National Waste Strategy: Statements.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 188 No. 9

First Page Previous Page Page of 13 Next Page Last Page

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, to the House.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy Tony Killeen): Information on Tony Killeen Zoom on Tony Killeen I am pleased to have the opportunity of dealing with this matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, who is unavoidably absent.

Since taking office the Minister, Deputy Gormley, has stressed the twin environmental priorities of dealing with climate change issues and ensuring we make the necessary quantum leap in the way we manage our waste. Just last week the scale of the challenge we face with waste was graphically illustrated in the Environmental Protection Agency’s national waste report for 2006. We have made progress, particularly in regard to recycling, but we have a mountain to climb in terms of meeting our European Union obligations. This is especially so in the need to double our diversion of waste from landfill by 2010.

This is not just about meeting EU requirements, however, but about delivering a world class waste management system for our world class economy. That is why the commitments on waste in the programme for Government use EU targets as a starting and not a finishing point. In future we need a situation where Ireland is no longer playing catch-up on EU obligations but is leading the way, as we have done on the plastic bag levy and the smoking ban and as we will do on energy efficient lighting.

The programme for Government is not just about setting policy goals such as, for example, [654]aiming to reduce our reliance on landfill to just 10% in the longer term. It also sets out how we will get there.

The next step is to carry out a fundamental review of the way we plan our management of waste. The Minister, Deputy Gormley, has approved detailed terms of reference which will ensure this review is as wide-ranging as it needs to be. It will not be about papering over cracks or developing stop-gap solutions. It will be about looking at all the technologies available to take us away from a reliance on landfill which is no longer environmentally, socially or economically credible. It will also be about ensuring we have the legal, policy and institutional tools to deliver best practice and become a world leader in sustainable waste management.

The Department is moving as quickly as possible under procurement rules to retain independent consultants to carry out this work. This is not a kick to touch. This work will be completed in months and not years. When the review is completed the Minister will bring to Government a comprehensive response to its findings, including any necessary legislative changes which may be required.

I mentioned the national waste report. I will briefly return to it because it is the backdrop to the terms of reference for the review. It shows that the quantity of biodegradable municipal waste has increased by 15% and the quantity of municipal waste has increased by 11%. While our recycling levels also continue to rise, we started from such a low base and our economy has grown at such a pace that in many ways we are running to stand still. We must make a leap forward and go beyond the type of incremental progress we have been seeing.

That is particularly so when the report shows that the quantity of municipal waste sent to landfill increased by 8% in 2006. That simply is unsustainable and demands urgent action not just to halt the trend but also to reverse it if we are to have any realistic chance of meeting the EU landfill diversion targets for 2010 set by the landfill directive. This is not just about national pride, although that too is important, but also about avoiding the financial sanctions which can result from failing to meet targets that were set not as a barrier to development but as a mechanism for ensuring our development can be sustained into the future.

In this context we must explore the full range of technical solutions as well as modifying our behaviour in support of sustainable waste management. I expect the study to identify existing and potential technologies the better to treat our waste mechanically and biologically so that we can eliminate gradually our reliance on landfill and minimise the need for incineration.

These efforts must be supported by a renewed commitment to source segregation, including the rapid roll-out of brown bin collections for our biodegradable waste. We must continue to win further public engagement in recycling and [655]ensure facilities are available in all areas to respond to the undoubted willingness of people to do more.

We must emphasise also the development of markets in Ireland for recovered waste resources, as the national waste report states. The Department is in the process of procuring a contractor to deliver the Government’s ambitious €13 million market development programme. A contractor will be in place by May of this year to drive this five-year programme which will take us on to the next level in our modernisation of the national approach to waste management.

The best way of dealing with waste is to prevent it arising in the first place. The national waste report shows that the waste prevention policies we have pursued up to now will not be sufficient in future. A national waste prevention programme, headed by the EPA, is in place and is being reviewed by the agency. It needs to drive waste prevention with renewed vigour and urgency. In addition, the waste policy review will identify international best practice in waste management, including waste prevention, that can be applied in Ireland to meet the highest international standards. We must make sure that there are adequate drivers for recovery, reuse and recycling. The EPA notes in the waste report that low landfill gate fees may be contributing to increases in the quantities of waste going to landfill rather than being recovered from landfill. This is not acceptable.

In the short term, I want to signal clearly that landfill is a solution of the past that can only have a minor and diminishing role in the future. While the present legal framework curtails what the Minister can do, it is intended to increase the landfill levy to the maximum extent possible pending the outcome of the policy review.

I anticipate that one of the legal initiatives to flow from the review will be a renewed emphasis on the use of economic instruments to promote sustainable waste solutions. It can be anticipated in this context that the landfill levy of the future will be much more burdensome than at present. This will change the economics of waste management and should encourage the sector to begin planning for investment in waste solutions that move us away from landfill.

We must also ensure that the waste sector is regulated in a manner which supports overall national waste management policies and objectives. The Department is giving consideration to the range of views which emerged when a formal public consultation on this issue was conducted. Any necessary policy or legislative changes will be brought forward in the context of the overall review.

This has been a necessarily brief overview of waste management in Ireland. One could be pessimistic and overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task ahead. That is not how I see things. This is a time of challenge and we should relish the prospect of rising to that challenge. The public [656]has demonstrated a commendable willingness to modify behaviour, to make the very real effort to change bad habits in managing our waste and to meet the necessary costs of doing the right thing.

The Government has a duty to lead this process in a proactive way. We are determined that the review now under way will give us all the tools we need to take a 21st century approach to waste management. The House can be assured that if there are significant legal, policy and institutional changes ahead then we are determined to champion them. The aim will be to host a vibrant, innovative and creative waste management sector where public and private service providers can work to best effect in a properly regulated and resourced market.

