Waste management was high on the list of issues our readers said they’d like to hear candidates running in May’s local election talk about tackling: from dog fouling to fly-tipping and illegal dumping.

We asked five of the approximately 130 candidates running for Dublin City Council in the 11 new local electoral areas what they’d do to tackle issues of waste management if they were to join the council.

Across parties, local candidates said dog fouling is a scourge on Dublin’s streets. But the solutions they put forward varied. Some said that they’d like more on-the-spot fines and more bins, while others suggested higher-tech options.

Some candidates talked about needing more recycling centres and initiatives to cut down on the use of plastic. Others backed more litter wardens to tackle illegal dumping.

There was a bigger picture at play too: many candidates talked about wanting Dublin City Council to take control, once again, of waste collection in the city – something private companies handle these days.

Dealing with Dog Poo

Dog fouling is “one of my biggest bugbears”, says Bernard Mulvany, who is running for People Before Profit in the Clontarf local election area.

“I’ve a little girl in a wheelchair and when we go out and about and she’s independent and she’s wheeling it will go on her wheels and all over her hands. It’s filthy,” he says.

Mulvany wants the council to provide biodegradable disposable bags, especially in parks. He also wants to see the council enforcing fines for dog fouling.

Figures released to Green Party Councillor Patrick Costello in November 2018 showed the number of fines issues for dog fouling: in 2016, there were 78; in 2017, 23; and in 2018, up until November, there had been only four fines issued.

Only 45 of those fines issued were paid in 2016, 19 in 2017 and 1 in 2018.

Mulvany also wants to see an education programme introduced in an effort to change people’s habits.

Suzanne McDonnell, a Fine Gael candidate for the Donaghmede LEA, agrees that an educational campaign – both in schools and outside them – is needed to tackle dog fouling.

“We must also increase the number of enforcement officers dealing with both the

issue of illegal dumping and dog fouling,” she says.

The Labour Party’s Mary Freehill, a candidate in the Kimmage-Rathmines LEA, says she agrees that there’s a need for more enforcement.

“I think we actually have to find ways of actually fining people,” says Freehill, a sitting councillor running for re-election . “I would be absolutely in favour of recruiting staff to actually deal with that.”

Distributing more biodegradable disposable bags in parks would help too, and so would increasing the number of bins available, Freehill said.

“They would have to be very very small in aperture, because the reason the bins were taken away was people were using them for their weekly rubbish,” she says.

The council late last year removed bins from some parks in Milltown, because people were putting too much dog poo in them.

“We need to bring in more measures like they do in the UK,” says Hazel Chu, who is running for the Green Party in the Pembroke LEA.

“I know it sounds far-fetched, but DNA testing is a good example. We need to think outside the box when it comes to these things,” she says. (This is something that’s been proposed before.)

Recycling Centres

“It’s got to be on people’s doorsteps. Not everybody has a car,” says Paul O’Farrell, a Sinn Féin candidate in the Cabra-Glasnevin LEA.

If he is elected he’ll push for more bring centres for cardboard and plastics, so they’ll be closer to people’s homes, in an effort to reduce down people’s waste costs.

Like O’Farrell, Chu also points out the difficulty some people have in accessing recycling facilities in the city. “I’ve already had quite a few constituents that have said it’s quite hard for them to recycle,” she says, “especially older constituents.”

To address this, Chu believes more glass-bottle recycling centres are needed around the city. At the moment, one of the biggest stumbling blocks with regard to bottle banks is that they have to be 100 metres away from homes.

To get around this, Chu says curbside recycling could be a solution. She points to Germany, where “there are certain points where you can put glass bottles and it is collected from the curb”.

Fianna Fáil candidate Eoin Neylon, who is running in the Ballyfermot-Drimnagh LEA, would also like to see more bottle banks put in.

“In my own area in Drimnagh there isn’t a single bottle bank,” says Neylon. “There are 13,000 people in Drimnagh and there isn’t a single bottle bank.”

People Before Profit’s Mulvany says “recycling centres are a good idea but again they’d want to be run by the councils and that way then you could offer these services again as part of a general taxation to people and not to be privatising everything all the time”.

