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