, protect decent pay and conditions of the workers and put money back in the householders' pockets.

How can this be achieved? Remunicipalising the waste collection service requires legislation that will allow local authorities to re-enter the market. We firmly believe this is not only possible but is, in fact, better for everyone and essential for the environment. Currently, there is a Leinster House cross-party working group, of which I am sure committee members will be aware, which has focused on the remunicipilisation of the waste service. It has carried out important work and has been a huge support to us.

Our ask of the committee is to introduce said legislation, encourage more Dáil and Seanad representation on the Leinster House working group and formally establish a task force overseen by the Department to facilitate the passage of the legislation. I hand over to my colleagues from SIPTU and Fórsa, who have been a huge support to us in providing direction, guidance and their experience within the working group. I thank members for listening and for their time.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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I thank Councillor Doolan. I ask the representatives from SIPTU and Fórsa to keep their statements to five minutes. The meeting must finish at 12.30 p.m. I want to allow time for a good engagement between members and the witnesses. We will publish the full statements on the committee's website. I would appreciate if the witnesses would deliver a truncated version.

Mr. Adrian Kane:

I thank the Cathaoirleach. I will read selectively from my statement.

Ireland is unique within the European Union in having an entirely free-market approach to the collection of domestic waste. The model is not sustainable. In summary, it is bad for the environment, citizens and workers. The key finding of the 2018 report by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, CCPC, The Operation of the Household Waste Collection Market, is that Ireland is now exceptional within the EU in persisting with what the commission refers to as side-by-side competition within market areas. The 2018 report found that 23% of all households, or almost one in four, have no domestic waste collection service.

The report went on to talk about the consolidation of private providers within the market, which is also covered in a more recent report. In 2012, there were 82 operators in the market. That number has reduced to 51. The largest provider is estimated to have 25% of the market share. That provider is owned by Macquarie Asset Management. The Macquarie European Infrastructure Fund is a long-term fund managed by the asset management arm of the Macquarie Group, which is based in Australia. Members might know the name. The Macquarie Group owned Thames Water from 2007 to 2014, over which period it managed to triple the water company's debt.

A 2022 report by the IPA, which Councillor Doolan referred to, picked up on the issue of illegal dumping. The report noted that this factor was absent from the data on all the main comparator cities, namely, Oslo, Copenhagen, Stockholm and Salzburg. It is difficult to accurately assess the level of illegal dumping in Ireland or the public moneys spent on cleaning up illegal dumping as no single State authority appears to have overall responsibility for monitoring such activity. Dublin was the only city in the report in which illegal dumping was an issue. It is SIPTU's contention that there is a causal relationship between the current waste management model, which does not oblige residents to have a domestic waste collection service, and widespread illegal dumping. In the comparator cities, there is 100% coverage among householders. In Dublin, coverage is only 82%.

On affordability, there is no mechanism through the current waste management model to address households' inability to pay for domestic waste collection services. When the domestic waste collection service was operated by local authorities, that was possible. The IPA report found that all householders in the comparator cities are required to pay for waste collection, with those on low incomes supported through social security. It is not possible to operate a progressive approach in Ireland to household inequality and affordability due to the unregulated free market control of the service. It should be noted that the comparator cities' household service charge is similar to the average cost per household in Dublin.

The IPA report was unable to find any statistics relating to traffic congestion or carbon emissions in the comparator cities. There is a congestion problem in Ireland. Due to multiple providers operating within a single municipal area, multiple refuse trucks are required.

I turn now to employment standards in the industry. Approximately 7,000 workers are employed in the domestic waste management industry. SIPTU represents a significant minority of workers in the sector.

All workers in private sector providers are paid less than local authority workers doing equivalent work. Notably the Institute of Public Administration, IPA, report found that "average salary figures are significantly higher in all of the comparator cities" in comparison to Dublin. Pension and sick-pay provision is virtually non-existent for workers in the industry apart from Bord na Móna Recycling. In survey after survey conducted by SIPTU, workers in the industry express concern around health and safety. There is a high turnover of staff across the industry and agency work is also a feature. The vast majority of employers will not recognise trade unions and SIPTU is driven off any attempts it has made to try to organise workers. None of them will recognise their workers' rights to be collectively represented by a trade union. I want to emphasise that point today. Our organising surveys tell us that most workers want to be represented by a trade union but fear the repercussions from their employer.

On the sale of Bord na Móna Recycling-----

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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I will stop Mr. Kane there.

Mr. Adrian Kane:

I will finish up on this, Chair.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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Mr. Kane is out of time.

Mr. Adrian Kane:

If I could finish on this point, I will stop.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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I will give Mr. Kane 30 seconds.

Mr. Adrian Kane:

Bord na Móna has confirmed that it is conducting a strategic review of Bord na Móna Recycling. We believe that the withdrawal of Bord na Móna from the domestic waste market would be a strategic mistake for the State. The domestic waste collection market is a natural monopoly. It is clear that the exit of a major commercial State company will result in further consolidation within the industry. We believe this trajectory of consolidation is likely to increase and that this should stop. It will have a hugely negative on terms and conditions within the industry but also with regard to consolidation within the industry. I thank the Chair.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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I thank Mr. Kane and I apologise for cutting him to five minutes. He can return to that issue throughout the session if he feels it is important and if there is time. I invite Mr. Carrothers from Fórsa to make his opening statement.

Mr. Richy Carrothers:

I thank the Cathaoirleach. For the purpose of brevity I will read selectively from the opening statement. On behalf of Fórsa, I would like to thank the committee for the invitation to engage in this important discussion.

There is a clear public-private split in the provision of waste management across Europe. While privatisation has been a significant trend over many years, there is now increasing evidence of services being insourced - that is, formerly privatised services and infrastructure being brought back under direct public ownership and management. For instance, the Public Futures database, which maps international cases where services have returned to public provision, and which is maintained by the University of Glasgow, identifies the large number of remunicipalisation examples across Europe. I have listed those in the opening statement.

The number of insourcing cases is likely to be much higher, as many are not recorded. For example, in Norway in 2017, the failure of RenoNorden, one of the country’s largest waste companies, led to more than 100 services being insourced. This highlights the opportunities that arise from company failures. There has also been a clear trend in Germany, where a quarter of all municipalities were using in-house services for waste collection in 2015, compared to only 14% in 2003. While there are several reasons for insourcing in Germany, for example, it was often the result of cost-benefit analyses by municipalities.

To date, most research on the circular economy is conducted with the purpose of promoting it, mostly consisting of reports from public institutions and civil society organisations, with little research that assesses the employment implications arising from such a transition in the circular economy.

Many councils, faced with an unviable business model for domestic refuse, exited waste management market and this has ultimately resulted in a quasi market for waste which is poorly regulated with environmental and other costs. Private refuse services are not only unaccountable, but the current quasi market model has led to cartel-like private bin collection services which have proved uncompetitive, inefficient and unable to provide affordable or consistent coverage. The lack of competition has been evidenced through market research carried out by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, CCPC, and colleagues have already alluded to that.

I also refer the committee to the IPA report in terms of Dublin City Council and colleagues have referred to that on a number of occasions. I will reference the role of local authorities in waste provision. Austerity, privatisation, executive direction and centralisation have hollowed out public services and stripped local authorities and local communities of their democratic power. Ireland now has the worst level of local representation and one of the weakest local governments in Europe.

Local government represents the greatest interrelationship between the citizen and the State and must be protected.

Fórsa has a vision for enhanced provision of local services and strengthened local democracy in Ireland. Strong local government which provides localised, efficient, and effective public services is the cornerstone of a healthy democracy. Local government is our greatest and most underused resource. It touches every aspect of our daily lives, impacting on where we live and work, in our schools, our homes and our public parks. On 15 July 2022, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage issued a document titled, Irish Water Transformation: the Wider Policy Context. The document was requested by the water workers’ trade unions as part of the transfer of local authority water services to Uisce Éireann to ensure the rejuvenation of the local government sector. In the section titled Future of Local Government, the Minister stated:

The local government system is currently embarking on a significant expansion of activities across a range of areas such as Active Transport, Housing for All, Age Friendly Ireland, Town Centre First, the Biodiversity ... Programme, the Climate Action Plan [for] 2021, [etc].

In Fórsa, we believe that the re-municipalisation of waste is good for workers, service users and the environment. The ask from the union is simple. It is to introduce legislative changes to the Waste Management Act 1996 that would provide for the return of waste collection services to local authorities and support the development of initiatives within local authorities for the re-municipalisation of waste collection services. We thank the committee for the opportunity to share some of our thoughts on the circular economy as it relates to waste management and look forward to a broader and more in-depth discussion.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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I thank Mr. Carrothers for keeping it to five minutes. I appreciate that. As I said, the full statements will be published on the committee website. We have approximately one hour to engage with members. Two non-members are here today, Deputy Joan Collins and Senator Marie Sherlock. They are welcome. Priority for questions will be given to members, but I will do my best to bring them in and give them sufficient time to ask questions.

Photo of Darren O'RourkeDarren O'Rourke (Meath East, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the witnesses for their opening statements this morning. They have collectively made the case that there is an opportunity to deliver a better service for workers, service users and the environment by taking waste management services under public control. I ask the union representatives about the experience of privatisation and its implications for workers' terms and conditions. They touched on some of the points about engagement. Will they address the terms and conditions for workers since privatisation? There is also the claim that this would be potentially beneficial for the environment. Will the three sets of witnesses expand on that?

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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There are two clear questions and I ask the witnesses to be as succinct as they can in their answers. We generally allow five minutes for questions and answers, but I am allowing some latitude as we have so many guests today.

Mr. Adrian Kane:

I will give a brief overall picture of terms and conditions in the private sector and within the industry. We allude in our report that collectors and so on are below the living wage, and drivers are earning somewhere between €17 and €20. Those are headline figures. The problem with regard to the terms and conditions is that, particularly in the private sector, they are usually driven by lengths of runs. Someone could nominally be on that per hour, but their day lengthens. There are few places with overtime payments. Sick pay and pension schemes are also largely non-existent in private sector provision. None of the private sector companies we deal with recognise us for collective bargaining purposes. The EU directive is due to be transcribed in November, but because of its free-market nature none of those things can be built in when a local authority goes to tender that out, which again is completely out of sync with the situation in other EU states.

The point that we would make is that this would be a two-step process. We have to get back to single provision within a local authority area. Through procurement, we can then build on a system whereby standards have to be reached in terms of environmental standards and the quality of the labour contract.

We have all said that in turning this around we can have a system that is much more sustainable for the environment. We cannot have multiple providers going up our streets every day of the week. Nobody else does that. We cannot have a bring centre in the middle of high-density housing when there are also multiple providers. There can be a win-win solution for the environment, residents and workers if we restructure the system in a two-phase process whereby we have single provision in a local authority and build up good procurement standards by allowing the local authority back into an area.

Mr. Richy Carrothers:

From a trade union perspective, we are talking about quality work and jobs and meeting environmental standards. All of the international best practice and examples listed in Fórsa's submission show that the terms and conditions of employment tend to be better and more accountable and democratic in public sector provision across Europe. I would avoid falling into the trap of believing this is a Dublin issue. We are talking about large swathes of rural Ireland with very poor provision. It is almost cartel-like, in that there is no selection for consumers and they have never had public provision.

We should seize the opportunity to change this. For instance, in large parts of rural France public provision is a key cornerstone of community infrastructure, providing quality environmental, as well as employment, standards. It was stated in a public discussion in the cross-party working group that the situation is almost like the wild west. We are talking about regulation of environmental and employment standards to bring community and quality work to citizens and give people the services they deserve.

Mr. Daithí Doolan:

When we speak about the environment, the two key strategies for Dublin City Council and the regions are the regional waste management and climate change strategies. The companies that collect domestic waste in Dublin have no act or part to play in those strategies. We cannot impose them on them or work with them because they are beyond our control. Companies get a licence, go out and collect rubbish and then get rid of it. That system is archaic. It is not environmentally friendly or good for householders. It contributes to emissions and congestion and does not allow us to modernise our waste management service.

Waste management needs to be about more than bins being collected. Nobody has a magic wand to make waste disappear. The companies providing the service do not have any magic wands or bags of fairy dust to make them compliant with the climate change or regional waste management strategies. We want to bring the collection of waste into those strategies. We cannot do so at the moment because we have no control over the companies that provide the strategy.

