Dan Boyle: What A Waste


From top: Clean up started in February at Cork City Council-owned Ellis’s Yard site in Ballyvolane where 200,000 kgs of rubbish was illegally dumped; Dan Boyle

When I last had been a councillor, local government in Ireland had greater powers, that allowed councils to make more direct and more immediate impact in providing services.

Many councils had Direct Build Units that saw public housing being provided efficiently and in large numbers.

At the very least, Works Departments existed in each council, that were better resourced, allowing repairs to done more quickly, and vacant housing units to become more readily available.

A huge component of the work of local councils was in waste management. Each council had a fleet of Waste Disposal trucks, that would call to designated areas at a set time each week.

From the 1990s a new philosophy on public services began to develop. Imported from the UK, it was known as New Public Management.

At the heart of this thinking was the belief that local government was monolithic, making it inefficient. This gospel indicated, when it came to public services, the private sector could do things ‘better’.

Waste management was to be one of the first sacrificial lambs brought to the altar of New Public Management. Councils sold on their fleets, often at bargain prizes, to new private sector providers.

Soon a multiplicity of waste companies would be found on our streets. Each offering different methods of collection, collecting on different days of the week, charging different rates for the ‘service’ that was provided.

The myth that the private sector is more efficient, and thus better, has been badly exposed by how we have organised waste management since then.

I believe we should return to a simpler time, that when there was a single provider of waste collection in each local authority area.

While such a service could be provided again by local councils, it would be naive to assume they could do so immediately, given large scale capital acquisition costs, particularly at a time of other priorities.

I believe local authorities should contract out, over say a five to ten year period, waste collection to single providers.

Local councils could then become more effective regulators of the service in a way that would standardise how waste is collected, when the waste is collected, and what payment should be made for the service.

Government policy in recent years has been to oblige local councils go in exactly the opposite direction.

In an effort to make the excessive number of waste collection companies viable, local councils have passed a series of by-laws obliging householders to prove how they pay for disposing their waste.

This is being done under the smokescreen of dealing with the very real scourge of fly tipping. However, as with companies registering with REPAK is seen as somehow businesses ‘fulfilling’ their responsibilities on recycling, this is an exercise to driving all householders into becoming customers of the waste collection companies.

This is unnecessary. It is possible for most households to restrict the need to have a large scale waste collection service.

I take my recyclable and contaminated waste to a civic amenity site. My organic waste I put into a container where it breaks down in compost. After five years the container is only half full.

There is nothing particularly virtuous in this. As an individual I continue to produce too much waste. Like others I would like better incentives that recognise household efforts to reduce waste and to recycle.

The main focus of any waste collection system should be to encourage householders. It shouldn’t be to subsidise waste collection companies.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator and is standing in the Local Elections for the party in Cork on May 24.  His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Pic via Cork City Council

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30 thoughts on “Dan Boyle: What A Waste

  1. Stan

    Fully agree. The waste collection system in Ireland is chaotic, expensive and ideologically driven. Here in the UK, anywhere I’ve lived, waste collection remains firmly in the hands of councils, and towns and cities are much cleaner. The downside is expensive, and regressive, council taxation. It does, however, at least generate a sense of accountability.

  2. Yep

    I will say the Go-Ahead route I use has gone from perfect for a few months to now more packed at peak times and missing/late buses than ever before the move over.

    Have I and others complained? Of course. Anything happen? SFA.

    1. dav

      I loved the joined up thinking where not only were the go ahead routes removed from the Dublin Bus Realtime app (which is understandable), but also they were removed from the Transport for Ireland screens at bus stops. I think the TFI screens issue was resolved but it took a few weeks and still doesn’t solve the phantom go ahead buses that are 1 min away and then disappear, never to arrive at your stop.

  3. Joe Small

    Dan, I think you’re a little nostalgic in your views of councils. They were notoriously inefficient and wasteful. Installing an apolitical city/county manager wasn’t terribly democratic but it certainly improved the professionalism of the services provided. These same councilors sat on regional health boards and ensure they were full of nepotism and corruption too.
    New Public management certainly has a lot to answer for but private services properly regulated can provide a level of investment and flexibility that councils never could.

    1. SOQ

      The ‘free market’ dictates that in certain cities, 3-4 refuse lorries are hammering down the same street chasing the same rubbish. Not only do they all have to make a profit but are a contributing factor in traffic and tail backs.

      I fail to see how this is progress?

  4. GiggidyGoo

    The use of the image from Ballyvolane- that tip has nothing to do with councils or private companies performing waste collection. That is to do with another, ethnic, issue. So why try relate it to domestic waste collections?

        1. eoin

          Fair play Dan, I didn’t realise that. Do you support an inquiry into illegal dumping at Ballyvolane and would you reinstate security at the site and kick up a fuss if they were intimidated off the site again?

  5. MaryLou's ArmaLite

    Every occupied house produces waste, every occupied house should have to provide evidence of how it disposes of the waste it produces.

    Fine houses that don’t and make the fine larger than the cost of waste disposal.

    1. Mickey Twopints

      And in your fine plan, do you have an annual quota of waste in mind? If an occupier produces evidence of having paid for the disposal of 6 black bags per annum, will you fine them unless they produce more to meet the quota? If not, what if a householder produces a receipt for the disposal of a single black bag?

      I think it would be helpful if you were to share the (no doubt fully thought through) details of your scheme for consideration.

