From: Shawn Pogatchnik, Associated Press
Published March 23, 2004 12:00 AM

Ireland Plans Weight-Based Garbage Tax to Promote Recycling

DUBLIN, Ireland — Ireland, which has been a trailblazer in environmental initiatives, announced plans Monday to charge its citizens according to the weight of the garbage they produce, a measure designed to promote recycling.

Environment Minister Martin Cullen gave Ireland's local councils a January 2005 deadline to enact new billing procedures for garbage collection that reward people for presenting less waste for collection.

"If you charge a flat annual fee, it fails to inspire people to make a strong effort to recycle," Cullen said. "Those who recycle more will pay less. Those who don't will pay more."

Two years ago, Ireland became the first country in the world to slap a tax on plastic shopping bags, levying 13 euro cents (16 U.S. cents) per bag at the supermarket checkouts. That measure quickly encouraged shoppers to switch to heavy-duty fabric bags and largely eliminated plastic bags as wind-blown rubbish.

However, Ireland's environmental record remains mixed at best. Tourists regularly complain about an unexpected level of filth on the sidewalks and the stench from piles of garbage bags, which Dublin businesses must often leave festering overnight by the roadside for morning collection.

The European Union has found Ireland in breach of E.U. water quality regulations, notably over untreated sewage being dumped in rivers, lakes, and the ocean.

The country's Environmental Protection Agency is only beginning to come to grips with a long-running network of illegal dumps across the emerald isle that in many cases includes potentially toxic waste from hospitals. Critics warned that Cullen's latest idea could encourage more illegal dumping to avoid paying fees.

However, Cullen's initiative would dispel protests over the existing flat-fee system introduced last year in parts of Dublin, Ireland's sprawling capital and home to one-third of Ireland's 3.9 million residents.

Left-wing protesters last year tried to block garbage trucks from emptying trash cans in some Dublin neighborhoods, and dozens of protesters served short jail sentences.

Cullen said the central government wouldn't order local councils to implement a particular formula for charging customers.

"The precise charging mechanism will be decided at local level where local circumstances can be best taken into account," he said. "However, from January 1, 2005, whatever system is introduced will have to respect the overarching principle of charging on the base of usage."

Opposition lawmakers said they supported Cullen's move in general but warned that the government's failure to impose charging guidelines could leave the public paying even more.

Eamon Gilmore, environment spokesman for the opposition Labour Party, said, "'Pay by use' will no doubt encourage householders to reduce their waste, but local authorities and private bin collectors can make up the reduction in revenue by increasing the charge."

Source: Associated Press

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