We need to ensure that we have a comprehensive waste management strategy, by which I mean the waste collection service is part of that strategy. At the moment it is not. We need to benefit the environment by bringing it in-house and making it part of the strategy so that we can control and direct it and hold those providing the service to account.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin Bay North, Fine Gael)
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Everyone on this committee wants higher levels of segregation, recovery and reuse. The issue is how we get there. Given the tightness of time, my first question relates to what we are to make of the EPA conclusion that, even with this legislative change, it is likely, if tested, that Dublin City Council's re-entry into the domestic waste collection service and the exclusion of private operators would be deemed anti-competitive by the courts. That is clearly a strong statement by the EPA, which did this work.

I would be interested in hearing the view of the witnesses on that.

The other issue is what this will cost. The witnesses have probably seen the presentation industry representatives will make later. It states remunicipalisation would cost between €1.3 billion and €2.7 billion and the service would be more expensive to run thereafter. The question then is who would pay. This is a major re-nationalisation of a sector.

The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission report was referred to. I looked at this because I have done some work in the circular economy and, as a result, I have looked at some of these studies. The CCPC comes out very strongly in favour of a national waste regulator to deal with what Councillor Doolan has described as the wild west and all the regulatory issues. It sets out what the regulator would do, for example, create geographic franchises and mix markets so that more costly routes would be combined with more profitable ones. It proposes a number of standard regulatory powers. That is what the CCPC finally came up with, rather than remunicipalisation.

We have a national waste and circular economy strategy, which is of recent origin dating from 2022. Did the witnesses make a submission on this proposal at that stage and, if so, how was that received at that point when it would have been necessary to look down the barrel of some of these potential costs or regulatory changes?

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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There were four questions there. I ask the witnesses to address them as a group or individually.

Mr. Adrian Kane:

I will probably answer them in reverse. The ICTU made a submission at that stage. I did not see much mention of it in the final report, to be honest.

The CCPC report from 2018 ended up saying there should be a national regulator. That struck me as a strange conclusion to come to given what was contained in the report.

To come to the two other issues Deputy Bruton raised, namely, the legal element and the cost, we have taken advice from senior counsel on this. A test case was taken back in either 2009 or 2012 on the issue that a local authority was essentially setting the rules and then being an actor within those rules also. As I understand, that is basically what the case turned on. The issue here would be a local authority operating within a two-phase process. We need to get back to a situation where there is one provider for a local authority, as is the case everywhere else in the world. The only exception, literally, is here. Then, through public procurement rules, the tender is put out. That is how the competition principle is guarded and the local authority is not seen to undermine providers that are already in the market or doing anything that would inhibit their ability to do business. That, again, is a constitutional hook with regard to trying to inhibit somebody's ability to do business within the particular market.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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Mr. Kane is saying there is a legal basis to do this, which is fair enough. I ask him to move on to the cost question.

Mr. Adrian Kane:

On the cost issue, it is very interesting, from reading the IPA report, that while we pay less in labour costs here, there were similar charges across the four comparator cities. Mick Gleeson, who is present, works for Bord na Móna Recycling. If Bord na Móna Recycling sells, there will be greater consolidation and, as with all markets, the market will end up with a small number of players. We will lose complete control of it and that is already coming to pass with regard to the recycling of bottles, etc.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin Bay North, Fine Gael)
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Is the buying out of all these people not a requirement, if all the segregation and waste recovery centres are going to be nationalised?

Mr. Adrian Kane:

I am not sure I understood the question.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin Bay North, Fine Gael)
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Does all of this infrastructure not have to be bought out to do this?

Mr. Adrian Kane:

The logical approach would be for a number of local authorities to come together. The most pressing issue we have in representing the majority of Bord na Móna staff is that if the company is sold, it will end up giving a huge advantage to the two or three large players left in the market. The transfer of undertakings, TUPE, will not matter. In a couple of years' time, people will be down on much lower rates and economic circumstances will be introduced as a reason the terms and conditions cannot be maintained. Public procurement needs to be built in. Realistically, in terms of municipal involvement, it would need a number of councils to come together and set up some sort of entity to compete in the space. That is the logical approach.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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Thank you. If there is time, we can return to these questions in the second round.

Mr. Richy Carrothers:

On Deputy Bruton's question, the report we keep referencing highlighted the degree to which the Irish market is unique and inefficient in enabling a competitive market. It concludes that the waste correlation is a natural monopoly. I think no one would disagree with that. Interesting questions were asked by the Deputy about the IPA report and I think they are fair questions. The report looked at the remunicipalisation of waste in Dublin, for instance, against international comparators. It found that four waste collection companies account for almost three quarters of the waste in the Dublin market. When that is put in the context of the international market I spoke about, of the five international comparator cities surveyed in the report, Dublin was the only city with a fully privatised system. All others included a strong element of public involvement through the direct collection of waste by publicly owned companies, with publicly owned management and serviced through tenders for kerbside waste. It is not legally prohibitive, as my colleague from SIPTU said. We believe there is flexibility but it will require legislative changes and political will to give the people the services they deserve. This will drive up environmental and labour standards. Earlier, Mr. Kane mentioned the win-win-win scenario, involving the State, the environment and workers. We see no reason for this unregulated cartel that continues to exist in our capital city and around the country.

Mr. Daithí Doolan:

I will be very brief in responding. The IPA gave three scenarios and the Deputy is correct that this is one of them, but there are two others. One is quite favourable to the argument that there should be one collector providing the service, in line with other European countries. No other municipality in Europe has been charged with being anti-competitive or contravening EU regulations. The drift is towards remunicipalisation and a single collection service. We are the ones out of kilter, with a haphazard plethora of services. It is like some kind of tapestry of waste management collection, rather than a comprehensive service, central to waste management and climate change. The report says that it would be possible for Dublin City Council to indicate that it would have one service provider that would meet criteria and arrangements, one operator to provide the service. Under this scenario, private operators would be prohibited from operating within the area allocated. It would appear that such a scenario would not be deemed anti-competitive. However, in order to afford Dublin City Council with the necessary certainty, amendments to the Waste Management Act 1996 would have to be put in place. We are saying that the current regime is unsustainable. It does not benefit householders or the environment. We need to step forward and this shows an avenue we can go down.

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, Independents 4 Change)
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This is a very healthy discussion, teasing out the issues here.

The IPA report highlighted the issue of illegal dumping in particular. We do not have details on what it actually costs to collect that waste. That cost, or the cost across different cities, is not included in any of the reports we have. I reckon it is quite substantive. It is local authorities that collect that waste, not the private companies.

I put it to today's speakers that there is a compelling argument for one waste collector in any local authority area, or possibly throughout the country. When we raised this matter with the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, recently, he said:

Altering the structure of the market, whether by municipalising waste collection services or adopting competitive tendering, would take several years to implement. Regarding the barriers to overcome, these include the legal issues that must be considered. Among these are constitutional issues, the fact that primary and secondary legislation would be required, competition law, state aid rules, procurement law, and waste collection permit expiry dates, which are up to five years from now.

The real question relates to what Mr. Carrothers said about political will. There was political will to privatise our waste collection services two decades ago. Legislation was changed to allow that. There has to be political will to look at all that legislation and reverse it. That is what has to be done. It was indicated by the Taoiseach that the Government will not look at the re-municipalisation of waste, which was raised last week. We have to look to the future a little and down the road to what sort of campaign-----

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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I want to give the Deputy an opportunity to ask questions, if she has them.

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, Independents 4 Change)
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Should a campaign be run on this issue? To give a simple example, we held two public meetings in Ballyfermot and Crumlin. We went out with a sheet to ask people to sign a petition on the re-municipalisation of waste. There is huge support for that among communities in Ballyfermot and Crumlin based on the huge cost increases by private waste collection companies over the past number of years.

Mr. Adrian Kane:

I will address a number of points the Deputy made. The amount of illegal dumping is a key issue. The most recent statistic I have is from 2018, when almost one in four households had no domestic waste collection service. It is 18% in Dublin. There is a causal link between that and the amount of illegal dumping. That cannot be overcome unless people are obliged to have a service, which cannot be done unless there is some way in which poorer households do not have to pay the full whack with regard to it. It is a simple ask. Our colleagues, Mr. Carrothers and Mr. Doolan, also alluded to this. We invited people over from Norway where all waste collection was brought back in-house. The reason was Norway was left with what is happening here. Waste collection got to the point of only one or two large providers being left in the state. Those providers went bankrupt and the state had to come back in. A will was found in terms of how that was done.

The situation in terms of the licence and how long it would last for, etc., is probably correct. However, the advice we have taken, and we got two different sets of legal advice, is that we do not need constitutional change, although we need to amend the 1996 Act. We need to get back to single provision per local authority and then build in procurement rules around that. That is not doing anybody out of business but allows the State, if it so wants, in whatever guise, to re-enter a public procurement that has some regard for the people who work in the industry. It is a very labour-intensive industry. A buck cannot be made out of it if only half the bins in an estate are being picked up, so the only way to make a buck out of it is to depress wages. That is the only way it happens. If Bord na Móna is taken out of that, it will depress wages more. That is all that will happen. We will end up with a larger section of waste collection going to one of the biggest providers.

That is what will happen.

Mr. Daithí Doolan:

The cost of collecting illegal waste in Dublin City Council is €1 million per year, according to RTÉ, and in South Dublin it is €1.4 million every year. That comes out of the public Exchequer. When we asked the other comparative cities about it, they said they had no problem with illegal dumping. That came as a relief to me because we do not have to live with illegal dumping. There is a solution, and it is the re-municipalisation of waste. That is the one of they key cornerstones of tackling illegal dumping that is blighting our communities.

Mr. Richy Carrothers:

That is an excellent point from Deputy Collins. Local authorities are stuck with the bill and the legal responsibility regardless, but they have no control of the unregulated waste market in terms of their own intervention. A campaign was mentioned and I just wanted to commend what we issued to all political parties and independent candidates in the local elections, the More Power to You manifesto. There are five pillars: one of the pillars was about waste management and we have already discussed that. The fifth and final pillar was energy and climate. We believe there is a responsibility to do things differently. The current model is anti-competitive because the State is essentially locked out of providing crucial waste services to citizens. In fact, the people who lose out are the poorest people who cannot afford that private provision.

Ireland, including rural Ireland where I live, is blighted with illegal dumping because people feel locked out from the current market. There is no argument against the State seizing the opportunity to re-enter that market and take whatever legislative steps are necessary in order to meet the want and desires of the people.

Photo of Marie SherlockMarie Sherlock (Labour)
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I thank the committee for hosting this hearing today because for many of us here, it is a huge issue in our communities, and a huge issue for the workers within waste collection companies themselves. I know that after housing and policing, I think waste is the third biggest issue raised on the doorsteps in our communities. Waste is a public service that is effectively being delivered by private operators and we have a dysfunctional system whereby bins are collected by private companies, creaming profits from households and local authorities are effectively left to clean up the mess in terms of illegal dumping, while also providing free services. There is no incentive for investment in the overall strategy that Councillor Doolan talked about with regard to waste management.

I have three questions. First, with regard to working conditions in the bin collection companies, post-pandemic there was a lot said about front-line workers and we know bin collection workers had to go out week in, week out, while many of us got to stay at home. Of course our bins got more full because we were all at home. I want to understand what has happened to wages since 2020, and Mr. Gleason might be able to talk to this. The owner of Panda and Greenstar, Beaupark Utilities saw its profits rise by almost 24% in 2020, up to nearly €35 million. How much have wages changed during that period of time, and in particular during those pandemic years where we would assume volumes of waste increased substantially from households?

Mr. Michael Gleason:

What has been very evident since Covid is that the staff, down to the guy who loads the bin and the drivers, have worked so much harder because, as Senator Sherlock said, people were at home and there was more waste there. Nothing changed as regards any sort of payments. I know people who worked in the health service obviously had a more stressful job than we had but they got a little bit of something after the pandemic. We got absolutely nothing. I work for Bord na Móna and everyone in our organisation is very much subject to the rules and regulations as regards health and safety. Bord na Móna would follow all the rules and there is absolutely no problem there. Our competitors are a little bit more lax on that. There is obviously more of a cost on Bord na Móna to keep everything 100%, as it should be, but it should also be like that for the competitors.

However, it should be the same for the competitors. As such, they have a little bit of an edge. Our wages have not moved in what is probably three years.

Photo of Marie SherlockMarie Sherlock (Labour)
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I thank Mr. Gleason.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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Mr. McCabe wishes to contribute but I remind Senator Sherlock and our guests that we are discussing the circular economy. This committee does not have a remit over workers’ wages and so on. I am happy to hear people’s points, but we cannot make recommendations in that regard.