Senator Paudie Coffey: Information on Paudie Coffey Zoom on Paudie Coffey I welcome the Minister of State and thank him for his presentation. This is an important issue for the Government and for the service providers, local authorities and all those involved in waste management but, most importantly, for the people of this country. They have a greater awareness nowadays of the implications, complications and cost of waste management and its infrastructure.

Before examining the new waste management strategy, we must draw attention to the existing plans and ask the Minister of State about their status. A number of regional plans were adopted by county managers and I believe they are now on hold. These were prepared after a major consultation process, at great cost, but this has left much confusion and frustration because the Government has taken a new direction. Perhaps it will be for the better but the confusion that exists must be clarified so that local and regional authorities can engage with proper waste management structures in the interim.

We should examine the existing infrastructure to identify deficits. The Minister of State referred to landfill and landfill capacity. I wish to see an audit of landfill capacity throughout Ireland. It is important to know our landfill capacity in the interim period before the implementation of the new strategy.

I draw attention to the legacy landfills — unlicensed landfills that are unknown to many local authorities. All parties engaged in the practice of dumping over decades and much environmental damage was done. I recently sought a list of licensed and unlicensed landfills throughout the country. Some of this information has been received from the local authorities but I am concerned about other landfills, of which I know, that are not listed anywhere. They are beside rivers and tributaries and I will undertake further investigations in this regard. We have obligations under EU regulations to compile a complete list of our landfills and how we propose to treat them. Addressing legacy landfill will be a problem for all local authorities and the Government.

While grants have been received from local authorities to address the cost of licensed landfills that have been closed, remediation costs are a [657]major burden on local authorities. This affects the management of waste and waste management infrastructures in those local authorities. In my local authority area of Waterford, the local authority can no longer afford to employ an environment education officer because of the major remediation costs, which amounted to over €10 million. The education officer had been doing great work on environmental initiatives in the community and in schools, delivering real change on the ground. I ask the Government to examine this and provide more resources for local authorities, provide greener initiatives and provide more officers to develop and promote the initiatives. These initiatives deliver results and it is a pity that such schemes suffer due to the burden of remediation.

The Minister of State referred to recycling. We have made progress in the past ten years. My local authority was the first to introduce the three bin system — one bin for recycling, a brown bin and a grey bin. Major strides have been made in implementing this system around County Waterford. Many local authorities have followed suit. I ask the Minister of State to carry out an audit of the number of local authorities with the three-bin system in place. It is not good enough if waste streams are being mixed in areas we control. People are engaging with the management of waste and are recycling. It is important that we provide infrastructure for them to use. I include in this proper recycling initiatives, proper waste collection services and proper civic amenity sites. While there are some excellent civic amenity sites, there is room for more. We must increase access and availability in order for people to engage with them and get into the habit of visiting them on a regular basis. People can dispose of building, garden and hazardous waste, such as batteries and oil, that can be reused or recycled. People will use sites if they are put in place but a limited number is available at present. I encourage the Minister of State to provide more resources to local authorities for these sites.

Local authorities play a dual role with regard to waste collection. They are both regulators — an important role to ensure waste is collected in a proper and compliant manner — and service providers. This amounts to a conflict and local authority managers agree with this. The private collectors suggest that this inhibits fair competition.

  4 o’clock

There is much confusion with regard to private and public waste collection services. Serious difficulties exist and the Government should clarify where we stand. Local authorities accuse private collectors of cherry-picking and private collectors accuse local authorities of overregulation. There is a war over waste collection services and it is important that a national regulator for waste collection be appointed. I encourage a debate on this because a regulator could introduce fair competition. A private operator cannot cherry-pick the city and neglect rural areas. If a regulator were in place, [658]he or she could set up a system that mixes rural and urban collection and put it out to tender. People would be then on a level playing pitch and we would have a much fairer and more efficient system of waste collection. The Minister should consider having a national regulator for waste collection services.

Local authorities are required to introduce waiver schemes in their areas. Many would argue that the Department of Social and Family Affairs should pick up that tab similar to the way in which it deals with electricity and fuel allowances. The Department of Social and Family Affairs should pick up the tab for social welfare recipients who have waivers for waste collection services. Local authorities are being asked to operate waiver schemes at a disadvantage. They are forced to bear the brunt of that cost and compete with the private operators. Much of that needs to be scrutinised so that we have an efficient, well-managed and fair waste management system in all local authority areas. There is serious competition in Dublin city and Waterford city with serious arguments between waste collectors.

I wish to acknowledge the input of Repak and its constituent corporate bodies regarding industrial and commercial waste. They are doing a good job in minimising waste. However, I note that 48% of hazardous industrial and commercial waste is being exported. I will be interested to see the proposals arising from the review for handling hazardous waste and whether the same levels will continue to be exported. I look forward to the Government’s response on completion of the review, which will make for interesting debate. All parties will engage proactively at that stage because it is important to deliver proactive and sustainable waste management for the future. I hope the review will take into account our infrastructure deficits. The Minister proposes to engage some new technologies, including mechanical and biological treatment. There is considerable rhetoric regarding this technology. We need to understand how he proposes to achieve these targets and how the technology can deliver on his proposals.

The review needs to address the resources issue. We must not forget farmers and the rural economy. Farmers have issues with farm waste. While a number of pilot schemes on farm waste are operational, I would like to see them expanded giving real resources and support to farmers who want to engage in proper waste management on their farms. They are certainly interested in engaging in that process, as is the IFA.

