Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Still fighting the bin war

This is an article I did for the Musings column but decided not to submit as, on re-reading, it came across as a complete rant, which of course it is!

A few years ago, at the height of the bin tax controversy, our family was featured in an Irish Independent feature called “The families fighting the real bin war.” In it, we, or rather my wife, detailed how, through careful household waste management, we had got recycling down to a fine art and only needed to put our black bin out every six weeks or so. My wife was photographed, seductively posing next to a green bin and that was that.
The secret of our bin tag bill reduction is my wife’s system of management, in which every item of recyclable material, from plastic bottles to bacon rind, has a home, leaving very little to go to landfill. It is a great system and I am thinking of writing a book on it and talking about in on “Richard and Judy.”
Of course it must be stated that recycling takes a little effort, which, in today’s disposable, dishwasher, car-washer society is very much out of fashion. Bottles have to be rinsed and dried; plastic bottles squashed, tetra packs cut open, unfolded, rinsed and dried. All the inside bins have to be emptied regularly into the green bin and/or the shed; trips have to be made to Coolmine; the compost needs to be removed from the composter at regular intervals.
So we are doing our bit for the environment. We take a little time, take a little effort and are happy in the knowledge that under the insightful leadership of Fingal County Council, the polluter pays.
This is great for me financially. We recycle so assiduously that we only pay for a black bin tag eight or nine times a year. We could probably go less but it starts to smell. We break down all our cardboard in the green bin and the Oxegen truck comes around every four weeks and our bin is only three quarters full. All our kitchen waste goes in the composter and if, in the summer, we have any pruning to do in the garden, Coolmine accepts up to two bags of garden waste free of charge.
All in all, we’re saving money by our recycling efforts and minimising our environmental footprints at the same time. So, I am happy, right?
In a word, no.
From this year, Fingal has decided that the waste disposal system is operating at a loss and so every household in the county will have to stump up €110 to pay for this, on top of the normal charge for bin tags.
I am unsure where it has been decreed that waste disposal should be self-sufficient. Is the library self-sufficient? Will we have to pay a standing charge to use this facility, on top of a charge per book? How about all the wages of the council officials? Surely, administration costs are ‘operating at a loss?’ (Actually, I’d better shut up in case some bright spark in the Council reads this and thinks it’s a brilliant idea.)
However, Fingal tells us, for our €110, every household in the county will get a brown bin collection and they will also double the regularity of the green bin collection.
Yippee. Trouble is, I don’t need a brown bin collection as I either compost all my green waste or bring it to Coolmine. And if my green bin is only three-quarters full when it is collected every four weeks, what on earth do I need an extra collection for?
This is similar to the Government turning around and saying “We’re going to raise income tax to 25% but in return, we’re going to double the amount of street lights in the country. Instead of having them every thirty yards apart, they’re now going to be every fifteen yards apart.” Unfortunately, there is no opt-out option. I can’t say. “No, its okay, leave them at thirty yards, it’s perfectly adequate.”
As a reader commented in a recent Community Voice Letters page, the whole concept of the polluter pays has now been thrown out of the window. Now we all pay, whether we embrace recycling or not. I am now obliged to fork out €110 to subsidise people who don’t bother recycling and in return the Council are spending extra money on two services that I neither need nor want.
In fact, the inference is that, reading between the lines, because our family has only been putting out its black bin every six weeks or so, it’s somehow our fault that the Council hasn’t been able to meet its waste charges! Naturally, if we’d just thrown everything into the black bin and put it out every week, the revenue from the Goulding household, and similar green households, would have been much higher!
My wife points out that the green bin service, the brown bin service and the recycling centre in Coolmine is still free of charge and that a €110 annual charge is a small price to pay for these services, particularly when you hear how much the private contractors are charging in Ballyjamesripoff. And I agree. In fact, up until recently, I have always included Fingal County Council’s environment in my bedside prayers for their enlightened polluter pays policy.
But why should we pay for recycling? If anything, the Council should be paying us for saving reusable material from landfill. We are doing them a service and they are charging us for it.
At this point, I must interject that a recent private operator’s leaflet came through our door and their standing charge of €280 per year worked out at far more than my estimated Fingal cost of €110 plus 9 x €8 = €182 per year. So the option of changing to private enterprise for the avid recycler is not really there.
But I am annoyed with Fingal and why wouldn’t I be if I am facing a 300% hike in my refuse charges? It is the old Eircom trick of paying for standing charges, whether you use the service or not. I sincerely hope this policy will not lead to illegal dumping or other such dodgy activities as throwing your rubbish in someone else’s skip or burning it. Personally, I would not resort to simply using the public waste bins in the street for my one tiny bag of daily rubbish – though it’s very tempting – and I will probably end up paying the €110 charge, though very resentfully and with a bad heart.
I feel as though I want to start another bin war.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well said, I completely agree. Do start this campaign and I'll back you on it - the main reason I had practically no problem with the last anti-bin charge campaign was that it was going to ENCOURAGE recycling. This, as you say, is penalising us for doing it.