Photo of Marie SherlockMarie Sherlock (Labour)
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I appreciate that.

Mr. Pat McCabe:

I have been meeting many waste workers over the past few months at all hours of the day and night. I will give the committee a flavour of those meetings. We are discussing a sustainable circular economy. We cannot achieve that unless we have something sustainable for the people carrying out the work. It is dirty work. Everyone in this room sees the people on the back of the lorries. They are labouring on well below what is the living wage of €14.80 per hour. The wages out there are between €13 and €13.80. These are essential workers who cannot sustain their own lives on such wages. That has to change if we are going to have a sustainable circular economy, particularly in domestic wage collection. There are also difficulties with their security of employment, as many of them are employed by agencies and could be dispensed with overnight. A difficulty raised in all of my conversations with workers had to do with routes lengthening, meaning higher productivity from them and longer hours. Generally speaking, though, there is no overtime rate in the industry and, aside from Bord na Móna, we do not have collective bargaining rights. This is a major problem and should be taken into consideration where the sustainable circular economy is concerned through the transposition of the European directive on the minimum wage and collective bargaining. We need to raise standards in this industry. Otherwise, we will find ourselves in deep trouble.

Photo of Marie SherlockMarie Sherlock (Labour)
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How much local authorities spend on dealing with illegal dumping has been mentioned. It is a significant cost every year. Will Councillor Doolan set out what oversight and reporting there is within Dublin City Council and, as he understands it, other local authorities as regards the activities of bin collection companies? For example, where there is an inconsistent collection service, what information is provided to councillors about the areas not being covered? Last week, I dealt with a case where a street in the heart of Dublin 1 did not have a bin collection service. As for the issue with brown bins, there are 900 streets across Dublin that have a derogation from bins and, by law, do not have a composting service. What reporting is done by the executive to councillors? What powers and oversight do local authorities have over the activities of bin collection companies in their areas? There is a major disconnect. There are companies operating in areas, but local authorities are being left to clean up the mess and they have no real control over the activities of bin collection companies. Councillor Doolan might go into more detail about what information councillors are given about the activities of bin collection companies in their areas.

Mr. Daithí Doolan:

I thank the Senator for her question, which goes to the core issues of service provision, accountability and transparency. Speaking as a city councillor, we have little or no impact on, input into or accountability from the 11 companies providing this service in Dublin. All we can do is tackle the blight of illegal dumping. That is in our remit.

It has been brought to my attention that there is no requirement on the companies to clean up any waste left behind. It has been brought to my attention by city council staff that, where a collection service is not provided to commercial properties, then it is up to the city council to provide that service and meet that demand. We are literally picking up the rubbish for other people to make profit on the backs of people in Dublin.

What we are asking for is not significant. We just want some connection with and oversight, and control, of the service provided in Dublin.

If there was a comprehensive service being provided that was accountable to the customer and the local authority, there would be no need for me or anyone else to be here. Since they are not accountable to us and we do not have any impact or oversight that is the reason we are bringing the campaign to Leinster House today, to give us the power to do that. If they were meeting the demands of the city and were democratically accountable to local authorities, there would be no need for us to be here. The issues are that the area is fragmented, uncontrolled and unaccountable and we are left picking up the pieces, particularly when it comes to illegal dumping.

Ms Julie Flood:

I am wearing two hats here today. One is as senior vice president of Fórsa and the other as a proud employee of Dublin City Council. Councillor Doolan mentioned the costing supplied by RTÉ, as opposed to the local authorities, around the physical removal and the cost of lifting the illegal dumping. There have been additional costs here around education, awareness, enforcement and diversionary activities that are supplied by local authorities. We will not get that full costing. We may get the cost of lifting the waste but there is a range of additional costs included in that as well.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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I thank the witnesses for their work on this. It is a no-brainer from the point of view of workers, communities and our environment. Do any of the witnesses have figures for the profits of the waste management companies?

Mr. Adrian Kane:

Not to hand.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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I think most of them are unlimited companies that do not file with the Companies Office so they do not publish their profits, if I am not mistaken. Will any of the witnesses address that?

Mr. Richy Carrothers:

There is an issue in terms of what would be deemed to be commercially-sensitive information and the enormous profits being made from waste, because there is money in waste. The Deputy is asking a good question that unfortunately, I cannot answer.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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That is precisely the point. There is a problem in having a public discussion here when we do not know the figure. They trot out that because people are doing as they are asked to do, which is to bring their bottles and cans back to the shops for the deposit return scheme, they need to increase the price of the green bin to compensate for that. There is no public evidence to suggest that they need this, even if we accepted their right to make a profit.

Mr. Adrian Kane:

The recent development shows that we have reached the end of this radical, free-market proposition that we continue to have throughout the country. We cannot get close to anything we could call a circular economy unless we join up all these pieces. I disagree fundamentally with the Chair when he says that workers' rights and what they are paid for is not linked to a sustainable economy. Mr. Gleason works in Bord na Móna. I used to work there. One thing we have learned is that if we are to get people to move to the green and environmental agenda, we have to bring them with us.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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No, I did not say that.

Mr. Adrian Kane:

The Chair said that the committee had no remit with regard to labour standards.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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We do not have a remit with respect to workers' rights.

Mr. Adrian Kane:

I am making a very important point in that we have to link any sort of green solutions to bringing working people along with us as well. The current provision does not do that.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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This relates to what Mr. Kane is saying. He mentioned bin workers' cite health and safety concerns that have been raised in survey after survey. What sort of concerns do they have? Presumably this is something that has changed since the move to private ownership.

Mr. Pat McCabe:

It features in every survey and it is generally in respect of how they feel the company interacts with them in relation to health and safety. They do not feel that they have a voice. They feel that if there are issues on health and safety, they are imposed rather than done in a fashion that we would say is collaborative and consultative. There are concerns about the maintenance of the trucks, for instance. There are concerns for their own health and safety regarding the fact that it is dirty work, which exposes them to pathogens and infections.

As we have pointed out, within domestic waste collection, sick pay schemes are a rarity and they depend solely on the five-day provision that is there, and at 70% of their wages. They are told to go and visit a doctor and get their prescription, and they are penalised very much for being out sick. Those are the kinds of things they want to see addressed within their own employment, particularly in regard to welfare at the depots. There is a wide disparity in that some places have very good welfare facilities but they barely exist in other places.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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There is one area where we might diverge a little, or perhaps it is just a question of timing. Councillor Doolan said that we do not want to turn the clock back and, obviously, we do not want to turn the clock back in terms of having just one black bin and there need to be multiple bins. Why not turn the clock back in terms of bringing this fully under the control of council-run services as it would have been in the past? People would have experienced that as a good service, they did not have complaints, there were not multiple trucks on different roads, and so on. Obviously, Councillor Doolan is pitching it as a kind of two-tier thing, with one private supplier, and we are then able to have procurement rules, standards and so on. Without question, that would be an improvement. However, why do we not go all the way and bring it back in-house to the councils?

Councillor Doolan might also address the issue of costs. The IPA report states that, basically, the costs would be the same for people. However, I suggest that households would like to hear that costs are going to go away because they are opposed to bin charges. Councillor Doolan referenced rates in the North. I assume people do not want to see rates brought back in the South to replace the bin charges. He might comment on those points.

Mr. Daithí Doolan:

To clarify, when we talk about not wanting to turn the clock back, it is because we know that we cannot simply use a magic wand to bring us back to 2012, with one bin, one van and all the waste going out in it. We have moved a long way and progressed hugely with regard to waste management, environmentalism and the challenge of climate change. We want to be part of meeting that challenge head-on. One way we feel that we can do that is by having one collection service that is absolutely comprehensive. Rather than putting everything into one bin and it being dumped in some landfill in north County Dublin, we want to reduce landfill, increase recycling and make the service simple, accessible, reliable and affordable. The best way to do that, we feel, is to remunicipalise the waste.

I referenced what is going on in Belfast because when you see it, you know it is possible. People there have three or four small bins, each with a different type of waste that comes out to the front yard and is collected and taken away. Here, if people bring their glass and cans to the shop, they are punished, and they have to bring their heavy waste to Ballymount, where they are charged again. If they bring their cans and bottles to the local shop and get 15 cent back on each of them, that 15 cent will be gobbled up by the waste collection service. It is not comprehensive. What we are advocating is an integrated, comprehensive waste management strategy rather than a profit-driven bin service.

That is why I draw out those nuances and reference the rates. It is like apples and oranges in one sense. The point is that people in the North pay their rates and get a comprehensive service. Here, I pay a waste collection service that collects three of my bins. I then have to bring my cans and bottles and put them into the machine in the shop, and I get 15 cent each back. I then have to pay increased charges for my green bins and bring my heavy-duty waste to Ballymount and pay again. That does not happen in other jurisdictions. It does not have to be that way. That is why I am drawing those parallels.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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Thank you. Senator Higgins is joining us from her office. I will invite members to come in for a brief second round so I ask Senator Higgins to stick to her time of five minutes, which is for questions and answers.

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
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I will be brief. I will try to add questions that have not been touched on as much. One thing that has been mentioned is procurement versus actual remunicipalisation and returning to a public service. It seems from the IPA report that if we had direct delivery, it would solve many of the concerns around procurement. I ask the witnesses to comment on the idea of having a public service.

One of the issues that arises with procurement, no matter what conditions are added to a tender or a request for tenders, is that it cannot be as flexible or responsive as is the case with public service delivery. We have seen that in the recent reports that companies intend to hike household waste charges because the amount of waste is reducing as a result of the deposit return scheme. It is similar to the situation with toll roads. The objective with waste management is to reduce, reuse and recycle. If reducing and reusing are happening, the possibility that recycling would become more expensive is counterproductive to the ultimate goal. Will the witnesses comment on that?

The recent reports also highlighted that there is a lot of profit to be made from the waste itself. Aluminium, for example, is bringing in €800 to €1,400 a tonne. Plastic is being sold for approximately €500 per tonne. This suggests that, operating at scale, public waste services could end up generating money for the State, while being free from having to have that as their goal. Will the witnesses comment on that? The CCPC report last week mentioned that domestic waste collection is a natural monopoly. It is really about looking at the possibility of municipalisation with those issues in mind.

Will the witnesses also comment on the fact that illegal dumping seems to be reduced in places where there are public and accessible waste collection services?

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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A lot of the issues the Senator raised have been discussed. I ask the witnesses to be very brief in answering the questions.

Mr. Adrian Kane:

Deputy Murphy touched on these issues. In an ideal world, the service absolutely should be remunicipalised. It is similar to what we are doing now in public transport, where some of the contracts are done via direct provision and others are put out for public tender. We have come to this meeting after considerable thought. We have looked at the legal framework and tried to see how to unwind this and what steps are necessary to get to a sustainable economy, given some deep pockets of private sector providers who would challenge change. I do not believe there is any way around the issue other than by getting back to a stage of public procurement in which very strong criteria are set out with regard to labour, environmental, quality standards, etc. I do not disagree with the Senator. It would be good to be able to wave a wand and have remunicipalisation in the morning. We are saying we need to go back. Deputy Bruton asked about existing competitors and their rights.

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
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The possibility of a legal challenge is the block.

Mr. Adrian Kane:

Yes, that is the space we are in.

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
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It is a pity we are looking at a possible legal challenge. That may be a warning against privatising other areas. Will Mr. Kane comment on illegal dumping? It might have been addressed already.

Mr. Adrian Kane:

There is a huge causal relationship between illegal dumping and the fact 23% of all households have no waste collection service. The point is made in the IPA report that there is no mention of illegal dumping in reference to the comparator cities of Oslo, Copenhagen, Stockholm and Salzburg. It is not an issue because there is 100% coverage among householders in those cities. It does not take a rocket scientist to add things up and see what is happening. There are costs to the State in coming in after market failure and cleaning up illegal dumping. As our colleague Ms Flood noted, the State is not accurately recording the cost of illegal dumping. It is possible to set out those costs to suit one's case, as we might see happening in the next session. However, where there is a will, there is a way.

Mr. Richy Carrothers:

I will not repeat the points I already made. Senator Higgins is on to something. In essence, the system, as it is currently constructed, is punishing service users and the public for doing what is asked of them by increasing prices despite the fact they are engaging with recycling waste according to what the State requires. At the heart of this is that when we have a system that is based on profit in respect of public provision, there will always be a push-and-pull factor.