Fine Gael’s McDonnell says she’d like to see a campaign to “more than double the number of recycling points over the lifetime of the next council”, which will be five years. “But these facilities must be located in areas that are suitable and provided after consultation with local communities,” she says.

In addition to making it easier to recycle, some candidates also talked about reducing the amount of plastic people use in the first place.

O’Farrell, of Sinn Féin, says he would like to see more initiatives from Dublin City Council encouraging people to cut down on their use of plastic, including working with manufacturers and supermarkets to encourage them to use less.

Neylon, of Fianna Fáil, wants to promote more “grow-your-own” initiatives to cut down on the use of single plastics. “At the end of the day there is an awful lot of plastic waste being produced when it comes to simple things like fruit and vegetables,” he says.

Who Should Collect the Bins?

When it comes to waste collection, candidates talked about using their “soft power” as councillors to push for the council to take back control of that service. Dublin City Council privatised waste-collection in 2011.

“I think the litter problem has really gone out of hand across the city and I put a lot of that down to privatisation of the waste collection services,” said Neylon of Fianna Fáil.

“The privatisation has been a complete disaster. It’s led directly to the amount of illegal dumping and fly-tipping across the city,” he said.

In 2016, the council spent €966,663 cleaning up after illegal dumping and fly-tipping. That figure rose to €1,100,424 in 2017 and €1,159,219 in 2018. In January of this year, the council spent €101,023.

Neylon believes Dublin City Council could raise the local property tax and that this, along with the revenue saved from illegal dumping, would finance the re-municipalisation of bin collections.

In recent years, councillors have repeatedly voted to vary the local property tax downwards by the maximum they are allowed (15 percent), forgoing potential income for the council.

For 2019, council executives recommended they vary it downwards by only 10 percent and use the resulting additional €4 million to provide more services. However, councillors voted to reduce it by the full 15 percent.

Chu, of the Green Party, says she would also support the council taking back control over waste collection. It’s not something councillors would have the power to vote to make happen, but they could work together to push for it.

Mulvany, of People Before Profit, says privatisation of bin collection has encouraged more people to dump their waste illegally.

“The bin charges, when they went from the flat-rate model to the pay-by-weight, I mean people are just going to do what people do and keep their bill low,” he says.

Bin collection should be brought back into state control and paid through general taxation, he says.

Fine Gael’s McDonnell, by contrast, says it doesn’t matter who collects people’s waste as long as it’s done correctly and is properly regulated.

“The provision of waste-collection services should always be done on the basis of

ensuring that the community has access to a good, properly managed services provided at the lowest possible cost,” she says.

Tackling Illegal Dumping

“When the council did manage it I felt that there was an awful lot less dumping,” said O’Farrell, of Sinn Féin.

But if the councillors can’t get the council back into the business of waste collection, O’Farrell said he’d be supportive of a name-and-shame campaign in order to dissuade people from dumping.

This is something the council has done in the past, using CCTV to catch people on film dumping their garbage on the street, and then pasting up their images for all to see.

As well doing more naming and shaming to catch fly-tippers, O’Farrell says he’d like to see the companies overseeing waste collection do more.

“I think they need to work closely with their customers, you know with things like if your green bin is full, you can put out an extra bag provided its properly packed with recyclables,” he says.

McDonnell of Fine Gael called for increased enforcement of litter fines and stiffer fines for those caught dumping. She said there should be more surveillance near litter blackspots.

Last year, according to figures provided by Dublin City Council, 906 fines were issued for illegal dumping, with only 392 of them being paid. That compares to 1,299 fines issued in 2017, with 509 of them being paid.

Labour’s Mary Freehill said the council needs more staff to tackle illegal dumping and it’s something she says she has been pushing for during her time in office.

“We need to be a bit more ambitious for the city,” she says. The council relies far too much on subcontracting work out and with it they lose their “corporate memory”.

This memory is important, says Freehill, as it means staff know where everything is and can tackle issues waste management issues more effectively.

CORRECTION: This article has been updated at 10:18 on 11 April 2019 to correct the number of fines paid for illegal dumping last year, which was incorrect due to a typo. We apologise for the error.

Sean Finnan is a freelance journalist. You can reach him at sfinnan@dublininquirer.com.

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