An Irish woman's social, political and domestic commentary
Monday, August 29, 2005  

A cool customer keeps his fingers crossed

It started with white lies (“no, your bum does not look big in those trousers”) and the fake-enthusiasm lie (“your hair is gorgeous!”). Then there are the denying lies (“I wouldn’t recognise an off-shore bank account if it jumped up and bit me”) and, more recently, the spinning lies (“it’s not a cutback, more a budgetary adjustment”).
I’ve been trying to figure out which kind of lie Dick Roche, inister for the nvironment, has been telling. Is it a big fat lie? Or is he just a bit thick and cannot accept the truth even when it is right in front of him? Or is it the Tony Blair lying-to-yourself lie (“I have willed myself to believe there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq so I cannot be lying”)?

Must be the latter; Roche is such an affable chap that he couldn’t be a barefaced liar. He must have been genuinely convinced that he was telling the truth. I just wish he hadn’t made a fool of me in the process.

When my neighbour complained some weeks ago about the new waste disposal charge on the purchase of electrical equipment, I told her that it was illegal for retailers to pass on the charge to the consumer. She had seen new signs in a shop explaining the charges, but I confidently told her she was wrong. I had heard Roche on RTE with Sean O’Rourke in July, announcing a directive from Europe on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE). He had rejected O’Rourke’s suggestion that the consumer would end up paying for the initiative, which places the responsibility on manufacturers and retailers to dispose of customers’ old fridges.

When O’Rourke said that shoppers would end up paying in some form or other, Roche replied that he “didn’t agree at all”. O’Rourke suggested that retailers might offer to knock €20 off the price of a fridge if the consumer didn’t make them collect the old appliance, as they are required under the new laws. Roche said that it couldn’t, shouldn’t and wouldn’t happen. He praised the fridge makers for allowing recycling to become just another cost of manufacturing. This made us leaders in Europe, which we know is always a good thing.

On Monday night Matt Cooper put the same questions to the minister on Today FM’s The Last Word. Cooper complained that retailers were imposing fees to remove old appliances when they delivered a new one. Roche denied there was any evidence of this. Triumphantly, Cooper was able to state for a fact this was the case, since he had just bought a new tumble-drier and had paid €20 extra to get the old one taken away. “I don’t agree with you,” said Roche. But the minister would refer complaints of such charges to the Director of Consumer Affairs. So if it was happening, it shouldn’t be happening. I remained sure of my position.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I read a letter from Declan Ronayne, general manager of Dixons, in The Irish Times on Tuesday. In it he deconstructed the whole layer of lies around the new regulations. What the new directive actually does is allow manufacturers of electrical goods to add a visible environment management cost (VEMC) to the price of goods they sell to retailers. The charge was suggested by the manufacturers in the first place, and the government approved it. The retailer has to display this waste charge — essentially a price increase — in the shop. It cannot be absorbed into the main price. So the producer is charging the retailer who is passing on the charge to the customer — an inviolable law of the market.

But here’s the best bit: there’s VAT on the charge. The government didn’t just bring in a new production charge; they actually make money on it.

As Ronayne put it: “Manufacturers of electrical products are unwilling to pay the costs of recycling. They have persuaded the minister to legislate for them to make the public pay, and pay handsomely, rather than pay themselves.”

The real problem with the lie is that it was unnecessary. As Roche has observed, the scheme has many advantages and didn’t need much to sell it. What did you do with your broken washing machine before? It wouldn’t fit in your car, it clogged up your garden shed; there was the hassle of getting someone else to take it away and maybe they’d just throw it on the side of a mountain. Now someone is required by law to take it away. If you can transport it yourself, you can bring it to one of the many civic recycling centres for free. It’s handy for you and it’s good for the environment. Who can argue with that?

I asked the press officer in the Department of the Environment to explain the minister’s seemingly contradictory statements about the charges. It appears that when the minister said that the customer wouldn’t pay, what he meant was that he hoped they wouldn’t pay. So finally my question is answered. It was a Hoping Lie.

posted by Sarah | 09:46 9 comments
There's VAT on the charge? That's crazy. What "added value" are they taxing this case? Does the value of an old appliance go up when it's crushed and dumped in a landfill?

I don't see the point of seperating the disposal charge from the main price. If the buyers has no choice but to pay it, then they don't really care what it's called, it's just the price. By the government's logic, VAT should also be displayed seperately from the main price - but I don't think they'll be encouraging that.
The whole thing is just a big scam. Currently getting rid of old fridges and washing machines is free; now we will have to pay.

And for what recycling? So Called Recycling.

You don't see this in the animal kingdom.
Leon I adore your non sequiturs.
Are you coming into town any time soon?

Where is your yogamabob?
Are you coming into town any time soon?

Where is your yogamabob?
Non Sequitur is being kind!

Regarding recycling, I had heard on RTE and elsewhere that you need to pay the recycling charge to retailer whether or not you were bringing back an old appliance. Maybe this has been clarified since (I'm not aware) but it has added to the confusion for me anyway.
I think you do have to pay as that's the cost of recycling the new one too.

On the so-called recycling, I think there may be something in that. I mean, what actually does happen to this stuff. For starters, why do we have to separate the glass. I've seen the trucks arrive and they just empty all the big bins into one skip. How do you recycle an old washing machine? The build in redundancy on the doors deliberately so you can't replace a broken door with one from a broken machine. I'm not entirely convinced that half the stuff is recycled at all.
"I think you do have to pay as that's the cost of recycling the new one too."

Yea, that's what I heard on RTE. I'm baffled by what that means. If the new one is to be recyled at end of it's life - is that not paid for when you actually have it collected at end of it's life? Also, what does the retailer do with the money collected if there is no machine returned (I'm almost afraid to ask!).
There is clearly a risk of a double charge throughout the life of the appliance. However I can clarify what happens the money as I rang a local electrical retailer to check. All the money eventually goes to some kind of waste disposal board. The cycle is as follows: consumer pays retailer pays wholesaler. Usually retailer drops off stuff with local council who "recycle" item. Local council bills mysterious board.The wholesalers simply collect the money and hand it over to said mysterious board. The argument that it is a "cost of production" is totally bogus then as it is essentially a government charge which is transparently transferred from consumer to central waste disposal/recycling statutory body.(not forgetting the VAT picked up by the rev). I must enquire next week as to what is the exact nature of the recycling.
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