I want to repeat this point. Not only is there a suppression of labour costs but the people who feel the sharpest impact are people living in working-class communities in the State because the provision tends to be less and the cost tends to be more for them. In Fórsa we are absolutely of the view that at the heart of this is to remunicipalise it. It works. The model is central across Europe. We have really strong capital cities remunicipalising their waste as per the IPA report, and there is more. I commend the Public Futures database that would affirm that the model works. Of course, private companies will resist it because it is about cutting profit margins but the State is re-entering a market it abandoned during the austerity years. We are simply asking that the Dáil would take steps in order to bring about the legislative change to deliver the services people need and require. Waste management and the provision of waste collection is a public service.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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I thank Mr. Carrothers. There were other questions but we do not have time to go into them. If any of the witnesses wish to respond in writing to those other questions raised by Senator Higgins, we would be happy to receive those responses.

We will go to a second round of questions if Deputy O'Rourke would like to come in, followed by Deputy Joan Collins.

Photo of Darren O'RourkeDarren O'Rourke (Meath East, Sinn Fein)
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The point was made by one of the contributors that this is about raising standards in terms of employment but equally importantly, in terms of environmental outcomes. The witnesses have strongly advocated for a different model of service delivery and pointed to the area of illegal dumping as an environmental benefit. I presume in the IPA report, by international comparison, an improvement is seen in terms of the coverage. Senator Sherlock mentioned streets in Dublin that do not have coverage. We know huge swathes of rural Ireland is the same. Where there is coverage, people opt out of the services, in addition to that. I presume also the area of waivers, supports and costs is a piece that was lost. Will the witnesses speak to the additional benefits in environmental terms and for service users of this type of model and does it stand up when we look internationally? Will Councillor Doolan respond?

Mr. Daithí Doolan:

I thank Deputy O'Rourke for his question. Looking at the statistics in the report, in Dublin City Council 3,200 tonnes of illegal dumping is collected every year. That is phenomenal and does not happen in any of the other comparator capital cities. It is nowhere near that. It is not on the radar. It is not an issue or challenge because the other capitals have comprehensive waste management strategies.

Looking at different models, if we park the cost, in one of the models outlined in the IPA report, the householder pays a cost and every type of waste management is then provide free at the point of delivery. Waste is collected from the door - glass, cans, aluminium and paper are all free at the point of delivery. Bulky waste is free at the point of drop-off. Here, we go to Ballymount and pay a fee to those private companies to dump our waste there. In these European capitals that does not happen. Imagine, that the service is free at the point of delivery and comprehensive waste is separated, collected and there is one cost. Here, we have to pay for the illegal dumping in our taxes; for the collection of waste from our doors; we pay for our bulky waste to be dropped off; we are punished if we bring our aluminium and plastic bottles back to the shop. We are paying for the bulky waste as a consumer when we buy products and we are paying for it again when we dump it at Ballymount.

It does not have to be this way and that is what I found illuminating from the IPA report. The regime here is out of step; it is not what happens across Europe; it is not the norm. We are the Wild West and Europe is leading the way. We are asking for support from the legislators to introduce the legislation to allow local authorities to step back into the market and provide a comprehensive waste management strategy that meets the needs of the environment, the householder and those providing the service.

Mr. Adrian Kane:

To follow on from that in terms of looking to how we could improve the environment, there are multiple providers so there are more trucks than are needed.

From what we can see, most of them are carbon emitters. There is a transition in the other four cities to biofuels in particular, because it is state provision and that is what they are trying to get to. I live in a terraced house in Cork, and all along are rows of bins. There are four bins outside your house. If you were living in any similar European city, there would a bring centre at the end of the road in which you would put your stuff, and then one provider would take it away at the end of the week. Instead, we have three providers on my street three mornings per week, blocking up the streets. No offence to Mr. Gleason, but that is what happens from 5.30 a.m. to 6 a.m. It makes no sense and is not environmentally friendly. You cannot do anything about that once you continue to have side-by-side provision. If you get back to a situation with one provider, and you are building in those standards, you can then have collective bins for people. You do not even need trucks in the areas where you can bring out your bag and drop it in a place where the truck comes and collects it once per week.

Mr. Richy Carrothers:

Across the EU, 2.2 billion tonnes of waste are generated. This is a fluid situation. Under the EU landfill directive, EU countries must reduce the amount of municipal waste sent to landfill by 2035, to 10% or less of total municipal waste generated. This situation and the regulation is just going to increase. It is now time to act. There is no point waiting for a further crisis point to make the decision. We have already alluded to the fact that 23% of households do not have a waste collection service at all. It makes sense and has been advocated by other NGOs and commentators. It leaves room for a significant number of illegal practices like illegal dumping and fly-tipping in rural and urban areas. Almost 45,000 tonnes of waste were unmanaged in 2016, and the clean-up cost is borne by local authorities. The model we are advocating makes greater economic sense than this unregulated, unaccountable model in situ. Whatever you hear from contributors this afternoon, they will not be able to take responsibility for the State meeting the European targets and legislation to make it more environmentally friendly and effective. Now is the time to act, which is why this debate is so welcome and we should seize whatever opportunities we can to bring this back to an insourced model.

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, Independents 4 Change)
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I was elected to Dublin City Council as a councillor in 2004, as part of the anti-bin charges campaign. At the time I remember that the polluter pays aspect was a strong argument made to bring in charges and change the waste collection services. To me, the polluter pays principle means that the polluter pays, and not when you recycle green bins, brown bins, or you bring your stuff to the recycling centres and so on. It comes back to an urgent need for this committee to take on board what is being asked, and put forward a proposal to set up a task force to look at this whole area of how deep the EU economic activity order is around waste collection, public health, climate need, illegal dumping, the European directive on the circular economy, wages and workers' conditions. That has to be taken on board. I am asking the Chair to take on board the appeal to set up a task force to look at these areas, because serious concerns have been raised at this meeting.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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We can discuss that as a committee. I thank Deputy Collins for that.

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
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I will be brief, and I am happy to get something in writing. I am reviewing and looking at the IPA report and the idea that there is a legal issue. I am not convinced there is an intractable legal issue. We look at the idea of this as a service that could qualify for public delivery in terms of public procurement.

Lots of businesses in Ireland no longer exist. Fur farming was one of the last ones that went out of circulation. The witnesses might give their perspective on the legal obstacles and how, if there are any, they might be overcome on a path to full remunicipalisation. Obviously, nothing is instant, but what would such a path involve? How could those legal obstacles be overcome? It comes down to flexibility and being able to scale up response.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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Mr. Kane has indicated. He has addressed that question.

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
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I am asking whether people have something in writing. Even just a comment or two would be useful.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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We would be very happy to receive anything in writing.

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
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Mr. Kane has addressed the issue, but perhaps others have not.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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The three witnesses are here as a group, effectively.

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
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That is fine.

Mr. Adrian Kane:

We set out in our submission, on foot of senior counsel advice, the two-stage approach. I wish it were not-----

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
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It is a two-stage approach.

Mr. Adrian Kane:

That is just an opinion. I do not believe any senior counsel opinion was sought by the CPCC or IPA in that regard.

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
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It is to be hoped we will still get to the two-stage approach.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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We are very happy to receive further written responses. The word "cartel" was used. I do not recall who used the word, but it is potentially defamatory. It is a claim being made. It has not been substantiated. It is important to acknowledge that the evidence that waste providers are in cahoots has not been provided here today. I want to put that on the record. I thank all the witnesses for coming before the committee and those who joined us online. After a break of five minutes, we will begin the second session.

Sitting suspended at 12.32 p.m. and resumed at 12.47 p.m.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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We will continue our engagement on the circular economy as it relates to waste management and alternative delivery models.

We are joined by representatives of the City and County Management Association, CCMA. Mr. John McLaughlin is the chief executive of Donegal County Council and the chair of the CCMA climate action, transport, circular economy and networks committee. Mr. Sean Scott is the local authority waste programme co-ordinator for a circular economy and is based in the Local Government Management Agency. Mr. Kevin Swift is regional co-ordinator of the Connacht-Ulster regional waste management planning office and is based in Mayo County Council. Mr. Leo Duffy is programme manager of the National Waste Collection Permit Office and is based in Offaly County Council. They are all welcome to the meeting.

We also have representatives from the Irish Waste Management Association. Mr. Des Crinion is the chairperson and Mr. Conor Walsh is the secretary. They are also welcome to Leinster House this afternoon.

Because the witnesses have just joined us, I will again read the note on privilege. They are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice that they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable or otherwise engage in speech that might be regarded as damaging to the good name of a person or entity. Therefore, if their statements are potentially defamatory in relation to an identifiable person or entity, they will be directed to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative that they comply with any such direction.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside of the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I also remind members joining us virtually that they must be physically present within the confines of the Leinster House complex in order to participate in public meetings. I ask that they confirm that they are on the campus prior to making a contribution to the meeting.

I call Mr. McLaughlin to make his statement.

Mr. John McLaughlin:

I will run through my statement. The Cathaoirleach introduced the team so I will not repeat the introductions. I thank the Cathaoirleach and members of the committee for inviting us to present the local government position on the circular economy in the context of the current and future waste management arrangements.

Section 1 of my statement runs through the local government obligations. The Waste Management Act 1996 requires local authorities to collect or arrange for the collection of household waste and to provide and operate or arrange for the provision and operation of such facilities as may be necessary for the recovery and disposal of household waste.

The Act also requires local authorities to make waste management plans for the prevention, minimisation, collection, recovery and disposal of non-hazardous waste. Local authorities also have responsibility for the implementation and enforcement of a large number of waste regulations. The local government sector directly employs approximately 1,600 people in waste-related activities with an annual expenditure in excess of €280 million.

The local government sector has responded to its statutory obligations by establishing a range of national, regional and local arrangements, including three regional waste management offices located in counties Dublin, Limerick, Tipperary and Mayo, whose role is to make and co-ordinate the implementation of waste management plans that include targets, policies and actions for local government and the wider waste sector. We have three regional waste enforcement offices as a shared service in Dublin City Council, Cork County Council and Leitrim-Donegal county councils jointly. Their role is to co-ordinate the implementation and enforcement of waste-related regulations and set common objectives and enforcement priorities for the sector. There is one national waste permitting office, as mentioned, in Tullamore, which Mr. Duffy is in charge of. It manages the permitting of waste collection activities and waste facilities and collates waste data. There is also one national trans-frontier shipments office, which is a designated competent authority in legislation, based in Dublin City Council. Its role is to monitor and manage the export, import and transit of waste shipments. Each local authority employs environmental awareness officers and waste enforcement officers to meet their obligations locally.

The sector has appointed a local authority waste programme co-ordinator, based in the Local Government Management Agency in Dublin, to oversee all the established arrangements, who reports to a subcommittee of the CCMA, which is the committee I chair, as the Cathaoirleach mentioned. The sector has also established and maintains a website, mywaste.ie, for waste information for citizens and stakeholders, and delivers national, regional and local waste awareness campaigns annually.

On waste management challenges, the country faces significant challenges regarding the management of municipal waste. Waste generation continues to grow while the capacity to treat waste is not sufficient to meet the demand within the country, leading to a dependence on export for the management of residual general waste in particular. To give some context, the last published figures by the EPA are set out in table 1 of our statement, while table 2 sets out the tonnages for municipal waste. In summary, table 1 references the fact that almost 18 million tonnes of waste is generated, of which 9 million tonnes is construction waste, and 85% of that is soil and stone. In addition, there are 3.17 million tonnes of municipal waste, while the recycling rate is 42%. I will give some key figures for municipal residual waste, as indicated by our regional waste management planning office, RWMPO, figures. Of the total 1.8 million tonnes in waste, waste to energy through cement kilns accounts for 1.1 million tonnes, landfill disposal accounts for 387,000 tonnes and we export approximately 321,000 tonnes overseas.

Proposed waste infrastructure has been slow to be delivered due to delays in the planning process. EU recycling targets have not been achieved and recent characterisation studies indicate that household waste segregation is not delivering the desired outcomes, with significant amounts of material still presented in the wrong bins. Waste presentation in non-household settings requires massive improvement to ensure that adequate segregation is achieved.

On the local government plan, the local government sector made the first national waste management plan for a circular economy in March 2024 in response to the challenges faced. The plan builds on previous regional waste management plans and sets an ambition of 0% total waste growth over the period of the plan, which runs to 2030, with a set of national targets that underpin this ambition. The plan is built on extensive consultation with key stakeholders and partners, including the Department, the EPA and industry, among others, and identifies collaboration as the key to future success. Circularity is a core position of the plan with the emphasis on eliminating waste and maximising the reuse of resources. The plan recognises circularity as a key driver and Ireland's circularity rate as an indicator of progress in this area.

