Controlling Waste Collection
Dublin City Council voted on Monday that waste management in the city should be remunicipalised – and to set up a working group with council officials to see how to make that happen.
The group should meet in September and October and report back to the full council in November, says the motion, which was proposed by People Before Profit Councillor Tina MacVeigh.
“It’s a constant source of huge frustration for residents and councillors,” says MacVeigh, of waste collection services in the city.
Those who spoke in favour of the motion talked about multiple trucks clamouring down the same streets, challenges with illegal dumping, bins not being collected, and work practices, among other problems.
Fine Gael councillors were sceptical of the plan.
A June report from Assistant Chief Executive Dick Brady said that after set-up costs it could cost between €24.4 million and €29.2 million a year for the city to run waste-management services again. (The council’s 2019 budget had €969.6 million in spending.)
Fine Gael Councillor James Geoghegan said councillors had no mandate to spend that money, given the city’s housing and homelessness crisis. “I can’t agree […] that this is what the Dublin electorate has asked.”
“The point is how do we think about costs?” said MacVeigh, the day after the meeting. Providing a public service costs, she says, but there are costs if the service is poorly managed – as she argued it is now.
Fine Gael Councillor Naoise Ó Muirí said he wanted a working group on the issue without the commitment to remunicipalisation. There were problems, including around the kind of competition there is – within the market, rather than for the market, he said. But “from my perspective, this is barmy”.
Brady’s report listed what would be needed to take control again of waste management – from hiring staff, to decisions on whether low-income households would get waivers, to attracting customers back, to technological considerations, investing in bins, trucks, and depots, and changes to legislation.
Kevin Donoghue of Labour, who backed the motion, said the report from the manager was useful even if it wasn’t too optimistic. “I think it’s important to know exactly how high the hill we’re going to climb is before we set out,” he said.
The motion passed with a voice vote.
Feeding Poolbeg’s Incinerator
Several councillors voiced opposition to the proposed hike in waste handled at the Poolbeg waste-to-energy incinerator, from 600,000 tonnes to 690,000 tonnes a year.
Dublin Waste-to-Energy Ltd, a public-private partnership between Covanta and Dublin City Council, has said it plans to ask the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for permission for the increase.
It’s up to the EPA, rather than Dublin City Council, to decide.
Dublin Waste-to-Energy Ltd wouldn’t build any extensions to the plant, or seek any change in permitted emissions levels, said a report from council Chief Executive Owen Keegan to councillors.
“The operator is satisfied that the proposal will not result in any additional traffic on the road network in excess of that assessed by [An Bord Pleanála] when consent was granted for the facility,” it also said.
The report says the number of trucks going to the incinerator each day has been fewer than is licensed for – and would still be, if the increase were allowed.
The council gets some money from the project, and with the increase, it would get more. “If the facility processes an additional 90,000 tonnes per annum, it is anticipated that Dublin City Council will receive circa €1 million in additional revenue per annum,” the report says.
Keegan’s report said that it “seems clear” that raising the amount of waste the facility handles is the “the most sustainable environmental solution” right now.
In 2018, Ireland sent 1.7 million of its 3 million tonnes of waste to waste-t0-energy facilities and cement kilns here and abroad, or landfill, the report says. It recycles the rest – about 42 percent.
To make sure the incinerator doesn’t affect recycling targets, if approved, it should perhaps be reviewed in five years, it said.
“I’m opposed to this, I’m opposed to it entirely,” said independent Councillor Mannix Flynn. He foresaw further expansion, and waste being imported, he said.
Paddy McCartan, of Fine Gael, also said he was worried this was the “thin end of the wedge”, and that Covanta would apply to hike capacity further in the future. “We have to be aware of that.”
Said Claire Byrne of the Green Party: “It flies in the face of the waste hierarchy, which is to prevent waste first.”
Not enough is being done to reduce waste, rather than burn it, which is the second-to-worst option after putting it in a landfill, she said.
It’s not being used to heat homes, they’re burning waste that could be recycled, and there’s noise and air pollution from trucks, among other problems, she said. She suggested all the councillors write to the EPA to object.
“Residents are extremely frustrated,” said Sinn Féin’s Chris Andrews. There are too many big trucks going in and out, and poor road surfaces, he said.
James Geoghegan of Fine Gael asked that Dublin City Council write to Covanta to make sure there’s real-time emissions data there for people, so they can know what they’re breathing in. “I don’t think it’s an unreasonable request.”
James Nolan, senior executive officer with the council, said the facility is only big enough to handle 90,000 tonnes more. It’s better than putting the waste in landfills or exporting it, he said.
At the moment, the data on emissions has a 24-hour lag but they’re working on that, he said. “We hope it will be as close to real-time as possible.”
New Term, New Chairs
With the summer break in August, the council’s new strategic policy committees aren’t due to meet next until September. When they do, there’ll be new people sitting at the heads of the tables, from a spread of parties.
Christy Burke, an independent councillor, will be chairing the traffic and transport policy committee. Claire O’Connor of Fianna Fáil, meanwhile, will be taking on economic development and enterprise.
Arts, culture, leisure and recreation falls to the Social Democrats’ Gary Gannon, while climate change, environment, and energy goes to the Green Party’s Michael Pidgeon.
Sinn Féin’s Seamas McGrattan heads up the finance committee. Fine Gael’s Ray McAdam is down to lead the planning and urban form committee.
Labour’s Alison Gilliland is set to steer the housing committee going forward.