PAUL MILLS: Consumers the only ones made to pay to reduce waste

Over the last several years we’ve seen continuously increasing charges for the collection and the processing of waste, writes Paul Mills

Almost exclusively, all of these new charges have and are being borne by the consumer.

In the middle of last year, many of us will recall that a plan to charge by weight or by a combination of standing charge and weight was announced. On the surface that might seem fair.

After all, the more waste you generate the more you must pay to the bin man to take it away. However, it fails to take into account the fact that a huge proportion of the waste that we seek to have processed is packaging over which we have very little control or choice.

Government’s failure, and the reason it had ultimately to defer the implementation for 12 months for further reflection, was based on the fact that it had set out its intent to not set a minimum rate, or indeed a maximum charge, and allow the companies to set their own charges.

That 12 month period has lapsed and most households will start paying under the new system.

By proposing the market set the price, the Government is in effect urging people to shop around. We all know where that has got us in the past. So do not expect any happy outcomes.

Waste processing has become a major worldwide problem. Unfortunately, very many governments take the same approach as ours and penalise the consumer rather than the producer of the waste.

Some address the problem with incineration or waste to energy facilities but, with few exceptions, Ireland still relies heavily on land-fill, or worse, shipping waste overseas.

As the world population increases and greater competition and differentiation between producers grow, waste disposal is set to increase even further.

There is currently a part of the Pacific which is called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a collection of debris, much of which is plastic waste and containers which causes untold damage to marine life.

It spans waters from the West Coast of North America to Japan. There are similar issues in the Atlantic and in the Mediterranean.

UK Chancellor Philip Hammond in his budget yesterday again pledged to “investigate how the tax system and charges on single-use plastic items can reduce waste”.

The objective is to stop the mass of waste littering cities and towns and poisoning the sea and it appears that it is targeting polystyrene, plastic cutlery, drinking straws, and even bubble wrap.

Ireland and the UK are planning to introduce taxes on sugar products, energy drinks and a range of other items which are considered bad for our health. B

ut there is common theme -- go after the consumer, and not the producer. Perhaps they believe that producers would only pass on the cost, whereas as the consumer is an easy target.

While there might be some vague and weak argument that any cost increase will finally filter back to the producer in the form of reduced sales, it’s a tenuous argument at best.

Consumer spending is not totally elastic but it will be a slow process. In addition, it’s simply kicking the can up the street and will have no real material impact unless the producers are forced through penalities to change their ways.

Unless they do, the lands and the seas of the world will continue to be filled with plastics and other rubbish, while fly-tipping increases on land. Other solutions need to be looked at. In the dim and distant past, we had glass bottles for milk and for minerals that we paid a deposit and returned for a refund.

It would help the environment but I would imagine not go down so well with producers given the additional logistics required. The question is: Has this Government got the bottle?



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