The plan will actively contribute to increasing circularity by: increasing national recycling rates and capturing data on other circular mechanisms, such as reuse, repair and preparation for reuse to increase the recycling rate; maximising the quality and quantity of secondary materials in the market to enable substitution for primary materials; and reducing material consumption across all sectors of the State, including the household, commercial, industrial and construction sectors. It is anticipated that the greatest opportunity for reduced consumption relates to the consumption of primary aggregates for construction, which may be substituted by secondary aggregates through the application of Regulation No. 27 on byproducts and Regulation No. 28 on end of waste, as decided by the EPA and through the implementation of best practice.

Wider behavioural change through improved consumer decision-making is also a key aspect of the plan to reduce consumption. The delivery of the required levels of behaviour change, the necessary increase in recycling and the growth of secondary materials will only be achieved through a collaborative and co-ordinated response from the waste sector. The plan seeks to enhance the existing organisational arrangements between the key partners, namely, the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, the EPA and the local government sector, as well as key stakeholders, those being the private sector, compliance schemes and the reuse-repair sector, to deliver the level of response required to achieve meaningful change in the waste sector’s contribution to accelerate the transition to a circular economy. The plan acknowledges that business as usual will not deliver a more circular economy and calls for strategic investment of €40 million to accelerate the transition across four areas, including communications, engagement, enhanced regulation and investment in local authority infrastructure.

Volume III of the National Waste Management Plan for a Circular Economy presents a delivery roadmap for the plan period. The roadmap contains 51 key deliverables which will enable the implementation of the 85 specific priority actions contained in the plan. Key deliverables in the plan are aligned with the key partners I mentioned and categorised under three broad headings: regulatory, infrastructure and climate impact; organisation engagement and resources; and implementation monitoring and oversight. The successful operation of waste services in Ireland depends on the collaboration of all stakeholders from policymakers to regulators and service providers. Increasingly the role of local government has evolved into the awareness and education and regulatory functions. However, the sector also remains operationally active in the provision of more than 100 civic amenity sites and in excess of 1,200 bring centres. The sector has responsibility for the rehabilitation of legacy landfill sites and the management of illegal sites identified while the majority of waste-related resources, both human and financial, continue to be associated with litter management and street cleaning in the local authorities. The National Waste Management Plan for a Circular Economy endorses the primacy of kerbside household waste collection as the most effective means of capturing segregated household waste.

In accordance with priority action 2.4 of the plan, the local government sector through the NWCPO has initiated a study, funded by the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, to examine how an incentivised charging scheme might be better achieved within an Irish context and through the waste collection permitting system. Kerbside collection services are effectively operated by the private sector, which adds value by processing material for recovery and recycling, which minimises landfill. Outlets for general residual waste are provided by the private sector through thermal treatment, disposal at landfill, recovery in the cement industry or by export for thermal treatment abroad.

The local government sector has significant responsibilities for the management of waste and has put in place organisational structures to address these responsibilities. The sector has made a plan, with circularity as a core principle, to influence consumption patterns, improve the capture of all wastes and enable compliance with policy and legislation. The country faces significant challenges with regard to the management of waste, principally the amount of waste generated and the capacity to treat it. Access to authorised waste collection services, that is, kerbside and civic amenities, is well established after more than two decades. However, the segregation and presentation of waste remains a challenge. The plan calls for investment across a range of areas to enable the transition to a more circular economy as business as usual will not achieve the desired outcomes.

I thank the committee for the opportunity to present the local government position on the circular economy in the context of current and future waste management arrangements. The website is mywaste.ie.

Mr. Conor Walsh:

I thank the Chair for the invitation. The Irish Waste Management Association is the representative body for waste management companies in Ireland. We have 63 member companies which employ close to 10,000 people. Our members collect and manage all types of solid waste, including household, commercial, industrial, construction, demolition, hazardous, metals, aggregates, biowaste, etc. We represent about 95% of municipal waste collection and treatment in Ireland.

Waste management in Ireland is highly advanced. This is the only country in the world where every bin is weighed and the weights reported to the customers and the authorities. It is highly regulated by the National Waste Collection Permit Office, the waste enforcement regional lead authorities and the EPA. We work closely with all three to ensure the highest standards of performance in that context. Our "pay as you throw" system encourages waste prevention and recycling, with the result our household waste generation per capita is among the lowest in the EU. Ireland has met all our EU targets to date, but we are at risk of missing the new recycling targets for municipal waste from 2025 onwards.

Most other EU countries are also at risk of missing the new targets.

Our reported municipal waste recycling rate of 41% is similar to that of the UK, France and Spain but lower than that of Italy, Germany, Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands. We have formed an IWMA task force and are working hard on this issue in an attempt the meet the new targets. We commissioned Eunomia to prepare a report, which is cited in our submission, that looks at Ireland’s recycling performance and compares details with those of the highest rated countries. The report shows that our residual waste levels, or non-recycled waste, are similar to those of some of the best performing countries in the EU. The main difference in the recycling rate is the collection and treatment of biodegradable garden and parks waste. Municipalities in Germany, for example, count huge volumes of composted biodegradable parks waste in their recycling rates. Ireland prevents that waste. If we recycled as much garden and parks waste as Germany, our recycling rate would be 10% higher.

Our task force has uncovered large quantities of construction and demolition waste in the municipal waste data and we are working with the EPA to rectify this error, which relates to reporting practices for skip waste. This adjustment will show that Ireland’s municipal waste recycling rate is currently at 48% to 49% and that our residual municipal waste per capitais among the lowest in the EU, roughly level with that of Germany. To close the gap to 55% recycling by next year, we need to work on better segregation by all citizens, and we believe this requires a sustained national education and awareness campaign, alongside further incentivisation. We need to make it easy for people to do the right thing and hard for them to do the wrong thing. We are working in support of the relevant authorities to enhance the waste collection permitting system to ensure the charging systems are fully incentivised to promote waste prevention and recycling.

In respect of prices and competitiveness, SLR Consulting prepared a report, which is cited in our submission, in 2018 that examined prices in Ireland and compared them with those of other EU countries and with historical costs and prices. The report shows that prices have fallen due to privatisation and that, in 2018, prices were approximately €100 per house lower than in 2005. This should be viewed in the context of other utilities where prices increased greatly during that period.

In response to the question of remunicipalisation, the IWMA commissioned KPMG to prepare a report, which is cited in our submission, on this issue. The report shows that the transition to such a system would require an upfront spend of between €1.3 billion and €2.7 billion and that costs would continue to be significantly higher, with the result that householders would have to pay between 48% and 85% more each year for their waste collection service. We are strongly opposed to such a move and we say it will not deliver lower prices or a better service.

We are also opposed to competitive tendering or franchise bidding for household waste collection. Currently, approximately 25 companies collect household waste in Ireland. Under competitive tendering, this could reduce to five or six large companies and the market would become a lot less competitive. Our members have built, developed and expanded their businesses over the past three to four decades and cannot be expected to hand over those businesses to the State to be tendered out.

With regard to the deposit return scheme, we lobbied for a digital scheme that would use QR codes and the existing kerbside recycling bins, with a small number of reverse vending machines at strategic locations. Such a scheme would be much easier for the public, would have lower carbon emissions and could be expanded to much more packaging. This would have a much greater impact on municipal waste recycling rates. We prepared several reports and submissions on this subject, all of which are cited in our submission.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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I thank Mr. Walsh. He stated the IWMA is opposed to competitive tendering or franchise bidding, and I understand why the association would be. My question, however, relates to the efficiency of waste management. If we are trying to get to a point where we are better at managing the material resources we have, is this not part of it? Does Mr. Walsh argue that there is a better way?

Mr. Conor Walsh:

This was argued in the Panda Waste and Greenstar case that was taken ten or 12 years ago, and the court determined it was not a natural monopoly. It determined that the efficiencies within the side-by-side competition were equal to, if not better than, a monopoly situation or competitive tendering. That was argued before a judge, with experts from both sides, that is, from Dublin City Council and from the private companies, and the judge decided in favour of the private companies, purely on efficiency and competition grounds.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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I can understand the competition side of it.

Mr. Conor Walsh:

I meant to say on efficiency.

Photo of Darren O'RourkeDarren O'Rourke (Meath East, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the witnesses for their attendance. Some of them were present for the earlier session when a number of points were raised. In the first instance, these included the terms and conditions of employment in the waste management or collection sector, the lack of collective bargaining and the relationship with the unions. What have our guests to say in response to that? Obviously a clear argument has been made that raising the standard of terms and conditions of employment and raising standards in terms of environmental outcomes will have a significant impact.

Mr. Conor Walsh:

The IWMA has lobbied for mandatory sick pay, for example. We favour it. We have never objected to increases in the minimum wage. We have always supported workers' rights. My colleague will comment on his own experience.

Mr. Des Crinion:

I want to push back on the idea that there are absolutely no unions involved in the waste sector. There are and I have dealt with the unions myself in some of the companies I have worked in. That was an incorrect statement. The vast majority of the private waste collection companies are family-owned businesses. They have people working for them for generations, as Deputy O'Rourke will know. We have people coming from overseas who worked for us for 20 or 30 years and have progressed through the system to manage yards. Therefore, I do not think the situation is as bad as was laid out this morning.

Photo of Darren O'RourkeDarren O'Rourke (Meath East, Sinn Fein)
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How many of the 25 companies that collect household waste in Ireland are unionised?

Mr. Des Crinion:

I do not know off the top of my head but there are unions in some of them. Probably not the majority.

Photo of Darren O'RourkeDarren O'Rourke (Meath East, Sinn Fein)
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Is it a significant minority?

Mr. Des Crinion:

A significant minority, yes.

Photo of Darren O'RourkeDarren O'Rourke (Meath East, Sinn Fein)
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Would five of the companies be unionised?

Mr. Des Crinion:

I am not sure. I do not know the figure.

Photo of Darren O'RourkeDarren O'Rourke (Meath East, Sinn Fein)
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I ask the witnesses to furnish us with a written note. It is a reasonable question to ask. If Mr. Crinion wants to push back on the unions then it would be helpful to know the detail.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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The Deputy's question is fair and reasonable but to bring it back to the context of the circular economy, I think Mr. McCabe, in the earlier session, drew a link between conditions and ultimately the efficiency of waste collection. Perhaps the witnesses would like to respond.

Mr. Des Crinion:

A point was made about health and safety. We are all very aware that the waste industry is a particularly dangerous industry in which to be involved. In the last number of years, there have been huge strides to increase the awareness of health and safety and how we look after our workers in the industry. I would definitely push that back because in the company in which I am involved, we have invested huge amounts of money, time and education to make the industry safer.

Photo of Darren O'RourkeDarren O'Rourke (Meath East, Sinn Fein)
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In the earlier session a point was made about transparency. Of course the charge was made that those represented by the IWMA are motivated by profit and there is no transparency in their profits. In the part of the world in which I live, that sector is well represented. We know that at least a small number of people have accrued incredible personal wealth on the back of the waste industry. Have the witnesses anything to say on that?

Mr. Conor Walsh:

Deputy Murphy asked about profits and I wish she was here because I have the answer. I conducted a simple search of the Companies Registration Office, CRO, and found profit details. Out of the 23 companies that collect household waste, I found details of the accounts of 19 of them on the CRO. The profits range between 3% at the lowest end to 15% at the highest end. I went through all the companies and found the average to be 8.5%. For any company, an 8.5% profit is respectable but it certainly is not excessive profit.

Photo of Darren O'RourkeDarren O'Rourke (Meath East, Sinn Fein)
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I will stick with that theme, and I raise it because it is relevant to the issue of the circular economy because of the issue of the profit motive versus sustainability and delivering on outcomes in terms of the circular economy.

On the lobbying done by the industry to maintain profits with the introduction of the deposit return scheme, do the witnesses see the contradiction in that from the perspective of service users and the public? The deposit return scheme has been introduced, people are levied on it and are using the scheme in good faith and in big numbers, but now they are being told the industry has said it needs guaranteed income due to forgoing a profit. That highlights a problem with this for-profit model that is not publicly controlled. Do the witnesses accept that point?

Mr. Des Crinion:

No, is the short answer. On the specific point made about the deposit return scheme, from the very beginning the waste industry opposed the deposit return scheme. We thought there was a much better solution and Ireland could have led the world using a digital deposit return scheme where the existing infrastructure would have been used but you would have used your smartphone to claim the deposit back using an existing bin. Every household in Ireland has a reverse vending machine. It is called the green bin and that should have been used. Instead we rolled out a very old system that was in use everywhere else in the world. We have put an extra 60 trucks and vans on the road to do collections. People have to bring the bottle back to their local supermarket, not their local shop, and the large bottlers have taken control of the aluminium bottles and cans. I do not agree with the Deputy.