Packaging at source needs to be reviewed seriously. In the UK there was an exciting initiative called the Courtauld commitment. They considered the introduction of initiatives for businesses to incentivise retailers to reduce packaging waste. They emphasised the corporate responsibility of retailers to reduce packaging. Many of the large supermarkets in the UK, such as [659]Sainsburys, ASDA, Tesco, and Marks and Spencer have bought into this initiative and have set timeframes whereby packaging can be reduced by more than 25%. Ireland should consider a similar initiative. Packaging at source is a major problem. The amount of waste coming into a household over the Christmas period in particular is phenomenal. It is very difficult to get rid of it. It is hard packaging with marketing material. If we could address that problem in a positive way we would be doing a good deed for all consumers. People are asking us to tackle this problem.

I look forward to the review. While we have come a long way regarding waste management we have a long way to go to comply with our EU obligations. It is important to resource our local authorities adequately to ensure they can deliver locally the amenities and facilities so that people can engage with them.

Senator Déirdre de Búrca: Information on Déirdre de Búrca Zoom on Déirdre de Búrca I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, to the House and thank him for his presentation. I welcome the opportunity to make a statement on the Government’s waste management strategy. I do so as a member of a political party that is a party of Government but has long been preoccupied with the need to move towards a more sustainable waste management system. As a party we are now in the very fortunate position of having a Green Party Minister at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, who can be part of bringing about the critical changes needed in coming years. Some might say that it is not so fortunate because the policy challenge of putting more sustainable waste management systems in place is considerable.

I am encouraged by the comments made by the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, today and by the Environmental Protection Agency’s recent national waste report for 2006 which contained several positive findings. It showed that more than 1 million tonnes of waste was recovered in 2006. The municipal recovery rates for commercial and domestic waste exceeded national targets. Our 50% packaging waste recovery rate in 2006 exceeded our EU target. The quantity of paper and cardboard recovered in 2006 increased by 33%. Overall, the quantities of waste recycled increased significantly. For 2006 the recycling level was 36%, which is a significant increase given that a decade ago the levels of recycling were approximately 9%.

However, the report points out we have a long way to go in moving towards a truly sustainable waste management system. It clearly highlighted that the quantity of waste going to landfill has also increased. While the waste we are recycling has increased, so also has the amount we are sending to landfill because we are creating more waste. In effect we are running to stand still because in a consumer society we are consuming [660]much more and therefore creating more waste and so the problem continues to grow.

We need to consider the area of waste prevention and waste reduction as mentioned by the Minister of State. Packaging is one of the areas in which we can do this most immediately. We need to consider the production processes used by companies and offer them incentives to move towards more clean production processes. The report pointed out that packaging levels in 2006 were the highest ever at 589,515 tonnes generated, an increase of 8% on the previous year. We need to focus on the area of packaging waste.

We also need to make further progress in the diversion of biodegradable and organic waste from landfill to meet our EU targets. We diverted approximately 34.9% of our organic and biodegradable waste in 2006. We need to double this figure by 2010 if we are to meet the commitments in the programme for Government, which is a considerable challenge. The programme calls for the introduction of segregated collections for organic waste — the brown bin system. That system is in place in certain parts of the country but it needs to be rolled out countrywide to achieve these ambitious diversion targets.

The Minister has stated his intention to increase the landfill levy to promote recycling. Unfortunately in recent years it appears that the gate fees for landfill have reduced which makes it a cheaper option for those involved in waste collection than considering the alternative of recycling. We need to do this and I know the Minister has committed to doing so.

My party colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, recently said that we need some new thinking in the area of waste management to break old habits. It is very welcome to hear the kind of fresh thinking expressed by the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, in his presentation today. For too long we have relied on the old methodologies of burning or burying our waste. We can no longer do that. We have become too environmentally aware as a society to continue to engage in these outdated practices that in the long run are not helping us to protect our environment. The fundamental change needed in the area of waste management is to begin to view waste as a resource rather than as something that needs to be disposed of and which, if used to good effect, can generate jobs, be a source of bio-energy or bio-fuels and result in new products and services.

The programme for Government has made a number of commitments in the area of sustainable waste management. The Minister of State, Deputy Tony Killeen, has referred to the fact that the Minister, Deputy John Gormley, has initiated an international review of waste management which will inform Ireland’s waste policy, and which will be based on sustainability. It is important that this is an international review because we need to look beyond even the EU framework for waste management. The EU waste [661]hierarchy is very useful and it places the different systems for dealing with waste in order of priority and preference. It gives more preferential status to incineration over landfill. This is a highly controversial ordering of waste technology.

The Green Party is of the view that incineration is no more attractive or sustainable as a waste management technology than is landfill. The party would like the waste review to examine international practice in the area of waste management. The zero waste model is increasingly being embraced in parts of Australia, New Zealand, Canada and America. This model regards waste materials as being potentially a very valuable resource which can be used and reused. It is my hope that the review will reflect some of the more progressive and state-of-the-art thinking on waste management which are applied in the international system.

The review will also examine the potential contribution of a range of technologies in the improvement of waste management practices in Ireland, thus ensuring these are operated to the highest environmental standards. The review will commence shortly and will report to the Minister within one year of the signing of the contract. It is my expectation that the review will highlight that we have over-provided for incineration capacity in a small country such as Ireland and that many other state-of-the-art technologies could be used for waste management. These include systems such as paralysis, biochar, aerobic and anaerobic digestion and many other new and ground-breaking technologies. I look forward to the review being concluded and the submission of the report to the Minister.

