Wednesday 13 February 2008

Gormley levy plan may lead to rise in refuse charges

State levies on rubbish dumped in landfill, which are to rise by a third in the near future are set to increase even further later in the year following moves by Minister for the Environment John Gormley.

The decision to raise the charges has been taken in a bid to cut down on the tonnage of biodegradable waste being dumped, rather than recycled - which must be reduced if heavy European Union fines are to be avoided in two years' time.

However, the measure will lead to a sharp increase in service charges for homeowners if waste companies fail to find alternative uses for such waste, the chief executive of a leading waste company warned last night. Smaller waste companies, which number about 400 and which do not have systems to separate and recycle some of the waste that they collect, will be harder hit than the biggest four, or five waste companies.

Ireland is set to face EU fines of €250 million and more by 2010 if it does not stop 650,000 tonnes of bio-degradable waste from going into landfill. Less than 10 per cent of that reduction has been achieved so far.

In 2006, the Environmental Protection Agency warned that bio-degradable waste entering landfill had increased by 9 per cent to 1.4 million tonnes - though Ireland is supposed to send no more than 967,000 tonnes by January 1st, 2010.

Currently, the Department of the Environment imposes a €15-a-tonne levy on landfill, which is to rise to €20 within weeks following Mr Gormley's decision yesterday to increase rates.

However, the Minister told Cabinet colleagues yesterday that he intends to produce legislation shortly that will allow him to increase the charges by even more, The Irish Times understands.

At the same time Mr Gormley gave notice that he will order that every tonne of waste burned by incinerators in the future will be subject to a similar levy - in a move that threatens the financial viability of planned incinerators.

The incinerator levy is based on models used already in Sweden and Denmark, which introduced the charge after they found that incineration was actually cutting down on the amount of waste they were recycling. Ireland's waste figures have increased because of economic activity, difficulties getting planning permission for waste plants, and a lack of tax incentives to encourage burning biodegradable waste as fuel in cement plants, etc.

The economics of finding "green" uses for the waste has been hampered by competition among local authorities, who control 24 of the 28 dumps licensed for household and commercial waste and who have cut prices to get business. Three years ago, Cork County Council charged €270-a-tonne, but its bill has dropped to €125-a-tonne, while the average local authority charge has fallen from €155 to €120 per tonne.

The Irish Times

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