Photo of Darren O'RourkeDarren O'Rourke (Meath East, Sinn Fein)
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That is not the point I made.

Mr. Des Crinion:

It leads to the point.

Photo of Darren O'RourkeDarren O'Rourke (Meath East, Sinn Fein)
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No.

Mr. Des Crinion:

We had first told and forecast that taking that very valuable material from the green bin would leave the green bin more expensive to process.

Photo of Darren O'RourkeDarren O'Rourke (Meath East, Sinn Fein)
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The State is eventually opting out of the energy charter treaty, which was where you could guarantee the incomes of companies into the future regardless of policy changes. The State has made a decision about the model. You can continue to argue the case in terms of the model of a deposit return scheme. Is it not perverse that the sector would lobby the Department to allow for a guaranteed income for itself into the future?

Mr. Des Crinion:

The Deputy may have picked things up wrong. We are not looking to guarantee our profits. We are looking to protect the cost of the green bin to our customers. We are also looking to protect the incentivised charging. This is what is making us very unhappy with the system that is coming into place. We were trying to drive and are driving an incentivised charging system that encourages people to use the bin. By taking the very valuable material out of it, that incentivised charging is disappearing. That is what we are asking for and that is what we got a guarantee on from the Government that it has not fulfilled. That is what we are after and it is not about profits. This is about protecting the incentivised charging around green bins.

Photo of Darren O'RourkeDarren O'Rourke (Meath East, Sinn Fein)
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As far as Mr. Crinion is concerned, the sector has a guarantee from the Government.

Mr. Des Crinion:

We are negotiating with it at the moment.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin Bay North, Fine Gael)
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I thank the witnesses for their presentation. I have a couple of questions for the CCMA. Do the councils want to re-enter the bin collection business? That is the central thesis we heard earlier.

It has been very succinctly outlined what the local government does in the regions in terms of enforcement, collection, permitting and so on. Essentially the thesis earlier was that this structure is not working now and there is illegal dumping, etc., but it would be even more difficult in the longer term future to achieve European targets. The thesis was that we need central direction and central management to get a seamless way of doing the business. Has the CCMA's system been evaluated in some objective way to see if there is a lot falling through the crevices in terms of the system not delivering to the standard we want?

In terms of the waste business, it seems inevitable, as both presentations say, that there will be significant challenges in achieving the new targets. Who will take responsibility for the investment that will now be needed? We see from the presentation that if it were to be taken over by the State, it could be a question of the State acquiring €1.3 billion worth of assets. Presumably, to hit the new targets, other investment will be needed. In the present model, where does responsibility lie for making those investments? The corollary is that if we fail to hit the targets, where will the penalties fall? Will they fall on the public or on the providers who are committing to deliver? I would like to go back to the issue of whether two or three trucks on the same street is efficient. The CCPC report seemed to be quite clear that it was not. It talked about a high proportion of people having no choice and that is was not inherently the best way to do it. The report recommended in favour of franchising, with a regulator and franchised areas that would be more comprehensive and therefore, easier to set targets for and monitor. I do not know what the court ruling was but I would like to see the arguments rather than just hear that a judge decided something.

Mr. John McLaughlin:

On the question of the local authorities re-entering the bin collection service, for us it is not that black and white. We have responsibilities and we work in partnership with central government all the time on many things. We have long established a transition and hugely evolved an industry over the past 20 years to where we are largely no longer collecting the bins, apart from a few here and there. We have left that to private industry, which has evolved quite well. There is no problem getting bins collected. They are not piling up on the streets, so that works very well. There is a wider debate, in which we have no problem engaging in the roundest way in terms of directly with the Government on any groups that might be formed and in terms looking to the future and what all that means.

Our colleagues in the other group set out some of the costs. Change to this will not happen overnight. There would be a transition period and a lot of thinking to do about the implications and the costs arising from going back to that. People might remember when we did that around the country, but we have gradually got out of that. In our overall system, we see the three different planks. One is the setting out of waste, then collection and then disposal. In our presentation we are flagging that disposal is the plank where we will have the most challenges in the future, because we are generating too much waste. We need to deal with how we handle that. We are exporting a lot of it and there are questions about how sustainable that is and whether we can get to a point where we can deal with it ourselves.

I will ask Mr. Scott to deal with the area of enforcement.

Mr. Sean Scott:

On the illegal dumping issue, we have had an anti-dumping initiative in place since 2017, with €3 million per year invested in that. A total of 3,000 tonnes of waste has been removed through this scheme. Over the years, we have seen that those types of clean-up activities have fallen away and we are now more into prevention awareness. We have a robust regulatory system in place. Currently, we have 140-odd waste enforcement officers throughout the country, with 100 of them being funded at a total cost of €7.6 million through the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications since 2004.

In 2016, we as a sector established a shared service - regional waste enforcement offices - to support enforcement. They are better knowns as the WERLAs and were mentioned earlier. Since then, we have worked through national enforcement priorities. We are looking at homing in on appropriate interventions with regard to household municipal, commercial, illegal and construction waste and the EPR schemes. There is talk about illegal dumping being on the increase and that became very apparent during Covid, but we were able to see that was not the case and that we are seeing the tonnages falling. If we look, as a microcosm of this, at the Pure project in the greater Dublin region, the tonnages have fallen away over recent years. That is a positive story. The tonnages collected through the ADIs, as I said earlier, have fallen right back.

Through the interventions and enforcement and the great work done by waste enforcement officers around the country, we now have some 1.4 million households participating directly in a kerbside system. Then there is another percentage of households - 7% or 8% and the CSO statistics back this up - that have a shared service. There is another percentage cohort that uses the ASI system, so about 95% or 96% of households are partaking in a service in some manner or form. Through our awareness work and everything we are doing as a sector, we think most people are doing the right thing. We are trying our best, within the plan, to further enable them to do so.

Mr. John McLaughlin:

On the third question from Deputy Bruton, Mr. Swift will pick up on the specific targets and investment as they relate to the local government sector.

Mr. Kevin Swift:

Mr. McLaughlin made the point at the outset that the local government sector, in March of this year, made a national waste management plan for a circular economy. This is the first time the sector has collectively made one plan for the country, following on from two cycles of regional plans. At the centre of the plan, we are responding to the challenge from central government around consumption, reuse, repair and contamination. The plan contains a range of targets which I will give a sense of to the committee. We are looking at significant reductions in residual waste or general waste, so this is about prevention. We see the circular economy as being a vehicle for preventing waste, because it is all about keeping materials in use for longer. It is really circularity in action. To facilitate this circularity, we set a target of 20 kg per person, over the lifetime of the plan, for re-use of materials. We have committed to setting out a roadmap for repair under the lifetime of the plan. In addition, we have set targets for contamination in the recycling bin, so that materials that end up there have a good chance of having a circular future because of the quality of materials that end up there. We have many targets in our new plan, in addition to the European targets.

We have also recognised that accelerating the transition to a more circular economy will require investment. Mr. McLaughlin mentioned a figure of €40 million, which is contained in our plan. That is spread over four key areas. The first is communication. We need to communicate better with customers, consumers and businesses. The second is engagement. We need to engage directly with users and businesses on circular potential in the circular economy. The third area is enhanced regulation to further the aims of the circular economy. The last key area is investment in infrastructure. In the local government sector, we want to be able to facilitate reuse and repair at the network of civic amenity sites we have around the country, but this will require investment. The Deputy asked where the investment will come from. The local government sector is already investing hugely in waste-related services, in excess of €250,000 annually. In our plan points we will be looking for assistance from central government to try to move this dial across our network of civic amenity sites.

We believe that we have set out a strong framework for accelerating the transition to a circular economy, but it is built on the notion of collaboration between all key partners and stakeholders to achieve those outcomes.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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Thank you for the very comprehensive answers. I am mindful of time so I want to move on to the Irish Waste Management Association. There was a question for its representatives.

Mr. Conor Walsh:

Mr. Crinion will deal with investment. There is a waste capacity report on our website. It shows all the facilities that have been developed by our members in the waste industry. Almost 200 have been built from profits. The money we make out of the business goes back as investment into the business, but Mr. Crinion might say more on that.

On the issue of illegal dumping, in the Dublin city area, in particular, came up a lot this morning, if there are people on social protection payments who cannot afford a waste collection service, we have suggested to Government and the Opposition that there should be a voucher scheme and that we would support that.

Like people get a fuel voucher, they would get a voucher from the Department of Social Protection that pays a certain amount towards their waste collection. It could be a couple of hundred euro and would not cost the State a huge amount of money. We would honour those when they came in to us. Perhaps then people who cannot afford the service could afford the service and would not resort to illegal dumping. That is something positive that could come out of the committee if anyone thinks it is worth doing.

The CCPC and the report, the competition issue and the efficiencies are all kind of interlinked. The CCPC report showed the majority of people wanted multiple operators. There was a Behaviour and Attitudes survey and 65% of people went for multiple operators, knowing it was multiple trucks. Some 35%, generally single-person households, favoured a single operator. The majority of people want multiple operators even though it means multiple trucks. CCPC criticism was not of where there were multiple operators but of where there was only one. That is where it had the problem. It said there was not enough competition. The CCPC did a report previously, in 1999 if I recall correctly, on Greenstar in north Wicklow and whether it was acting in an anticompetitive manner because there was no competition. It was the only company collecting. The commission decided then the competition was there but it was in neighbouring areas and could come in if Greenstar's price went high. It compared Greenstar's price with everyone else's price at the time and said it was a fair price. The CCPC had therefore recognised the competition is there in neighbouring areas and will come in if the price goes too high. It was not really trying to deal with multiple operators but with areas where there was only one operator.

On the efficiencies and going back to the court case, which I read a lot of, the judge ultimately decided if a truck goes into Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown and collects from 14,000 houses in a year or whatever number it was, that was very efficient. Even though it was not collecting from every house it was collecting from enough houses for it to be efficient. Many of the inefficiencies were actually the transport from the collection area to the depot. The depot could be half an hour away or 20 minutes away or whatever, so that is where it was lost. So long as the truck could go out and get its fill within a reasonable area, it was highly efficient. It did not need to go to every house to get to the maximum efficiency. The court recognised monopolies are inherently inefficient anyway.

Mr. Crinion might deal quickly with investment.

Mr. Des Crinion:

Very quickly on that, looking around the country we can see the investment that has been put into the privatised waste industry. I think we are all of an age to remember when every town, village and city had an illegal landfill. When we were growing up there was no proper waste collection. We maybe went to a one-bin system. Now we have a three-bin system. Every bin has a chip and it is weighed. We talked about thermal incineration and all our recycling facilities. There are eight massive recycling facilities around the country. We are making fuel for cement kilns that is replacing imported fuel and we are ready to invest in the next stage to get into recycling when it makes sense here in Ireland. The big blockages for us and the big worry, which was brought up earlier, is we do not have enough infrastructure to manage the amount of waste we create. The big blockage is our planning system does not allow for waste infrastructure and is very slow. Our licensing is extremely slow when it comes to getting or amending a licence.

I will be honest that a lot of family firms and foreign investors are very worried when we talk about remunicipalisation because it is very difficult to invest over a five-, ten- or 15-year period, which is what is needed for these massive infrastructures to manage the huge amount of waste. When there is uncertainty within a market, people will not want to invest. They are a number of the stumbling blocks.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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On the efficiency of getting licences and so on, is there work being done in that area?

Mr. Des Crinion:

There definitely is. We have seen a huge shift in the industry and not just from being a "hump and dump" industry. There is huge collaboration now with the EPA, the Department and the WERLAs. We are working together. It was mentioned earlier as being like the wild west, but I am afraid that is old news. It is not. We are a modern, forward-looking industry that work with the regulators and we are all going in the same direction now. It is happening perhaps slower than we would like, but it is very slow to get a licence.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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That is notwithstanding the challenges with Government. The IWMA is reasonably happy the Government is moving in the right direction towards streamlining application processes and so on.

Mr. Des Crinion:

The Government is definitely listening to us and looking at both licensing and planning as being issues. We see a reform of the planning Act. It is welcomed.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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I thank the IWMA. I want to give priority to members. Senator Sherlock indicated first, but Deputy Kenny can decide whether to let her go ahead.