I note the several progressive and forward-thinking commitments on waste management in the programme for Government, which has set ambitious waste management targets for maximum prevention, reuse, recycling and modern waste treatment, to ensure that we match the best performance for recycling in the EU, with the objective that only 10% of waste or less is consigned to landfill. This is a decrease from 74% of municipal waste which was sent to landfill in 2000, making this an extremely ambitious target. It is clear we will be forced to engage with and embrace waste prevention, waste reuse, recycling and composting.

I refer to our legacy landfills to which Senator Coffey also referred and which will present a challenge in the future. Many old, unlicensed landfills are in existence from before the legislation on landfill and waste management was developed and these will need to be addressed. Given our experience in County Wicklow, I am familiar with the issue of illegal dumps as we discovered the county had a number of large illegal dumps. I call on the Minister and his Department not to give in to the pressure from certain parties who bought up sites on which illegal dumps were located and who are now attempting to have them developed into legal landfills. It would be a very dangerous development if illegal dumps [662]were permitted to be converted into legalised landfills. I hope the Minister will not do so and will conform to the spirit of EU waste directives by insisting that all the waste in those illegal dumps is removed to legal landfill.

Other commitments in the programme for Government relate to reducing the cost of waste management charges, ensuring Ireland’s waste management system is competitive, using technologies to achieve the use of waste for generating sustainable electricity, expanding the network of bottle banks, recycling centres and segregated collection and introducing household hazardous waste collections in all suitable recycling centres. The Minister has made a commitment to extend the opening hours of recycling centres or civic amenity centres. This is a welcome commitment as many members of the public find it difficult to access recycling centres within working hours.

I welcome the information provided by the Minister of State. The programme for Government makes important and progressive commitments to sustainable waste management. The Minister is committed to moving the waste management model from the old-fashioned or old-style mentality to a more forward-looking, resource management approach to handling waste which in the long term will be good for protecting our environment, for creating new job opportunities and for allowing Ireland to become a standard-bearer within the European Union, a country which other countries can imitate in its good environmental practice.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Ronan Mullen Zoom on Ronan Mullen I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen and the Minister of State, Deputy Hoctor, who is taking his place.

I welcome these statements from the Government. I will preface my remarks by saying that I have had the good fortune and the pleasure of attending the series of lectures being organised by the Environmental Protection Agency in the related area of climate change. I attended one such lecture last night, given by Professor Wolfgang Lucht. It was very stimulating about the impact on climate change of land use and emissions. As was observed by the chairman of the meeting, Dr. John Bowman, many scientists are not just speaking out of their scientific knowledge in a sterile, objective and factual way. They are speaking from a moral perspective because their research information is allied to their sense of duty as citizens to help create a better and a more just world, a world in which people have the same opportunity to access the good things and resources of the world and the same responsibility to ensure the safe passing of these resources to future generations. I was very impressed by this strong sense of citizenship being shown by many in our community which is being led by people in the scientific community.

I was also happy to observe the very large attendance at this series of lectures organised by the EPA. It is clear that many people realise their [663]responsibility. There was a time when in order to attract large crowds at public meetings, there had to be fears about emissions or rays and I recall, for example, the MMDS campaigns, where people perceived an immediate threat to themselves or to their families. It is clear that people are thinking globally on environmental issues, as evidenced by the large attendance at the meeting.

Climate change was the subject discussed at those meetings. However, similar issues arise in any discussion of waste management. We need to examine how we can continue to awaken that sense of responsibility throughout the community. There is much to be thankful for with regard to the awareness shown by many people of their obligations to protect the environment, to control their household waste and to ensure its proper disposal.

Ireland needs to improve its approach to waste management as per head of population we are one of the highest waste producers in Europe. A total of 91% of Ireland’s waste is consigned to landfill each year and only 9% is recovered. The number of landfill sites is decreasing rapidly and soon there will be little room to dispose of the vast amount of waste we generate. Meanwhile, local politics and the configuration of the Government mean that incineration is not on the table as an alternative.

The European landfill directive places a legal obligation on us to cut the 1.9 million tonnes of biodegradable waste sent to landfill to just 450,000 tonnes by 2016. Again, there are parallels here. We hear a lot of talk, and rightly so, about the European Union, the impact of its decisions and the obligations we are accepting on greenhouse gas emissions. Likewise, we need the same level of awareness of our obligations under the European Union landfill directive. In the same way we need to continue to foster the same level of public commitment and quite apart from the coercive power of the EU, our sense of desire to do the right thing for its own sake.

If we fail to increase our capacity to deal with industrial waste there is a possibility of overseas facilities for the treatment of hazardous waste being closed off to Irish industry which gives rise to the danger that businesses might be forced to scale down their operations to minimise their waste output.

Environmentalists constantly say the solution is to educate people about waste prevention and minimisation. We can all contribute to solving the problem by reducing the amount of waste by minimising the amount we produce. The mantra of reduce, re-use and recycle applies here. We can also re-use, recycle or compost much of the waste that we cannot avoid, but what of the waste that cannot be re-used, recycled or composted? This needs to be disposed of safely.

It might be said, notwithstanding my comments about the increased level of public awareness and of public commitment to the environment, that waiting for the public to respond to our exhor[664]tations is not an option on its own. I say that deeply conscious that popular opinion is more receptive than ever to green appeal. For example, in a recent survey 85% of consumers told a global survey that they were willing to change the brands they buy or their consumption habits in order to make the world a better place. More than 70% of people told a YouGov poll carried out in the UK last year that they had become more green. The awareness is there but the same poll also showed that the commitment among people was not yet rock solid. Only 25% of respondents said they would support enforced changes to their lifestyle in order to save the planet. A UK Government study last November found that consumers do not consider environmental issues when purchasing food and drink. One quarter of all food is thrown out unused and waste volumes continue to rise.

