Seanad debates

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

National Waste Strategy: Statements


4:00 pm

Photo of Fiona O'MalleyFiona O'Malley (Progressive Democrats)

I must visit the incinerator in Antwerp from which much of that city's heating comes because it is a thermal treatment unit. That is a positive development. Senator de Búrca spoke of waste as a resource, not exclusively a problem. That is the right attitude. That is how we need to frame our thinking from now on. We have a problem with the quantity of waste we produce and we must get rid of it in the cleanest and most energy-efficient way. We would be foolish certainly to ignore our ability to burn it and to convert that heat into energy.

We have been able to modify our behaviour. As Senator Mullen mentioned, when it is made easy for people to recycle and reduce their waste, they do. It is down to the level of education from schools. It is children who drive this recycling issue. I know this is so from my sister's family where she would be much more of a culprit than the children who go through the bin constantly and remove anything that should have been recycled. They are driving the thinking in that household.

I would prefer to have more information about composting, not that of raw food which I compost in any case but that of cooked foods about which I am confused. I would have thought that such food would biodegrade naturally anyway and this is where the problem lies. If one understands a problem, one is much more aware of the danger one causes and one can take remedial action. I would welcome a thorough education service on this from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in line with its good education programmes.

Senator Mullen mentioned how waste collection services have improved. They have improved, partly because of the competition. I speak a little more knowledgeably about services in Dublin. I do not know about services in different parts of the country but I know they are as many and varied as there are local councils. In Dublin, the four local authorities operate similar systems, which is sensible because there is one waste unit.

What concerns me is that Dublin City Council, speaking on behalf of the three other local authorities in the Dublin area, has mooted that it will take a decision to stop private operators providing household waste services. I would find that regressive. The improved services about which Senator Mullen spoke, where we in my local authority of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council now get green bins collected twice a month as opposed to once, is due directly to competition. Another operator entered the market, undercut the council's fee by 20% and provided a much better service, including the collection of plastics. Of course, the public was moving in their droves over to that service. The benefit was that it made the council improve its services and that is as it should be.

When I was a local authority member, I became tired of being told of the roll-out of a green bin service, not to mind a brown bin service, which I am not sure they have even started at this point. There was no incentive for the council to improve services. The minute a private operator entered the market, services improved dramatically because people were responding to a better service. They left the local authority service in large numbers because the private operator provided a better service. It should not really matter to us who provides the service as long as we receive a service. We also need not worry about standards because licensing is as relevant for the private sector as it is for the public sector.

I am concerned about what is happening in this regard. It is sharp practice on the part of the local authority. I am concerned and I want to caution the Department about it. The local authority should not be allowed to get away with it. Competition has served us very well and is one of the reasons recycling figures are so much higher than previously. It is down to a much better service on the part of both local authorities and private operators. I would like to see the Department not allow the Dublin City Council to take this action. I understand it is concerned with the local authorities wanting a monopoly on waste services to be provided for the incinerator at Poolbeg. That is a worrying development and I caution against it.


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