Tuesday, 14 February 2012
Topical Issue Debate
Waste Collection Services
If the Minister has followed the news, he will conclude, as I have, that the transference of household waste collection from Dublin City Council to Greyhound has been utterly shambolic from start to finish. My constituency offices, in common with those of other elected representatives across the city, are inundated with calls from citizens who in many cases have had no contact either from Dublin City Council or from Greyhound concerning the transfer of services.
The situation has now deteriorated even further because we have discovered that, from next Thursday, waste collections from 18,000 homes will not be made. The Minister may or may not be aware that the issue of illegal dumping is a scourge across the city of Dublin, but particularly in inner city areas. The prospect that rubbish will not be collected from 18,000 homes raises not just a problem for the households concerned but also for public health and environmental protection issues of a most serious nature.
I want to know what the Minister proposes to do about this. So far, the Government has pointed the finger at Dublin City Council saying it is up to that local authority to sort out this. We are clearly in a crisis and it falls to the Minister to address the issue. Unsurprisingly, Greyhound acts in the manner of a private company and wishes to be paid for its services. The Minister will know that for many low and middle-income families the additional burden of a €100 charge for waste collection is a bridge too far. The programme for Government promised a fair and comprehensive waiver system for low-income families but the Minister has not yet introduced such a system. What does the Minister propose to do in respect of the 18,000 homes whose waste will not be collected? What does he intend to do to extend a fair and comprehensive waiver system for low-income families, which was promised less than a year ago?
The Government is conscious that waste collection charges can be a significant cost for many households. While the polluter pays principle requires that households and businesses must pay for their waste collection, it is important, particularly in economically challenging times such as these, that efforts are made to provide flexible mechanisms to enable householders to meet costs such as waste charges.
As Deputy McDonald will be well aware, Dublin City Council's withdrawal from the provision of household waste collection services, and the transfer of that business to Greyhound, is a matter for the council and Greyhound. I note that in response to issues raised previously concerning the pre-payment of the €100 annual service charge, Greyhound announced that provision would be made to allow Dublin City Council customers the option of paying the charge in two instalments.
My understanding is that the issue which now arises relates to some 18,000 of the 70,000 former Dublin City Council customers who, although liable to a standing charge, have not yet made payment in that regard. The issue arising at this stage does not affect the remaining 52,000 standing charge customers, nor does it affect the bulk of the other 70,000 former Dublin City Council customers, who are subject to a range of other payment mechanisms or who are covered by waivers. For the Deputy's information, there are 34,000 people on waivers at the moment, which is in line with the commitment we made. In effect, therefore, we are talking about 18,000 customers out of a total of some 140,000. If those 18,000 customers wish to raise any further issues concerning payment structures, customer communications or service changes, they should engage directly with Greyhound.
In addition to the potential to address issues arising through further direct dialogue with Greyhound, it is important to bear in mind that there are alternative options available to householders to deal with their waste. In some areas, there is more than one provider of waste collection services and households can choose from among these. There is also a network of bring facilities and civic amenity sites through which households can deal appropriately with a wide range of waste materials.
I hope the Deputy, in using the words "inevitable illegal dumping" in submitting this item for debate, is not in any way conferring legitimacy on actions of that kind. Notwithstanding any difficulties that may arise from time to time with waste collection in individual areas, the fact remains that it is the responsibility of all citizens to comply with the law and not dispose of their waste illegally. It is simply not good enough for the majority of compliant customers to carry the can for the minority.
As the waste collection market is currently structured, the pricing schemes used by private waste collectors are a matter for determination between the service providers and consumers of the service, subject to a service provider's collection permit and other legal responsibilities being complied with. The programme for Government includes a commitment to introduce competitive tendering for household waste collection, whereby service providers would bid to provide waste collection services in a given area, for a given period of time and to a guaranteed level of service.
A public consultation designed to inform the policy development process concluded last September 2011. Many responses were made by a broad spectrum of interests, including individual citizens, waste management companies, other companies, local authorities and waste management regions, economic think tanks, community and voluntary organisations and State agencies.
As one might expect, a consensus on the alteration of household waste collection market arrangements is not apparent. On almost all the relevant issues, a considerable breadth of opinion was expressed by the collective response. Some respondents expressed outright opposition to competition for the market, others gave it a guarded welcome, while there was strong approval from others. I have published all the responses, together with a summary, on my Department's website.
The approach to future regulation of the household waste collection market will be carefully considered by Government and will take account of the full range of economic, environmental and other issues, and the many perspectives offered by consultees. Of course, policy in relation to household waste collection cannot be severed from other related areas which are also under examination, specifically the collection of household organic waste and wider national waste policy. Clearly, coherence is required, and I intend to conclude my examination of these matters in a unified manner. I expect to be in a position to submit to Government final proposals on household waste collection by Easter.
There is nothing coherent in the Minister's current position. As the Minister with responsibility for this area, I do not know how he can tell me with a straight face that the non-collection of waste from 18,000 households in Dublin city is not his problem. How can he so brazenly wash his hands of the issue? We are well aware that the service has been privatised but I feel strongly that was a mistake. The collection of rubbish is a core civic function of any local authority but nonetheless the decision to privatise it has been made. Faced with this absolute shambles, in many cases there has been no communication between Greyhound, Dublin City Council and citizens. Greyhound is now saying it will not collect waste from 18,000 households in the Dublin city area. It is utterly bizarre for the Minister to simply wash his hands and say it is not his problem.
The Minister knows full well that, no more than anyone else, I do not approve of illegal dumping. I am simply identifying it for the Minister as a current phenomenon and a real scourge in the city. Picture the scene if waste is not collected from 18,000 households - it is a recipe for grave public health and environmental issues. The Minister should step in and talk to Dublin City Council and to Greyhound. If he needs to knock heads together, he should do so because the buck stops with him. He cited a figure of 34,000 citizens on waivers, which is correct.
The promise he made was to low-income families, but he has failed to take account of the fact that such families extend beyond those reliant on social welfare payments. The sum of €100 may not seem a lot to the Minister or to those who run Greyhound, but it is a bridge too far for many poor households across this State. I do not accept the Minister's answer that he will stand aloof from this problem. The people of Dublin city will be disappointed and alarmed that the Minister has taken such a hands-off approach to this serious matter.
In this case, the buck stops with Dublin City Council which made a democratic decision to exit from the public collection of household waste and gave it over to the private sector.
Yes, but the councillors had an input into that decision.
Under the Waste Management Acts, people have an obligation to deal with their household waste. Under these Acts and pollution legislation, Dublin City Council has options to ensure the type of scenario presented by Deputy McDonald about people not willing to engage with a collector and public health problems arising from their waste on the streets will not arise. Those in that position should do what the 140,000 people have done by signing up to collection.
As I indicated in my earlier reply, there are facilities for people to engage with the collector to ensure their household waste is collected and they should use them. If they choose to go to a civic amenity centre, it will cost them more. The cost of collecting waste in Dublin city is lower than in any other local authority area. The people of Dublin city are getting good value for the collection of their waste.
I ask Deputy McDonald to support Dublin City Council and the collection of waste under the law. I ask she ensures people engage with Greyhound and Dublin City Council to meet their statutory obligations-----
It is micromanaging. Dublin City Council is responsible for ensuring household waste collection is done effectively and efficiently which in this case is through a private operator. It is up to the private citizen and the waste collector to engage in ensuring household waste is collected.