One possible solution could be to encourage investment in the thermal treatment of waste through autoclaving. This technology uses steam to sterilise waste before it is separated into recyclables and organic waste and the latter can then be used to produce clean energy. This process is already being used in a plant in Bridgend in Wales and it has proved its worth. According to the company that runs the plant, the technology has the potential to divert 85% of domestic and commercial waste from landfill sites, to increase recycling targets to 25% and to produce 4.5 MW of renewable energy for every 100,000 tonnes of waste processed.

In providing a clean energy supply, technologies such as this may offer a clear alternative to landfill but the Government needs to introduce measures to create a viable market. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, indicated his intention to produce a waste strategy and to encourage investment in this area which is very capital intensive to provide. One of the weaknesses of the current system is that landfill operators can drop their price to attract waste that might otherwise go to a treatment plant. As there is no penalty on a local authority for using landfill, local authorities actually have an incentive to use landfill sites and surely that is a counterproductive state of affairs.

The scale of the problem is such that we cannot afford to wait for any of us to reform our wasteful ways. The Government should seek any and all innovative and creative solutions to this serious and pressing dilemma. It is necessary to strike the right balance between promoting the idealism within the community that we would all desire to do the right thing and the consequences for not doing the right thing in terms of penalties and the like.

The green bins collection service comes to my house twice as frequently as it did a few months ago. There is a feeling among people that they will happily co-operate with all measures to protect the environment, especially to minimise waste, but they need to be facilitated in that. The [665]system needs to be made user-friendly. This is a challenge that will continue. We should probably bear in mind the scene from a certain episode of “The Simpsons” where the town ended up swelling with landfill from underneath because of the lack of a public sense of obligation to each other to ensure that, as the saying goes, we live simply so that others might simply live.

Senator Fiona O’Malley: Information on Fiona O'Malley Zoom on Fiona O'Malley I am pleased to participate in this debate because we need an honest discussion about the Government’s waste management policy, what we are doing and how we can improve the situation.

Senator Mullen referred to a sense of responsibility. I am not sure Ireland has always had a sense of responsibility in this area. I refer to our attitude to incineration. I am interested in what Senator de Búrca said about how there is an over-provision in terms of incineration. She may have a point. In view of the delicate political issues around incineration and where to locate an incinerator, which nobody wants in his or her backyard, the result is the provision of a multiplicity of smaller ones that perhaps we do not need. The trouble is who will be left with the one or two bigger incinerators.

There is a fair amount of controversy in Ringaskiddy about the commercial incinerator project there and people do not want another municipal facility in the area. What disappoints me is that people shy away from a sense of responsibility in terms of incineration and not just because of their political views. If we were honest every one of us would acknowledge incineration has to be part of a waste management strategy. Where an incinerator is to be located is another matter.

I listened to a radio report approximately six months ago that focused on waste management and waste facilities. On that same day reference was made in the news about the attempt by Indaver Ireland to expand the capacity of its site in Meath. A discussion took place on the pros and cons of that proposal. Discussion also focused on an application before Galway County Council to extend a landfill site. Most of us are familiar with landfill sites as nobody lives too far away from one. At the end of the debate I realised I knew which one I would rather live beside and it certainly was not the landfill site, which I would consider to be far more dangerous.

Much has to do with how landfill sites are treated. I accept that they are highly licensed now. Senator de Búrca referred to the dangerous situation that arose when landfill sites were pre-licensed. They did not all become safe just because we began to license them. Years upon years of waste and extremely dangerous materials have gone into landfill sites. It is highly irresponsible to present the opening of an increased number of landfill sites as being the answer. I do not think it is. I accept incineration is controversial but it would be helpful if we had a calm debate in which the facts were aired we would come around to the realisation that it is the safest [666]and cleanest method of tackling the problem of waste.

Senator Dominic Hannigan: Information on Dominic Hannigan Zoom on Dominic Hannigan Will Senator O’Malley take an incinerator in Dún Laoghaire or in Limerick or wherever else?

Senator Fiona O’Malley: Information on Fiona O'Malley Zoom on Fiona O'Malley This is the kind of carry-on that depresses me. Kick the person——

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Senator O’Malley should be allowed to speak without interruption.

Senator Fiona O’Malley: Information on Fiona O'Malley Zoom on Fiona O'Malley ——and get them to take it in their own locality.

Senator Dominic Hannigan: Information on Dominic Hannigan Zoom on Dominic Hannigan That is the story. People do not want it.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Senator O’Malley should be allowed to speak without interruption.

Senator Fiona O’Malley: Information on Fiona O'Malley Zoom on Fiona O'Malley I am sorry Senator Hannigan was not present when I began my contribution and that he is only starting to interrupt me now.

Senator Dominic Hannigan: Information on Dominic Hannigan Zoom on Dominic Hannigan I listened to Senator O’Malley’s contribution in the ante-room.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Senator O’Malley should be allowed to speak without interruption.

Senator Fiona O’Malley: Information on Fiona O'Malley Zoom on Fiona O'Malley It is depressing. If we are ever to rise above, and solve, this nation’s problems, we must get rid of this back yard mentality.

Senator Dominic Hannigan: Information on Dominic Hannigan Zoom on Dominic Hannigan What of Senator O’Malley’s ex-leader, the former Deputy, Michael McDowell, and Ringsend?

Senator Fiona O’Malley: Information on Fiona O'Malley Zoom on Fiona O'Malley I would appreciate it if Senator Hannigan not would interrupt.