      1. MaryLou's ArmaLite

        Let me see, I’m sure some boffin has produced a normal distribution for waste production, based on a variety of factors. Every house must provide evidence of disposal of a minimum of one standard deviation less than the mean.


        1. Mickey Twopints

          It sure is. I’m in full agreement with you there, since your plan would of course mean that households who were uber careful to minimise landfill waste would in fact be penalised for doing so.

          I had you pegged as being a bit brighter than that. Life is full of little disappointments.

  6. Clampers Outside!

    I just had a private waste disposal company call to remove a few tonne of rubble from the back garden.

    I couldn’t believe it… they arrived 2+ hours late. Stood around looking at it, and there were lots of breathing in briskly through teeth followed by an “ooooh” expression.
    Then the left for 45 minutes, and when they came back they had no wheelbarrow nor pick axe, nor shovels, nor spades or any other equipment to shift, lift and move the stuff through the house…. It was cartoon stuff, big time.

    In the end they used my tools, barrow, etc. and what should have been done in a few hours over a morning was done over two days.
    It would have taken longer if I didn’t get stuck in myself, and have the equipment to hand.

    I’ll not mention them because I don’t want one of the two to get into any more trouble. Apparently the boss hit the roof when he heard…. but if you ask me, it was the guy in the office that deserves a telling off for sending the two lads on a job without equipment.

    Oh… and the van broke down in the middle of it all :0) …ya gotta laugh at the small stuff !

    At least the job is done! New patio needs a hosing down.

    Any tips on laying a new garden lawn appreciated :)

    1. GiggidyGoo

      Hi Clampers. As regards laying the lawn. A few truckloads of green cement or imitation grass would be my solution. That’s from experience of a 3/4 acre lawn and all the brain frazzling annoyance it gives me. Waiting for it to dry out to fit in with a weekend. Mower getting clogged. Etc.

    2. Joe Small

      You may need to rotavate it first. Then remove all weeks and sow grass. I found it useful to mark lawn off in square metres with bamboo. Hard work but worth it.

      1. Mickey Twopints

        Bad idea in my experience. Rotavating chops up the roots of the perennial weeds such as dandelion and nettle, and causes endless grief in the future. Cut the existing sod and flip it over, laying new turves on top. Seeding is cheaper but it gives the weeds a chance to re-establish whereas laying turves results in a more or less instant lawn.

      2. Clampers Outside!

        Thanks Joe and Mickey.

        Thanks for the tip on the weeds Mickey. I am going to use a weed killer, and hope that’ll kill ’em off.

        After rotivating, I have about 9 tonne of top soil to spread.
        The ground, the soil, under many other tonne bags is now hardened flat with no visible grass, nor weeds – I know ’cause I removed 19 bags already, and the soil under those appears to me to be cleared of weeds, literally flattened to death….. but are they dead?
        Would roots survive last 3 months under a tonne weight?

        Thanks for tips! I’d prefer not to have to rotivate, but the soils may be compacted from the weight of the bags and may need it… I dunno. Will try a forum or two but any tips again, much appreciated!

    3. curmudgeon

      So why ay them if the service was poor? If this same poor level of service was done by the council whats your recourse? To not pay taxes???

      1. Clampers Outside!

        One only finds out what a service is like after using the services, surely. That’s it in a nutshell.

        Council don’t do private property/back yard rubble, to my knowledge, so I’ve no idea what that second bit about taxes is about Mr ‘Mudge :)

        1. curmudgeon

          Speak for yourself I read reviews, do my own research, ask previous service users, check the contract (or service level agreement) and then make sure its done to my satisfaction. All depending on how important/expensive the job/thing is.

          1. Clampers Outside!

            Sometimes, one is in a hurry and needs a job done pronto. So runs with a well known brand. And sometimes, one is disappointed. Speaking for myself, naturally.

    4. Termagant

      What you need to do is know a lad
      For example, I know a lad, Christy, and when I encounter a problem I can’t solve myself I call him and he comes with a big machine and removes it
      So go out there, find a lad, and know him

  7. Cian

    The myth that the private sector is more efficient, and thus better, has been badly exposed by how we have organised waste management since then.
    Can you provide evidence for this please?

    My personal experience is that when the council provided the waste collection it was mostly okay but the collection times weren’t reliable. If your bin wasn’t collected then you had to wait until the next week. Bank holidays played havoc with the collections that week.

    Since privatisation they collections are much faster (granted the introduction of wheelie-bins probably accounts for the speed). The time they appear is reliable. If you are missed (for whatever reason) if you phone them they will send a truck within 24 hours. The provide a bin cleaning service (albeit at a cost).

    The collection is more expensive – but a part of this is beyond the control of the waste companies – they still bring the garbage to the tip – but the tips are controlled by the councils (to the best of my knowledge) and the councils are setting the price for waste.

  8. theo kretschmar-schuldorff

    Dan – an emphatic yes to this, but with one change.
    Local Authority to mange the municipal waste disposal contract with the operator/s, but to be provided for ALL households regardless and paid for out of a hike in that household’s property tax reflecting the mass of waste disposed.

    The LAs themselves set the rate of the Property Tax and collect same – so this can happen without reference to central govt and ideological conflict therein.

    One of the side-effects of the privatization of waste management was the removal of large quantities of public litter bins (for fear of their being used for domestic waste), thereby compounding the scourge of fly-tipping with simple littering.

    Fly-tipping can end overnight by applying what is essentially an accountancy-fiddle.

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