National Waste Strategy: Statements (Resumed).

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 188 No. 12

First Page Previous Page Page of 9 Next Page Last Page

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Senator Phelan was in possession.

Senator John Paul Phelan: Information on John Paul Phelan Zoom on John Paul Phelan I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Hoctor. When discussing this matter on the previous occasion, I outlined my views on incineration as a method of waste disposal. I also referred to the problems that exist in many rural areas — I am sure the Minister of State has encountered these — in the context of private operators employed to collect refuse who often cherry-pick routes. It can be difficult to encourage private operators to provide a comprehensive collection service in sparsely populated rural areas.

During my six years as a Member of the House, I have taken every opportunity that presented itself to raise the issue of illegal dumping. Such dumping is the bane of my life. I live immediately adjacent to approximately 2,000 acres of State forestry. Illegal dumping takes place within the forest on a continual basis. As soon as the local authority or the forestry service remove the items which have been dumped, further items are illegally dumped. One can be sure more illegal dumping will take place almost immediately. Many parts of the country, particularly the more sparsely-populated rural areas, have a significant illegal dumping issue.

I am not pretending I have any sweeping solutions, but there appears to be a rather small number of prosecutions for illegal dumping. Some years ago it was proposed in my area of [876]Kilkenny that those who were prosecuted would be named and shamed, with lists being published in the local media. This has not happened. We must do this because the only way to stop people from taking advantage of the countryside to dump unwanted products is to embarrass them. I encourage the Minister of State and her Department to do whatever is in their power to ensure a crackdown on illegal dumping takes place immediately.

Another issue related to illegal dumping is littering. There has been a significant improvement in the past couple of years in the appearance of many of our towns and cities but litter is still a significant problem. Despite the best efforts of voluntary organisations, the tidy towns and other groups, there is still a significant litter problem. While there appears to be more of an awareness of the unsightliness of litter among the younger generation, we are not getting to the bottom of the problem. Will the Minister of State outline the Government’s position on littering?

I am anxious to know the current Government policy on incineration. The previous Government was in favour of incineration and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, shortly after being installed in that position, indicated a change in his personal view on incineration, as he was no longer implacably opposed to it. I am unsure if he indicated he was in favour of it. I would welcome an opportunity to hear him outline the current Government policy on incineration.

Senator John Ellis: Information on John Ellis Zoom on John Ellis I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Hoctor, who is substituting for the Minister, who I believe is ill. I take this opportunity to wish him a speedy recovery.

We come in here to speak about the problems facing us because of waste which are obvious to us every day. Waste from packaging and other products comes into our homes and businesses on a daily basis. Many of these products are recyclable but they end up dumped in landfills. If proper management were in place, only a small quantity of these products would end up in landfills.

Considering what ends up in landfills and exported from this country to outside landfills, it is obvious we are not making the necessary effort to ensure we get the maximum benefit from recycling. We have come a long way when we consider that ten years ago recycling and reuse was seen as having no consequence. At that stage we felt everything could continue as usual and that basically we could dump wherever we liked. We now see the cost of that approach to our environment. We should make people more aware of the benefits of recycling to ensure everything that can be reused is reused. White goods are dumped willy-nilly without anybody taking note of the consequences on our environment of such dumping. Senator John Paul Phelan mentioned the dumping of goods in forestries. Forestry roads are used as a dumping ground for old [877]cars, fridges, cookers and other items people do not want to go to the bother of having recycled.

Under the WEEE directive there is now a recycling charge on consumer items, which means nobody should have to pay for having an item recycled. I compliment the local authorities, many of which run recycling weeks for various products on a regular basis, which is important and should be encouraged. In some cases the charges introduced by local authorities for people who want to take their goods to recycling centres, some of which may have a value for the purpose, are rather high. Local authorities will have to consider the matter and although the centres cannot be run for free, in many cases goods are received that if handled properly have a high residual value when broken down or recycled.

Illegal dumping is a major problem. It is probably an effect of carelessness in many cases and people not thinking about the damage they are doing. For example, when fridges are dumped in forests the gas which escapes from them does considerable damage to our environment.