Senator Dominic Hannigan: Information on Dominic Hannigan Zoom on Dominic Hannigan Speaking of forked tongues.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Senator O’Malley without interruption.

Senator Fiona O’Malley: Information on Fiona O'Malley Zoom on Fiona O'Malley I must visit the incinerator in Antwerp from which much of that city’s heating comes because it is a thermal treatment unit. That is a positive development. Senator de Búrca spoke of waste as a resource, not exclusively a problem. That is the right attitude. That is how we need to frame our thinking from now on. We have a problem with the quantity of waste we produce and we must get rid of it in the cleanest and most energy-efficient way. We would be foolish certainly to ignore our ability to burn it and to convert that heat into energy.

We have been able to modify our behaviour. As Senator Mullen mentioned, when it is made [667]easy for people to recycle and reduce their waste, they do. It is down to the level of education from schools. It is children who drive this recycling issue. I know this is so from my sister’s family where she would be much more of a culprit than the children who go through the bin constantly and remove anything that should have been recycled. They are driving the thinking in that household.

I would prefer to have more information about composting, not that of raw food which I compost in any case but that of cooked foods about which I am confused. I would have thought that such food would biodegrade naturally anyway and this is where the problem lies. If one understands a problem, one is much more aware of the danger one causes and one can take remedial action. I would welcome a thorough education service on this from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in line with its good education programmes.

Senator Mullen mentioned how waste collection services have improved. They have improved, partly because of the competition. I speak a little more knowledgeably about services in Dublin. I do not know about services in different parts of the country but I know they are as many and varied as there are local councils. In Dublin, the four local authorities operate similar systems, which is sensible because there is one waste unit.

What concerns me is that Dublin City Council, speaking on behalf of the three other local authorities in the Dublin area, has mooted that it will take a decision to stop private operators providing household waste services. I would find that regressive. The improved services about which Senator Mullen spoke, where we in my local authority of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council now get green bins collected twice a month as opposed to once, is due directly to competition. Another operator entered the market, undercut the council’s fee by 20% and provided a much better service, including the collection of plastics. Of course, the public was moving in their droves over to that service. The benefit was that it made the council improve its services and that is as it should be.

When I was a local authority member, I became tired of being told of the roll-out of a green bin service, not to mind a brown bin service, which I am not sure they have even started at this point. There was no incentive for the council to improve services. The minute a private operator entered the market, services improved dramatically because people were responding to a better service. They left the local authority service in large numbers because the private operator provided a better service. It should not really matter to us who provides the service as long as we receive a service. We also need not worry about standards because licensing is as relevant for the private sector as it is for the public sector.

[668]I am concerned about what is happening in this regard. It is sharp practice on the part of the local authority. I am concerned and I want to caution the Department about it. The local authority should not be allowed to get away with it. Competition has served us very well and is one of the reasons recycling figures are so much higher than previously. It is down to a much better service on the part of both local authorities and private operators. I would like to see the Department not allow the Dublin City Council to take this action. I understand it is concerned with the local authorities wanting a monopoly on waste services to be provided for the incinerator at Poolbeg. That is a worrying development and I caution against it.

Senator Dominic Hannigan: Information on Dominic Hannigan Zoom on Dominic Hannigan I welcome this opportunity to discuss the important issue of waste management which is sadly overlooked by the Government. I want to focus on the need to recycle more and how I, like many in this House, believe incineration is not the answer to Ireland’s waste problems.

These days waste is generated by a large number of sources. In households alone, there are the problems of increased packaging and junk mail. In the latter case, waste is a matter not only of the paper produced but of the trees cut down, the ink used and the fuel consumed in the process of delivery to people’s houses. We all recognise that the sheer quantity of junk mail is becoming an increasing problem. Were guidelines introduced on how junk mail should operate and what regulation of the distribution junk mail should be put in place? Will the Minister of State consider what can be done to regulate the junk mail industry?

Waste levels are increasing. Last week the Environmental Protection Agency recognised that the level of waste in Ireland in 2006 increased by 11%. Much of this is organic waste and I would like to see the extension of the pilot scheme for brown bins which recently has been introduced. The previous speaker referred to the need for more brown bins and composting, and it presents us with an opportunity to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill.

We are dumping a significant amount of degradable waste straight into the bin which, because of our system for getting rid of waste, ends up in landfill at tremendous cost, not only to the environment but also to the local authorities. As with recycling, we need to change our mindset when it comes to how we deal with this waste. I see biodegradable waste as an opportunity for us. It is one from which we can benefit if given some thought.

I was excited to see the considerable success of the brown bin pilot programme in Fingal County Council. It involves the collection of organic waste from the kitchens and gardens of 17,000 houses which is then brought to a commercial distribution centre outside Navan in County Meath for composting. The programme has been so suc[669]cessful that Fingal County Council has managed to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill by 30% in the past 18 months. We all are aware of the problems with landfill and the European Union directives governing this area, so anything that reduces the amount of waste going to landfill by 30% is good news and should be recognised as such. Therefore, I want to see this pilot programme from Fingal County Council extended to the rest of the country.

There is no central plan for how we treat and distribute organic waste and the Minister needs to spend time working out a programme to improve and increase the level of composting and learn from programmes such as the one in Fingal. People living in new developments in Louth, Meath and across the commuter areas would benefit from this bin service. There would be not only an economic benefit for the local authorities but also an environmental benefit, and we need to see this rolled out. I ask the Minister to put this at the top of the agenda when it comes to waste management.

