Report by Heike O’Sullivan
As many of you, dear Readers, will already have heard, from 3rd April last we, the general public, are expected to pay for much of our recycling waste when dropping it in to our local Waste Transfer Station (WTS).
Although recycling of glass bottles and jars will continue to be free of charge in the familiar bottle banks, other recyclable waste such as plastic bottles, paper, cardboard and food cans can no longer be disposed of in the usual manner. Instead, we must now purchase Eco Sense bags at the WTS at a cost of €8 for a pack of four, fill and drop them off at the WTS. Landfill charges have also been increased.
The Department of the Environment provided a grant to local authorities towards the cost of recycling facilities for many years. These grants have reduced dramatically, from €307,000 to Kerry County Council in 2008 to a mere €18,000 in 2015. The new two year contract the Council recently entered into with a waste contractor with regards to the collection and disposal from Kerry’s five waste and recycling centres has led to a cost increase of approx. €500,000. Kerry County Council is now passing on this increase to us, the consumers, by way of higher and new charges.
Presenting these increases at a Meeting of Kerry County Council on 27th March last, Director of Sustainable Communities and Quality of Life, John Breen, met vociferous opposition from our Councillors who have strongly spoken out against the introduction of recycling charges. Cllr Patrick Connor-Scarteen explained to me, “Unfortunately it is an executive decision of the Council as opposed to a reserved function of Council, i.e. the Council Executive can legally make such a decision regardless of the views of the elected Members.” Nevertheless, Councillors will write to Environment Minister Denis Naughten TD about the issue and Patrick hopes that the Minister might intervene.
Speaking to Jerry O’Sullivan on Radio Kerry, John Breen said that the Council appreciate the concerns that were expressed by Councillors and have committed to reviewing the charge in six months time. Cllr Maura Healy-Rae shares her colleagues’ apprehension about the potential negative effect and told me that she believes the new charges will “become a disincentive for people to recycle. Given the financial constraints people are under with insurance, property tax, increasing rents [etc], recycling charges won’t be a priority.”
Recycling having become really popular in Ireland since the Noughties, it would be a terrible shame if littering would become more prevalent again, not least at a time of year when the country will be awash with nature-loving tourists.
Listening to John Breen on Radio Kerry, what annoyed me was his departure from the topic of recycling when Jerry O’Sullivan asked if we need to start coming up with our own options in Kerry for processing our own waste, for instance by using new technologies. Instead of thinking along the lines of building a recycling plant or two in this country, thereby reducing costs by limiting the amount of waste sent abroad, he started blaming households for the amount of waste they’re generating, citing the Polluter Pays Principle and talking about litter louts.
The Polluter Pays Principle is internationally known as Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) which moves the responsibility of dealing with waste from governments and societies to the producer/manufacturer. When enforced, it results in a reduction of waste and increased usage of recyclable materials. Surely John Breen misconstrues the principle of EPR when he blames the end-user/consumer for, say, the plentiful packaging waste we have to deal with. When did we ever ask for the cardboard box around our tube of toothpaste? Or the flow-wrap trays surrounding our vegetables? Or the plastic shrink-wrap around a twin pack of Club Orange? Surely creating less waste in the first place is better – and cheaper – than having to dispose of it. Maybe it’s time for our government to place the responsibility to reduce waste firmly at the producers’ doors as it is done in other countries and already provided for in EU legislation.
Why not introduce a bottle deposit system on glass and plastic bottles as seen on the Continent, where the principle is not only ecologically but also economically successful, reducing waste and creating jobs? The Powers That Be always cite too high an establishment cost in their rejection of anything new being proposed in this country. Isn’t this very short-sighted?
It is obvious that recycling activities rely entirely on the willingness of individuals to participate. Consumers should be enabled and encouraged to recycle; we should certainly not be forced to pay for it. In Germany, for instance, legislation requires large shops to place recycling receptacles near their exit, enabling consumers to dispose of any unwanted packaging before ever leaving the shop. This policy firmly places responsibility with the real Polluter, i.e. the manufacturers and distributors of waste, not the blameless end-user. As a result, in 2014, a whopping 97.6% of all German packaging waste was recycled.
In Ireland, we are expected to segregate, cleanse, dry, store, then present/deliver recycling waste to our bottle banks or WTS. Now we are to pay for it, too? Kerry County Council, I strongly recommend that you reconsider!
(N.B.: Cllrs Johnny Healy-Rae and Dan McCarthy were also invited to comment but didn’t come back to me before my deadline.)