On 10 February, Clive Carroll got a letter through the door.
Thorntons Recycling Waste Management would no longer be servicing his address on Herbert Lane, the letter said.
The reason? It was “due to operational changes”, said the letter, later adding: “Unfortunately, this is out of our control and we apologise for any inconvenience caused.”
Just like that, 9 March would be the last time that Thorntons would collect Carroll’s bins – and those of at least four other people who currently rely on that company on Herbert Lane, a narrow, quiet street just north of the Grand Canal in the south-east of the city.
“I don’t know why they aren’t servicing us. They just said in the letter that it is for operational reasons, whatever that means,” says Carroll.
Dublin city councillors say they’ve been contacted by residents on other streets too, who’ve been told that Thorntons was retreating from their areas, leaving them with less choice over who collects their rubbish.
Besides the homes on Herbert Lane, other streets also appear to have had services withdrawn in the last few months.
Green Party Councillor Claire Byrne says that back in December she was contacted by a resident on Grantham Street in Portobello, with the same problem.
“I sent in something to the council about it and all they told me was that they were not made aware of this,” Byrne says.
Another resident contacted Green Party Councillor Hazel Chu on Sunday to say that Thorntons had just announced that it would stop servicing their address. “I’m trying to find out why they are doing this,” she said.
Dublin City Council was not made aware of Thorntons Recycling pulling out of certain areas in Dublin, a spokesperson for the council said by email, last week.
“It is a matter for private companies to organise their business in the manner they see fit, including adjusting the areas that they provide a service to, so long as it’s in compliance to relevant legislation,” the spokesperson said.
Waste Collection and Rules
The “relevant legislation” allows companies to pick and choose the areas that they want to serve, say councillors.
Waste companies are not designated by the government to a specific area that they must serve instead they can operate in any area of Dublin.
“It’s all a bit of a free-for-all,” says Green Party Councillor Michael Pidgeon, who is the chair for the council’s climate action, environment and energy committee.
Having waste-collection companies that are dedicated to specific areas of Dublin might make more sense as a system, says Pidgeon.
While Fine Gael Councillor Naoise Ó Muirí says giving contracts for specific areas would be a better model, the central government decided to allow waste companies to operate all over Dublin.
“One company doesn’t get one part of the market and have to provide a service there,” says Ó Muirí, who chaired the council’s environment committee during the last council term.
Waste companies have no obligation to keep servicing any particular area, says Ó Muirí. Labour Councillor Dermot Lacey agrees.
“There is no requirement for companies like Thorntons to collect from places like Herbert Lane,” Lacey says.
Spokespeople for Greyhound and Panda say they have no plans to stop servicing any addresses where they currently collect.
Why the Retreat?
It’s unclear why Thorntons will no longer service certain addresses in Dublin and exactly how many streets it will no longer be servicing.
Thorntons didn’t respond to several emails and calls, asking for more details as to why they had withdrawn.
Herbert Lane is narrow, not much bigger than one-car wide. Could that be the reason? Grantham Street is broader, though.
And Chu, the Green Party councillor, who lives on a narrow street, says she doesn’t think that’s valid a reason for a company to decide not to provide service anyway.
“At the end of the day, when waste was public every lane had to be serviced anyway. You didn’t get a choice to do it, so it happened,” Chu says.
Carroll says his only thought is that it comes down to money. “I would say they’re not making money out of it. That is usually what ‘operational reasons’ is,” he says.
Between the Cracks
With Thorntons set to abandon Herbert Lane, Carroll does not know what to do for waste collection, he says.
All, save one, of the other waste companies that Carroll has contacted so far have told him that they only collect from businesses in his area and not homes, he says.
KeyWaste service his street but they only collect bags rather than bins.
“We’re going to be forced to go back to KeyWaste and use bags. We don’t particularly want to use bags,” says Carroll.
“We don’t want to use bags because gulls will attack them and rats will attack them,” he says. With bins, they can’t.
Also, streets can become contaminated when bags are left out on the street and it rains, says Pidgeon, the Green Party councillor.
Carroll says a move to bags “runs counter to Dublin City Council policy which is to make people use bins rather than bags”.
At the moment, kerbside waste has to be stored for collection in an “appropriate waste container” with a secure lid, say waste bylaws from 2018.
Dublin City Council designates some areas as bag collection areas, though – and bags are allowed there. Herbert Lane is one of those areas.
Dublin City Council has proposed to change bye-laws “to allow for the trialling and testing of alternatives to waste bags”, a spokesperson for the council said, in a recent email.
That will allow them “to assess the potential for solutions to address the issues of litter creation and the poor appearance of these waste bags that are currently in use within the city,” they said.
That’ll mean trialling methods to try to encourage people not to use waste bags, says Pidgeon, the environment committee chair.
“Now, I understand that not everybody can use bins. It makes no sense for someone living in a small flat to be using three bins,” Pidgeon says.
But there could be communal bins for apartment complexes, for example, he says.
Some councillors say that Thorntons Recycling stopping their services in areas is an issue that highlights a wider problem: the privatisation of waste-management companies.
Last year, councillors voted to work to bring waste management back under council ownership, and set up a working group that has been looking at issues around that.
“The problem is that once there’s the decision to remove the powers of councillors over waste, all of these sort of things are going to happen,” says Lacey, the Labour Party councillor.
Lacey was expelled from the Labour Party for a period about 18 years ago after he voted for bin charges, he says. His logic was that powers would be stripped from the council if they didn’t start to apply waste charges.
Chu, of the Green Party, says that when waste management was handled by the council, the service was better.
“I think private contractors need to remember that it could be done when it was public, it should still be done now that it’s private,” she says.
Ó Muirí says there were many problems when the council was in charge of waste management. “The city council was losing money with the service, hand over fist. There were real problems with the service at the time,” he says.