Large quantities of goods, such as televisions, computers and so on, are exported for recycling. Jobs could be created if such waste were recycled here rather than benefiting people from outside the country. There is also a problem with cars. However, rather than being thrown intact into crushers, cars are now being dismantled and the various components removed. Components, such as aluminium heads from engines, have a high value. Some products are only being semi-processed before being exported for reuse. There are job opportunities in fully recycling such products.

I noticed that the Minister did not refer to farm waste. Biodigesters will be the way forward in terms of dealing with animal slurry and waste. I appeal to the Minister to consider an incentive, such as a grant or investor tax write-off, even for groups of farmers, for the recycling of slurry from the cattle and pig industries. In many parts of the country the land can absorb only so much slurry and is reaching saturation point. The net result is we throw out a valuable resource that could be used for energy production. This should be considered by the Department in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to encourage people to invest in such energy and reduce our reliance on imports of fuel.

  12 o’clock

Reference has been made to the various products being recycled but a major problem is volume. In some cases the volumes are not sufficient to warrant a large investment in recycling equipment or plant because it has to be hauled from one end of the country to the other. Our population is only one third of the population of London and as a result we face serious transport costs for recycling. Householders must make sacrifices, even if only by going to the local bring centre, if we are to do something about recycling and re-use.

[878]People abuse bring centres such as bottle banks that are not permanently staffed, by throwing cans into the glass bin, or vice versa. That is wrong. They also leave the boxes or bags in which they brought the recyclables alongside the bins. There should be proper surveillance of bring centres, whether by camera or some other device, to prevent this negligence. Somebody who makes the effort to bring something to a recycling centre and then dumps half of it at the foot of the bin is defeating the purpose he or she set out to achieve.

We may have to accept incineration. Several industries, such as the cement industry, could use many of the products that are sent offshore to be incinerated. If we must have an incinerator to prevent further damage caused by dumping so be it. We will then face the usual cry of “not in my backyard” but we all must make sacrifices for the good of our communities. I appeal to the Minister to ensure that if we are to have incineration he will make decisions and provide the necessary incinerators. Before doing so, however, we should consult the cement industry because it could take up most of the waste suitable for recycling.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I welcome the Minister of State to the House and express my good wishes to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, who I have just learnt is unwell. This debate is important because it concerns a crisis afflicting the globe. Underlying it is the explosion in prosperity and population throughout the globe. Since I graduated from Trinity College, and I am not as ancient as I might appear, the population of the planet has doubled, which is astonishing. Naturally, we generate more rubbish, as we do when we become more affluent. We have a significant job to do to educate people. I used to teach and am glad to be associated with An Taisce’s green flag award for schools because it brings home to young people the necessity of treating the environment with respect, sorting out materials and recycling.

To digress to an allied area, I compliment the city authorities of Dublin on the way they maintain O’Connell Street. It is quite remarkable because we are a filthy race and it must be heartbreaking to have to continually clean that street. Apart from other environmental aspects, the street is one of the most significant public faces of this country for tourists. My one caveat, however is that the noise of the machines they use is unspeakable. Sometimes this vibration starts when they clean near my home, at 5.30 a.m. or 6 a.m. at weekends. Is it possible to have a more environmentally friendly machine doing the environmentally friendly task? There seems to be a conflict there. Why do they not also hose the streets down with recycled, non-potable water, as they do in Paris? I will not mention in too glorified detail the kind of materials that hit the pavement regularly every weekend in the inner city.

Many citizens demonstrate boorishness and an utter lack of consideration. People come regularly [879]into my area in their motoring cars and unload black plastic sacks of refuse, apparently because they are too bloody mean to pay the bin tax. For people who are significantly poor, a bin tax may be an imposition. I, however, would be only too pleased to pay it if the refuse collection system were upgraded.

I and my neighbours regularly fill the green sacks, which are an excellent idea given the amount of paper that goes into them for recycling. Why do we not have other sacks, for plastics, tins and whatever else is possible? I know that more than paper alone goes into the green sacks but most people think of it as a place for papers. It is astonishing to see the amount of paper that one crusty old bachelor like me can generate. I fill the sack every two weeks. I am doing my best.

