Monday 19 August 2019

Council rapid clean-up crew tackles scourge of illegal dumping

Blight on the landscape: an example of illegal dumping
Blight on the landscape: an example of illegal dumping
Gerry Forde: ‘one-stop solution’

Maria Pepper

A rapid response environmental clean-up crew has been established in Wexford County Council to deal with illegal dumping with members of the public encouraged to ring a special telephone which will result in most rubbish being cleared away within 48 hours of the call at the latest.

After the establishment of municipal districts, illegal dumping was handled by various staff with no structured recording of incidents of illegal waste and a lack of clarity in terms of responsibility leading to complaints of 'going around the houses'.

In 2017, a €2 charge was introduced at County Wexford waste centres to fund an Environmental Clean-up Crew, increasing from six to 11 staff operating over a six-day working week, to deal with all illegal dumping in public places including all towns and Council-owned land.

'It's a one-stop solution for responding to illegal dumping in public places through the Customer Service Unit', said Environment Department Senior Engineer Gerry Forde, who has predicted an increase in activity and fines.

'It's a move from a reactive to a proactive approach and response times will be improved and illegal waste actvity will be documented', he said.

Illegal dumping hotspots around the county are being monitored by locally-based crews with knowledge of the areas and bigger crews will enable more ring buoy inspections in coastal areas and other beach maintenance works.

The extra cost of the improved service is €275,000 a year including €180,000 for five additional staff at an average of €36,000 per person; €60,000 in set-up costs and €35,000 for disposing of additional waste.

The additional revenue is being raised by €150,000 from the €2 charge at refuse centres; €17,000 in operational savings due to additional staff; €10,000 increase in fines and €3,000 from the Southern Waste Region for anti-dumping projects, giving a shortfall of €95,000.

The environment engineer offered some interesting statistics which were recorded following the introduction of the €2 charge at amenity sites - the number of customers visiting has decreased by 38% and the tonnage recycled has dropped by 13%.

He said these figures suggest that service users are managing their visits more productively and the Reduce Reuse and Recycle Campaign is leading to a reduction in the volume of recyclables. He added that the vast bulk of illegal dumping material is residual waste and not recyclable material.

Following the €2 charge, the tonnage of municipal waste into Holmestown has increased by 27%.

General Services Manager at Holmestown Noel Byrne explained that when someone rings the Customer Service Unit of the Council to report an incidence of illegal dumping, the details and directions are taken and saved on the system. A notice is sent to his phone and he assigns the job to a foreman in the north or south of the county who sends staff out to deal with the problem.

Mr. Byrne said it may be possible to have the job picked up within two to three hours with the outer time limit for collection being three days. The vast bulk of complaints will be handled within 48 hours. If it's not done within that timeframe, there may be a problem with accessing the rubbish or permission may be needed from a landowner.

Before and after photographs are taken of the site and details outlined in a report sent to County Hall.

Peter Byrne, a Waste Disposal Supervisor with the Environment Department said that in illegal dumping hotspot areas a card is dropped into households, informing them that waste has been found in a certain location which is being monitored.

Independend councillor Ger Carthy said it's becoming too expensive to dispose of rubbish. 'We sold out when we closed the dump', he told a Wexford District Council meeting. He suggested that the Council should be looking for proof from people of where they dispose of their rubbish.

Cllr. Jim Moore of Fine Gael said the public have become 'more and more intolerant of the few who destroy the environment'.

'We should capitalise on people's goodwill and civic concern', said Cllr. Moore, adding that the €2 charge is penalising people who are already recycling their rubbish.

'I know people who don't have a bin but go to Holmestown every week to recycle. I think we should offer the incentive that if you use it one week you get the second week free. We need to penalise people who are dumping. We need more fines'.

Cllr. Tony Walsh of People Before Profit said he is a great believer in education and changing the public mindset in relation to rubbish.

'I'm weighing this up against the low success rate in fines. I would like to see more success in the fines area', he added.

Gerry Forde said the most serious complaints handled by the environment department are in relation to coastal erosion and global warming followed in second place by water quality and in third place by illegal dumping.

In relation to the €2 charge, he said that unfortunately the service costs money. Previously, the Council received payments to dispose of glass, now it has to pay for the service.

Cllr. Carthy highlighted the incidence of illegal dumping in rural Ireland and said a provision for a €25,000 increase in the Wexford district budget next year to deal with it is not sufficient to combat the problem.

'We have the funding we looked for', replied Mr. Forde, adding that so far this year, the County Council has issued 237 fines.

Peter Byrne said most of the people were were customers of refuse centres two to three years ago are still customers.

'A lot of the stuff we are picking up, you can bring for free to our recycling centres', he added.

The Council's free phone number for reporting illegal dumping is 1800 386 733.

Wexford People

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