Unlike the previous speaker, I do not believe incineration is the answer, nor is it fair to say most of us secretly want it. It is not just a case of not wanting it in our backyards. Few people want it in their backyards and previous leaders of Senator O’Malley’s party argued against having it in their backyards. Incineration has not yet won over the sceptics here. Therefore, it is incumbent on us to spend our time and energy seeking solutions, other than incineration, that will work for a small island country. Incineration is the lazy, thought-free route that will solve nothing in the long run.

A proposal has been made to site an incinerator just outside Duleek, which is beside my home town of Drogheda, on top of an important aquifer. If something went wrong with the construction or operation of that plant, it could have a serious impact on the health of people living in the area through contamination of their water supply. Before we dive headlong down the incineration route, the Minister should consider other ways of dealing with our waste. The Fingal programme which uses brown bins suggests there is a way forward for degrading organic waste. That programme has led to a 30% reduction in landfill for the Fingal area. We need to consider the benefits that can be realised from a properly thought out waste management programme, one that examines ways of dealing with organic waste, lowers our dependence on landfill and leads to a healthier environment. I recommend that course of action to the Government.

Senator Marc MacSharry: Information on Marc MacSharry Zoom on Marc MacSharry I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute on this issue. The Minister of State’s speech demonstrates that we have come a significant way with regard to waste, particularly considering the situation in the 1980s when landfill was at the summit of our waste management strategy. It was the only option available to us at the time and there was little or [670]no talk, other than an occasional school project, about recycling. We have come a long way since then with regard to the level of recycling that takes place. However, we have a mountain to climb in terms of what we must do to meet, at the least, our EU obligations, but also to reach the position we would like as good world citizens. I am glad the Minister of State mentioned that it is not just about meeting EU targets and avoiding the financial penalties that will be imposed on us if we do not meet those targets, but that we should use those targets as a starting point rather than as a destination. This is welcome.

Recycling has been embraced by many people, but not by all of us and not to the extent it should. One of the difficulties in embracing it fully is that we do not have consistency among local authorities. Senator Hannigan mentioned that Fingal operates a good system. Perhaps that system should be spread throughout the country. Galway city also operates a good system. We need consistency in this regard. We need more brown bins and other types of recycling bins. These should be supplied free of charge by the State through the local authorities to facilitate the recycling process.

We also need to provide more litter bins. One county manager told me he would rather have no litter bins because that would help people focus more on the problem of litter. I disagree. Not only should we have more litter bins in place but we should also have recycling bins in public locations. These are the types of innovative solutions we need to consider.

Senator Hannigan also touched on the issue of junk mail. The State is the main perpetrator in terms of paper wastage. Members of the Oireachtas need only look at what they receive through their pigeon holes each day to realise the level of waste in terms of hard copy. This is a disgrace, as mentioned by many Senators over the years, and it should be tackled. We all have computers and can receive and send e-mails. When an annual report is available from a State body or Department, we should receive an e-mail to that effect and download it if necessary. If one needs a hard copy, one can print it. We must lead from the front in this regard. There is no longer any excuse for such waste. While we all have two bins in our offices, one for recycling and one for general waste, the amount of waste paper we discard every day is phenomenal. It would be impossible to read all the reports we receive. At best, one might read the executive summaries of such reports.

Members opposite may giggle, but they know this to be the case. Ideally, we would love to be able to read the volumes of material we receive, but we do not. We would make a positive contribution if we read the executive summaries electronically and downloaded a report only when we required more detail. This would be better than the blatant reckless approach we take. We must start here. With regard to junk mail, a levy should be placed on marketing companies or on those [671]involved in direct mail marketing which should go to the coffers of local authorities or contribute to a waste management strategy fund.

While incineration is an imperfect solution and one none of us would seek to promote as an optimum way forward, it must be part of the solution. We will have to accept it in some form and we must lead the way in choosing the locations for it, although it is obviously something none of us wants. The issue is similar to that of the Traveller community. We all want to ensure Travellers are treated fairly and that facilities are available to them, but time and again local authorities and local representatives oppose their location in particular areas. We cannot continue to do that. The same is true for incineration. We must lead in regard to such issues.

Litter is a significant problem and we need to do more to encourage members of the public to take responsibility for their litter. Many of them feel it is somebody else’s responsibility. Too often we hear people complain about litter, but people seldom pick up litter and place it in a bin. This is also true of myself. We need to engage in programmes that encourage volunteerism whereby people get involved in keeping their areas clean. Education through the schools could contribute to this. Graffiti is also a problem but it is not directly related to waste management.

I will return to the issue of consistency and local authorities. All local authorities are engaged in street cleaning, but not all of them do it every day. Some do it a few times a week while others do it several times a day. We need consistency in this regard. We should also issue a directive or pass legislation with regard to graffiti. When graffiti in an area is reported to a local authority, it should be removed within 24 hours because research shows that if it is left longer, more will accrue in the area. By doing this, we would improve the general appearance of areas and might also help with the litter problem.

A litter survey, entitled Irish Business Against Litter, carried out under the auspices of Mr. Tom Cavanagh the head of the organisation, had honourable objectives and goals in terms of a litter-free Ireland. However, I question the consistency of this survey and I ask the Minister of State to raise it with the Minister, Deputy Gormley. It seems strange that Ennis, for example, should have a very low rating in the Irish Business Against Litter, IBAL, survey yet win the Tidy Towns competition. I am concerned that at times the survey does not compare like with like. It also depends on consistency among local authorities. The survey could take place in an area where the local authority does not conduct street cleaning on that day, whereas in other areas it might take place every day.