Photo of Martin KennyMartin Kenny (Sligo-Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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I will be brief. I thank the witnesses for their remarks. Returning to the issue of remunicipalisation or the councils going back to collecting the waste again, I do not think any of us see each local authority buying trucks, having a yard and bringing waste to it. That is probably unfeasible. However, there is a much greater role for local authorities in all that. We should be looking at the inefficiencies and problems we have in the present system, which has a lot of flaws and difficulties. I would be very interested to know what co-operation there can be to try to move that to a new place. The ownership of the system should be in State rather than private control. That is how I see it going. I am not sure whether landing at that point at some stage in the future will take a lot of unwinding of the way things are set up now. That is clearly the problem that has been set out. How we change that is something we all need to consider. The point was made that the amount of waste we generate is continuing to grow. We need to recognise that. How are we going to arrest and reverse that growth? I am interested in hearing comments on that, perhaps from Mr. McLaughlin.

Mr. John McLaughlin:

I thank Deputy Kenny. One of the challenges sometimes is setting out the problem and understanding what problems we are trying to fix. The Deputy opened his contribution quite well when he expressed the view that we are not going to start getting trucks and yards. The question of what we can work on is important, where we see inefficiencies. I might get Mr. Scott and Mr. Swift to help me on this. There has been a lot of movement in the last ten years in terms of working together collaboratively. We have worked collectively with industry and the Government.

Mr. Swift talked about the one plan. It is the first time ever we have got one plan together. There has been great co-operation from the Department and the EPA. They are taking actions in that plan, which we are writing for them. We have been willing to say we will do that part if they do this, so we are working together. The other link then is to the waste collection industry and back to the householder. It is about how we join all that up. The goals and objectives are clear. It is now about how to do it.

I ask Mr. Scott to talk about working with the industry. The unwinding is a process. We could spend all day chatting, but I think that needs engagement and process. We would need groups to work their way to solutions.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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We have just 25 minutes left, so let us not spend all day chatting about it. My colleagues want to ask questions. Mr. Scott should go ahead.

Mr. Sean Scott:

I thank the Chair. There are a couple of points here. On efficiencies, we want to be more efficient ourselves. We have developed our own approaches through the national waste management plan with our structures. We have a structure around planning and circularity and then one around regulation and enforcement. As for trying to be more efficient, we have the waste enforcement regional authorities or regional waste enforcement offices. We have signed a service level agreement with all 31 local authorities that allows those three offices to work across the whole country on enforcing the permit conditions of the, as I understand it, 51 waste collection permit holders to try to encourage the achievement of our targets. It is a continual improvement process. Again, it is about achieving our targets and trying to be more sustainable in our consumption.

Mr. McLaughlin talked about trying to prevent waste at the outset and trying to be more sustainable. It is as much about that as it is about our targets. That is the efficiency side of it. It is important to point out we work collaboratively with the Department, the EPA and industry, especially on issues of waste capacity. We have a finite capacity. We thermally treat, through waste-to-energy or cement kilns, about 1 million tonnes of our waste.

We landfill about 400,000 tonnes and the rest is exported. That was raised in our opening statement. It poses us a serious challenge because we are exposed to that whole dynamic around export. As we said, waste is increasing. Part of the reason we want to reduce the amount of waste is to reduce the dependency on export and try to use the facilities we have on this island to maximum benefit. With that in mind, we have a waste capacity working group in place that meets on a quarterly basis with the industry and regulators. We do horizon scanning to try to see what issues are around the corner, manage the infrastructure we have on the island and ensure we have sufficient capacity to export on an annual basis.

Photo of Martin KennyMartin Kenny (Sligo-Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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On the export issue, briefly, what assurance do we have that hazardous waste, for example, is actually being treated properly at its destination? This is an issue we have seen historically in Third World and developing countries. The West's waste was dumped on them and nothing happened to it. Is there any guarantee that it is being dealt with using the appropriate measures?

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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That is a big question and we do not have much time.

Mr. Des Crinion:

Very quickly, as I am involved in the export of waste for thermal treatment, we ship our black bin waste to northern Europe where it is burned for electricity and heat. That is something we missed here. It is fully regulated by the national transfrontier shipment office. Before a tonne moves, the route is mapped out. It is agreed who ships it, where it is shipped to, who receives it and what waste it is. It is extremely highly regulated and I am very comfortable that no waste leaves this island going to an unknown destination.

Mr. Conor Walsh:

If I may say something in response, there were a lot of claims this morning that there is no control over waste companies and there was talk about State control. The State controls the market. People need to understand that. The State decides what we collect, when we collect, how we collect and who gets what bins. It is all decided by the waste collection permit regulations and the waste collection permits that are issued to us. What we do at our facilities is all controlled by the EPA and the local authorities on the permit side. The State decides what is to be done with the waste, what is to be collected and how, all of that. We do all that under enforcement.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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If I can jump in on that, I think Deputy Bruton mentioned the prospect of having a waste regulator. Do the witnesses have a view on that as regards better regulation than what they have outlined?

Mr. Conor Walsh:

We would have to see it. I could not give a view on behalf of our 63 members without seeing it, having meetings about it and discussing it.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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Thank you. Senator Higgins has been waiting so I will give her priority.

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
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I wanted to comment on a couple of issues. In the statement from CCMA we heard about the local government obligations. I note that it is a requirement to collect or arrange for the collection of household waste. There is still that multiple option provided for in the legislation from 1996. Another obligation, which does not really get mentioned but which is important in this context, is the obligation in respect of public duty under the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021. That is the core requirement. Sometimes we get caught in the waste management piece and there is talk about the circular economy and there are new measures coming. However, if we think of the ultimate objective under the climate Act, something to be thought about is how we can maximise the "reduce, reuse, recycle" portion and indeed anything in relation to emissions. What is the most effective way to do that?

There are a few pieces here where instead of thinking of it in terms of a service to households, we need to be thinking about our collective goal, nationally and at local level, to maximise the amount of materials being recycled as well as reducing them. I would like to hear comments on this. It strikes me that there are points at which a household approach might not be the best one. We looked at this in terms of city centres and terraced houses, for example.

Having a collective or shared collection point for a number of households and houses does not allow for household charging in the same way. However, in parts of the city centre where normal kerbside mechanisms are not really very well suited, we could be looking at a different form of collection to ensure every household really can participate, including those that do not have the space for three bins. That goes back to another point that was made by the waste management association. There was discussion of a voucher scheme. Effectively this seemed to be saying that, if we are relying on a private market, there are people who find it difficult to afford those companies' services. Those services are not commercially viable for some households and some people. A voucher could be seen as a hand-out to the industry. Perhaps that is an area where we should be looking at a different form of collection. Perhaps that is an area where different forms of public services, whether publicly procured or publicly delivered, could be looked at. I would be interested in that. A very important point----

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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I will go over to our guests and bring the Senator back in if there is time.

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
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This is actually crucial.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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We will bring you back in.

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
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It is a single sentence-----

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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Senator Higgins, there are three questions-----

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
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-----which is just to say, the charges increase, how is the increase in charges an incentivisation where we penalise those who are effectively doing what we want in terms of reusing? Is that a problem that needs to be addressed ,because it seems to work against what we have heard in the two presentations?

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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There are four questions there, I think. I will go first to the-----

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
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I have more but I will hold the rest.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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I have no doubt you have more and I will bring you back in if there is time. For the CCMA, I think there was a question about the responsibilities under the climate Act.

Mr. Sean Scott:

I will take one point quickly. In terms of arranging for collection, we do that under section 34 of the Waste Management Act through the national waste collection permit office. It is a very heavily regulated system in which we regulate about 2,000 waste collection permit holders. That is important. In terms of trying to maximise "reduce, reuse, recycle", we have some recent Government initiatives around commercial regulations and incentivisation regulations - in July 2023 - to try to increase our recycling rates and to ensure we have better segregation in the commercial sector. That is something local authorities and the waste enforcement regional lead authorities, WERLAs, are enforcing throughout the country through the national enforcement priorities process I mentioned earlier. We also have the roll-out of the brown bin to the remaining 400,000-odd households. Up to that, the requirement is on agglomerations greater than 500. To be fair, the industry had a roll-out of close to 96% at December 2023. We had to just go the last stretch of the road now to get to the end of that. The regional enforcement officers have direct responsibility for that enforcement. It is an example of our officials in that regard. We are developing smart plans with the industry to ensure we get targeted delivery of the programme by the end of the year.

Mr. John McLaughlin:

I will let Kevin in on climate action. I just want to recognise that there are massive obligations on local authorities for climate action now, right across all our business. We take it very seriously. On the whole area of transport, for example, we are looking at all sorts of arrangements to reduce transport emissions across-----

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
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We probably do not have a chance to discuss other aspects in the time constraints today.

Mr. John McLaughlin:

I was just going to say that in transport, we are looking at alternative fuels, not just for waste but in everything we do. Indeed it impacts all of wider society. I know time is tight. Mr. Swift might also want to come in on the growth question.

Mr. Kevin Swift:

Just to comment briefly on climate action, our national plan, which was just made in March and which I mentioned earlier, is where circularity meets climate. We have made a commitment to produce annual work plans as a result of that. We have also made a commitment to determine the impact of our plan on the circularity rate for Ireland but also on climate impact.

We are very conscious of the link between the actions in our plan and climate action. In the plan, we have a number of actions that enable us to look at alternative collection systems, for example, for household hazardous waste and household bulky waste in order to explore the circular potential of those outlets as well. A lot of that is built into our plan and that is accessible on mywaste.ie.

I will briefly mention growth because the previous Deputy asked how we arrest growth. We see the circular economy as a vehicle for arresting waste growth. We very much embrace circular principles in our plan in order to get at waste growth. Our overall ambition is 0% waste growth over the lifetime of the plan. We will not be able to do that without reducing general waste, increasing recycling, promoting reuse, embracing repair and doing all of the things the circular economy requires us to do.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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I thank Mr. Swift. I will bring in Senator Higgins again as she indicated just as Mr. Swift was answering. She probably wants to come back in on the climate Act specifically and the responsibility of public bodies.

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
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Well, no.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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I think that is an interesting question to ask.

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
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My point was not generally about the climate Act but specifically related to this.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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The Senator is now muted.

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
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Apologies, Chair, I do not know what happened there. I am not asking a question on the climate Act, generally. My question is on the decisions around how waste is collected if we have a situation whereby companies increase their charges because they are not profiting from the waste coming in and if there are persons who are not able to or are not choosing to access recycling for cost reasons. That is not a problem for households but it is a problem at local level. Rather than a household approach, are there times when a collective approach, for example, shared collections in terraces, might be better? Building waste is really important because it the key area of waste we have discussed. Where there is a large development, we know the waste can only be on site for six months. We are looking for measures for requiring for long-term storage of materials used in buildings so we make that a condition of waste management plans during the planning process.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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There is a lot there and I will ask our guests to respond in writing perhaps to that additional question. Mr. Walsh may respond to the earlier question.

Mr. Conor Walsh:

There were a couple of questions there. Price increases have been mentioned a few times. Prices go up and down. A price monitoring group set up by the Department in 2016 or 2017 ran for three or four years and did brilliant work. We would love to see it set up again because it was an honest broker. When the group reported, it indicated it was following 120 plans, of which the price of eight had gone up and the price of 12 had gone down. People do not see when prices come down but it is a competitive market and prices come down as much as they go up, if not more.

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
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We were told specifically that prices would come down.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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Sorry, Senator Higgins, please do not interrupt.

Mr. Conor Walsh:

In our experience, communal bins are a disaster. We see communal bins at apartments and people using bins communally in commercial premises. That is where the highest levels of contamination are. People do not take personal responsibility when there are communal bins. People in their own homes, with their three-bin system, are much more likely to take responsibility and we can also monitor that much better. We had a camera detection system that we operated for quite a while. It is coming back in again, I believe. The cameras are able to detect contamination when the waste is emptied form the bin into the truck. They then get a letter informing them what the contamination was, educating them and so on. Personal responsibility is huge when it comes to contamination.

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
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Okay.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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Sorry, Senator Higgins, you are out of time and Senator Sherlock is waiting.

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
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That is fine. I want to correct one thing for the record.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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No, sorry.

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
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The CCPC is very clear that it is a natural monopoly. One of the witnesses implied it was not a monopoly. I wanted to mention that.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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I thank the Senator.

Mr. Conor Walsh:

I mentioned a natural monopoly. The court case decided it is not a natural monopoly.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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I thank Mr. Walsh. Senator Sherlock has been waiting patiently.