The main problem is that the results of these surveys are sensationalised in the press, with Sligo deemed Ireland’s dirtiest town and Dundalk deemed Ireland’s cleanest town. Take the example of Sligo. A number of years ago it was [672]the dirtiest town, then for three years it was in the top five and now it is the dirtiest again. I can say with authority that it was never the cleanest and it was never the dirtiest. These surveys are not scientific. I agree that there should be a survey but it must be scientific and stand up to scrutiny.

The head of IBAL, Dr. Tom Cavanagh, said on radio last week that the survey captures a moment in time and that an area can be unlucky. That does not stack up when one is dealing with taxpayers’ money and in view of the fact that the tag of being the dirtiest town is more damaging than the homicidal crime rate in an area in terms of media exposure and the effects it can have. It is wrong, and we should be cognisant of that and more responsible. When one considers the level of taxpayers’ resources being devoted to the promotion of an area for job creation, tourism and so forth it does not make sense that, because the area may have been “unlucky” in the words of Dr. Cavanagh and the streets were not cleaned by the local authority on a given day, it could be given the label of dirtiest town. That is unjust and reckless. I believe the goals of IBAL are good and honourable but, in the organisation’s own words, one could be “unlucky”. That is a disgrace. Yes, let us conduct a survey but let us be responsible about how the results are announced and ensure that there is engagement with and consistency within the local authorities.

Ireland most certainly has a litter problem and Sligo is no exception. We must undertake more schemes and programmes to deal with it. However, it must begin with members of the public doing our bit in addition to the local authorities having a consistent approach. I thank the Minister for coming to the House and I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss this issue. We have come a long way since the 1980s but there is still a mountain to climb. I look forward to playing a small part in the ascent of that mountain. I hope the Minister will take some of the points I made on board.

Senator Paddy Burke: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I propose to share time with Senator John Paul Phelan. I welcome the opportunity to comment on waste management and our approach to it. What happened to the regional plans made throughout the country? Great detailed debate went into where landfills and recycling centres would be located. Every aspect of waste management was dealt with in every region. However, we do not appear to be sticking with those plans. What is happening to them?

The Government is due to conduct a complete review of this issue, which I welcome, and I hope time is allocated in the House for a debate on the review and its results. On the other hand the Government is issuing a contract worth €13 million for an ambitious plan on waste management and will put a contractor in place. It appears to be indecisive on the issue of refuse and waste management. Commercial waste, for example, [673]with the exception of electrical waste, is simply collected and most of it is sent to landfill. There is no recycling system in place for commercial businesses. That issue should be examined urgently.

There should also be an element of urgency in the review. The Canadians, over five years, went from a zero rate of recycling to 95%. There is no reason that Ireland should not be the leader in Europe on the issue of waste management and recycling but there is no urgency in our approach. Systems are not being put in place. I agree with Senator O’Malley’s sentiments with regard to the local authorities collecting waste. The same debacle occurred in County Mayo. Local authorities are unable to compete in the commercial sector. They do not wish to compete although they could, if they put their minds to it. The best and brightest of people in this country work in local authorities and in the Civil Service. However, too many restraints are put on them and they are not allowed to compete in the commercial sector. There will have to be changes in that regard if the local authorities are to compete.

I welcome the review taking place. The management of waste is a huge issue. The Minister should examine the issue of landfills and economies of scale in landfill provision. County Mayo is one of the few counties that has two landfills. There is a problem at present with leachate seeping from the landfills and the disposal of the leachate. The question is whether it should be pumped into the sea or if it should be transported to treatment plants. To bring the treatment of leachate and other run-off from landfills to the highest standard, economy of scale is required. The Government must consider this if the run-off is to be treated to the highest standard.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan Senator John Paul Phelan has four minutes but only two remain for the debate today. The Senator will speak first when the debate resumes.

Senator John Paul Phelan: Information on John Paul Phelan Zoom on John Paul Phelan I did not realise the debate was due to resume. I thank Senator Burke for sharing time. I have changed my position a little on incineration. However, I echo the sentiments of Senator Coffey and Senator Burke on the regional waste management strategies. The proposal that emerged when these strategies were drawn up was that there would be eight or nine incinerators, one in each regional authority area. It is clear that this was unnecessary and would be self defeating.

  5 o’clock

I still believe that incineration is the last resort option for the disposal of waste. It is an end of pipe solution. If incineration is introduced without exhausting the options of reducing, recycling and re-using waste, one removes the incentive for people to reduce the amount of waste they produce in the first place. That is the biggest single argument against incineration. I am not a scientist and I do not know the medical difficulties that may or may [674]not be associated with incineration. However, no medical difficulties have been proven to me. The main argument against incineration is that it would remove the incentive for people to reduce the amount of waste they produce.

The other issue I want to discuss is the privatisation of refuse collection, which was mentioned by Senator O’Malley. I agree it has worked in most of the parts of the country in which it has been tried. The cherry-picking of lucrative routes by private operators is a significant problem in some areas. It can be difficult for local authorities and local authority members to get a handle on private operators to ensure all routes are covered. Private operators tend to favour urban areas, such as estates with hundreds of houses. It might not be economically viable for them to serve rural roads with ten or 12 houses on them. Householders deserve a proper service, but that is not available in some parts of the country.

The other major area on which I will focus is illegal dumping, including littering. The significant problem of litter is evident when one travels on the major routes into Dublin and most towns throughout the country. Litter is one of the greatest scourges we face. I live adjacent to a couple of thousand——

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan I remind the Senator that this debate has to adjourn as it is 5 p.m.

Senator John Paul Phelan: Information on John Paul Phelan Zoom on John Paul Phelan That is fine.


Last Updated: 11/05/2015 12:40:11 First Page Previous Page Page of 13 Next Page Last Page