Photo of Marie SherlockMarie Sherlock (Labour)
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I have four brief questions for the CCMA and four for the IWMA. I thank both organisations for being here because this us a very useful conversation. Obviously, many of us come with different views on this but to have this conversation is constructive.

My first question is for the IWMA. By law now, every household is supposed to have a brown bin. We know that, particularly in Dublin, many streets are bag collection only. What solutions are IWMA members putting in place to ensure the legal obligations are met and that every household will have a brown bin collection by the end of this year, as Mr. Scott stated?

Mr. Conor Walsh:

We were never in favour of the bag areas, to be honest. We would prefer for everyone to have a bin and 900 streets is way too many. I think we all recognise that. I do not see why a house cannot have a brown bin in the form of a 25 l caddy. They can be brought into the house and are not like a big wheelie bin so I do not see any reason people cannot have several caddys in these situations rather than bags. Bags are not good from anyone's perspective.

Photo of Marie SherlockMarie Sherlock (Labour)
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Are IWMA members providing that brown bin the households that have a bag collection?

Mr. Conor Walsh:

My understanding is it is exempt if the household has a bag collection.

Photo of Marie SherlockMarie Sherlock (Labour)
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There is no composting brown bin collection to those who are reliant on bags.

Mr. Conor Walsh:

We are not obliged to provide brown bins in bag areas. I do not see why we could not come up with a system and it is something we should sit down with Dublin City Council, or whoever, on.

Photo of Marie SherlockMarie Sherlock (Labour)
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On the guarantee Mr. Walsh spoke about earlier, will he set out what kind of guarantee he got with regard to the deposit and return scheme?

Mr. Conor Walsh:

I would not call it a guarantee. It was written into the consultation document for the regulatory framework from 1 April 2021. It stated that the materials recovery facilities - where we sort the recyclables - would be able to claim the deposit on any bottles or cans that ended up at those facilities. That was what was written into the statement. It did not follow through into the legal decision but we were told by the Minister and the Department that they would work with us to try to find a solution that would protect the kerbside collection system and the kerbside recycling system. There are extra costs and these need to be covered either by the scheme, by Repak, by the Government or by the customers. We are working very hard for it not to be the public. We have been working very hard for it to be anyone but the public. This is not about increasing prices. It is about trying to protect the public from the hit that came with the DRS.

Photo of Marie SherlockMarie Sherlock (Labour)
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Does Mr. Walsh believe there are grounds for compensation because of the hit to margins because of the deposit return scheme?

Mr. Conor Walsh:

No, and it is not about hit to margins. It is about increased costs, and increased costs always get passed to customers unless they are covered by somebody else. We are trying to get somebody else to cover that so it is not passed to customers. We are working on behalf of the public to try to stop that from happening and we are not doing very well right now. We have no claim for compensation. The high-value materials were acting as a subsidy for low-value materials in the recycling bin. Repak has a responsibility there as well where it has to cover the costs of the recycling bin - I believe it is up to 80% - and 20% can be passed to the public. Whether it is Repak, Re-Turn or the Government, we want one of those three to step in. It is not a lot of money. We put it at between €6 million and €10 million. The Government is taking €18 million per year in a new recovery levy that only came in last year and will take more on that next year. The Government is taking in a lot of money and we thought that between €6 million and €10 million can go back in to neutralise the impact on the recycling system so the public would not have to pay more. The way things stand, we are not getting anywhere and are frustrated. The problem is that the costs are on the material recovery facilities and they have a gate fee. Their gate fee cannot stay the same if their costs are higher. If their gate fee changes, what they charge to the collectors goes up and the collectors will have no choice but to pass it to the customer. We are trying to work on our members to not increase those costs but it seems inevitable right now.

Photo of Marie SherlockMarie Sherlock (Labour)
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What else is the IWMA lobbying the Government for?

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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Sorry Senator. Can I come in here?

Photo of Marie SherlockMarie Sherlock (Labour)
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Yes, please do.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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I am interested because the IWMA has had engagements with the Minister more recently on this. Discussions are ongoing and you are waiting to hear back. Is that correct?

Mr. Conor Walsh:

It is ongoing, yes. They have asked for evidence of the impacts on the material to recovery facility. We have provided some evidence, but they are asking for more. We are trying to get Repak involved to provide the evidence as Repak has all of that. Every piece of commercial information that is very sensitive for our members is submitted individually to Repak, which holds it. It is very hard for me to get that information, given that it is commercially sensitive and deals with companies competing against one another. We emailed Repak again yesterday, asking it to step in and get this information to the Government. Maybe if Repak can get it to the Government, that can all be avoided. All we are trying to do is avoid those price increases.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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Is it fair to say the association has some assurance it will be dealt with in good faith and every attempt will be made to find a solution but Mr. Walsh does not have a sense when that might be or what the solution might be?

Mr. Conor Walsh:

There is a lack of urgency. As could be seen from the Irish Independent report last week, we have been lobbying very hard to try to get this resolved and we feel there has been a lack of urgency from the Department.

Photo of Marie SherlockMarie Sherlock (Labour)
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Other than the voucher scheme, planning and licensing and the deposit return scheme, what else is the IWMA lobbying the Department on at the moment?

Mr. Conor Walsh:

That is a very broad question.

Photo of Marie SherlockMarie Sherlock (Labour)
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Are there other issues the association is worried about that may have an impact on its charging system or something else that I have not thought about here, but that we may find out about later on in the year?

Mr. Conor Walsh:

Nothing comes to mind. We engage with the Department all the time. We are part of the waste advisory group and there will be a meeting next week. We have a lot of engagement. Whenever there is new legislation or proposed legislation on policy or planning, we always engage and, in fairness, the Department always engage very comprehensively with us. I cannot sit here and say we have not lobbied on anything else. I could not say straight off what we have lobbied on; we lobby on a lot of things.

Mr. Des Crinion:

To answer the Senator’s question in a slightly different way, we do not see any other shocks to the system coming down the line. We saw when China closed, there was a huge disruption to the recycling market. The European Union has brought in a ban on export of waste outside of Europe. That could affect the value of the material in the recycle bin. That is something we lobbied very hard against but we were not successful in Europe. It is something to be aware of. Two to five years from now, we will not be able to export recycled material outside of Europe. If the Senator’s question is what is coming down the line, that is one potential issue I see. We export 300,000 to 400,000 tonnes of waste a year. It is mainly countries in northern Europe, particularly Scandinavian countries, that take this as they have the infrastructure in place. They use the heat to heat their houses. The big fear is that if they decide they do not want to import our waste, they will close the door very quickly. That could be a hiccup or a problem for us. In the meantime, the incinerator in Cork has been waiting 20 years for a permit. These are the problems that are potentially coming down the line that could affect the cost of handling the increasing volume of waste. The most important point when we talk about the circular economy is, let us reduce what everyone uses. If we take nothing else away from this discussion, we have to reduce our consumption.

Photo of Marie SherlockMarie Sherlock (Labour)
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I hear what the witnesses are saying. The IWMA has 63 members. The reality is in certain parts of the country, some very large operators have effectively taken out much smaller operators. With regard to consolidation of the sector, trade unions raised those concerns earlier. Is this a concern for the association? Does it represent all waste operators in the country?

Mr. Conor Walsh:

We do not represent all waste operators, no. There are a few collecting household waste that are not members of our association. The consolidation, from the point of view of the IWMA, means when members consolidate, we get at less fees. They pay one membership rather than two. We have seen it. We have 72 or 73 companies and 63 members. That shows that ten have been consolidated into others. That covers a broad area. There are only approximately 25 operators collecting household waste in the country. Our other members are doing a lot of other things.

Photo of Marie SherlockMarie Sherlock (Labour)
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The CCMA talks about the need for collaboration in the sector and says it is already ongoing. I heard Mr. Scott say that collection rates are now about 95% across the country. What conversations has the CCMA had with the Irish Waste Management Association about the areas that are not covered? What has the CCMA done to ensure that all householders in this country have a bin collection service?

Mr. John McLaughlin:

Would it be worth getting other questions? I can answer them together. I do not know if the Senator wants to ask them together?

Photo of Marie SherlockMarie Sherlock (Labour)
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If the witnesses could answer that quickly, I will then move to the second one.

Mr. Sean Scott:

One of the aspects is that we have waste presentation by-laws across every local authority in the country. That require every household to access a waste collection service. In addition, there is a role there for the industry to continually expand and improve on the service roll-out. Where we had issues with households not partaking in a service, the Department supported us in legislation with the ability to establish a reverse register of households that do not have a service. That would only be established in a proportionate way, with the approval of the chief executive in each local authority where they might perceive there is an issue around illegal dumping. That is largely through the waste presentation by-laws.

Photo of Marie SherlockMarie Sherlock (Labour)
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I am not clear as to the answer. Has the CCMA had the conversation to ensure there is going to be full coverage or not?

Mr. Des Crinion:

I have been involved in the industry for 20 years.

Photo of Marie SherlockMarie Sherlock (Labour)
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Why do all households in the country not have a bin collection service?

Mr. Des Crinion:

They do; they do not use it.

Photo of Marie SherlockMarie Sherlock (Labour)
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That is absolutely false. I was on a street in Dublin last weekend where they have contacted a number of companies and all companies say it is not worth their while coming down that street. It is absolutely false to say that any household that wants bin collection service can get it. That is not true. I am happy to provide the details. I am sure there are instances right across this country.

Mr. Des Crinion:

Please do.

Photo of Marie SherlockMarie Sherlock (Labour)
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If 95% of households are covered, where are the 5%?

Mr. Conor Walsh:

It is our understanding that in the vast majority of cases, people without a service choose not to have a service. There are mountainous roads where we cannot put a truck and there are certain places where a bridge is too tight. There are certain locations where a service cannot be provided and that would be the same if it was local authority provided. If the Senator has examples of any cases like that, she can tell me. I would be shocked if a person could not get service in Dublin. I find it shocking for somebody to say that. There are big lorries all over Dublin. How could a person not get a service? Could the Senator give us the details afterwards if she does not mind?

Photo of Marie SherlockMarie Sherlock (Labour)
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I am absolutely happy to do that.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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We are beyond time.

Photo of Marie SherlockMarie Sherlock (Labour)
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This is the final question and I thank the Chair for his indulgence. The CCMA makes it very clear in its presentation that in order to push forward with the national waste management plan, it needs the co-operation and collaboration of all involved in the waste sector. Is it saying local authorities need more power to ensure the deliverables that they have been tasked with pursuing over the next number of years?

Mr. John McLaughlin:

We have not said we are looking for more power.

Photo of Marie SherlockMarie Sherlock (Labour)
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I am asking the witnesses if they need it.

Mr. John McLaughlin:

We are just acknowledging a lot of collaboration has taken place and it has to continue. As we have stated, we cannot do it in isolation or on our own. We want everyone to play their part. I mentioned earlier about the huge co-operation from the EPA and the Department. It is unusual for a local authority plan that we wrote actions for them and they accepted them. That was probably a first. Mr. Swift talked about with the national plan. It was similarly with the waste industry. It happened there as well. Going all the way back to the customer, the Senator described some in terms of presenting waste and presenting it properly. How we go about that is a huge challenge, namely to get waste presented properly, and then to get the most value out of it through the recycling chain. We talked about the climate and all of that. It is all interlinked.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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Whatever about more power for the CCMA, it is asking for €40 million extra. It is certainly asking for more money. I have no doubt the Minister is listening.

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
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Could I request something in writing?

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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Senator Higgins we are out of time.

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
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Could we get written notes on the questions Senator Sherlock asked in terms of where there is not a service, including where people are not choosing a service? That would be helpful. That goes back to my earlier question of that being our problem.

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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If the Senator wants to forward on those details, we can then forward them to our guests or they can engage directly with each other.

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
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Could we look into the costs of illegal dumping as that fits into the costs picture?

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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We are beyond time at this point. I thank our guests from the CCMA. Most of them have travelled quite a distance to be here, and we very much appreciate that. I am not sure where the Irish Waste Management Association representatives have come from this morning, but we appreciate their presence today also. It has been a very engaging and informative session. It will certainly help us in the development of our report on the circular economy. Deputy Bruton, in one of his last acts as a public representative, is our committee rapporteur on the circular economy. I thank him for all the work he has done in recent years on this issue. This is our final session in that regard. We look forward to putting together a report with recommendations for Government. That will probably be in the autumn.

With that, I will adjourn the meeting. We have our private session at 3.30 p.m. today.

The joint committee adjourned at 2.06 p.m. sine die.