Although I live in the inner city I have a compost bin but I cannot claim credit for that. Ours is a very green house. The proprietor of the best flower shop in Dublin, Adonis Flowers in Patrick Street, Gerry, and his pal occupy my basement apartment. Gerry does my window boxes and all the recycling. When they move on, as they will soon, I will continue this process because I have begun to appreciate how important it is.

Senator Quinn raised on the Order of Business the amount of paper waste generated in this House but he was reticent because he mentioned only the fact that the Order of Business comes in a brown envelope. Would that was all. We all receive stacks of reports that we do not want or have time to read. Why not send them in electronic format or send an abstract with bullet points, on the basis of which we can decide whether to request the full report, maybe electronically? Why must we have a deluge of reports? Sometimes I get three or four copies of the same report from semi-State bodies. One arrives here, then a back-up in case I did not see it the first time, then two more at my home in North Great George’s Street. It is maddening because they are too big to get in through the letter box and I receive a notice to call to the post office which I do only to discover it is the third copy of a report.

These are among the issues that face us as individuals. As a country, however, we face a serious situation, including fines from the European Union because we are not meeting our targets. By 2010 we have a good chance of being fined if we do not really press ahead, not just with education but also with implementation. The scale of the problem is indicated by the fact that if we are to meet our targets we must reduce landfill by 450,000 tonnes a year starting now. That is a significant challenge. Some years ago various Members, myself included, raised the issue of the unlicensed dumps, the cowboy operators around County Wicklow and how they could get away with this when there were not sufficient penalties against them. We must penalise these people.

[880]As someone who loves the environment I naturally revolt against incineration but we must consider it. We do not need incinerators proliferated all over the place but we will need some degree of thermal treatment. I note that P.J. Rudden, a leading consultant on waste management, has stated it is absolutely necessary and that with it, Ireland can handle up to 1 million tonnes of waste per year, which would remove what the Environmental Protection Agency has described as the significant danger of fines from the EU. He went on to assert that thermal treatment is an inescapable and logical conclusion of the report from the Environmental Protection Agency.

I will turn to a paper from the Institute of Public Health that is concerned with the impact of hazardous waste on public health. In particular, it raises some questions in respect of breathing problems. It states:

Where no evidence can be found of a relationship between adverse health effects and proximity to incineration sites it is important to bear in mind this may mean there is no relationship or a relationship exists but may not be detectable using available methods and data sources. The fact that ill-health may occur infrequently or take years to appear makes it difficult to establish cause and effect. It is therefore imperative the impact on public health is adequately addressed.

My point is that this is pretty weak. It states there is either little or no evidence at present of a connection between incinerator emissions and such respiratory difficulties. While it is important that monitoring should continue, we cannot put a halt to the development of at least a couple of major incinerator sites, which must be carefully chosen, on the basis that although sufficient data cannot yet be found, that may be due to the lack of sufficiently sensitive instruments to so do. In the absence of such data, given the critical situation we face, we must consider the possibility of incineration although it may be politically unpopular. Apart from anything else, the continued use of landfill sites for hazardous waste in particular is more dangerous to the general community.

A culture has arisen in which large quantities of wrapping and rubbish are produced and I do not like it. I find it offensive, vulgar, awful, tedious and a nuisance and we should be educated against it. In addition, I refer to the commercially-driven notion of planned obsolescence in which things do not last. I recently was obliged to acquire a new washing machine. I had called out a plumber because its predecessor had developed a bit of a leak.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke One minute remains to the Senator.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach. That will be enough to staunch the leak. I called out the plumber, who charged [881]me approximately €60, and having examined the washing machine, he told me I would be obliged to get a new one. He asked me how long had it been in my possession and to his amazement, I replied that I had it for only 25 years. However, I look after such things. I have a recycled car and a recycled house and I wear recycled clothes I inherited from my uncle. The refusal to have anything that is recycled is awful. There should be places in which one can buy recycled items or where one can recondition things. Moreover, we also ought to have far more opportunities to recycle with deposit banks and so on.

There are some positive elements in this regard. I am greatly relieved that dioxin levels in Ireland are well below European Union limits and long may they remain so. While levels in the greater Dublin area may be higher than elsewhere in Ireland, the general level is still less than 50% of the EU limit, which gives cause for hope. However, I return to my earlier point that we must face our commitments under the Kyoto Protocol. It is worthwhile bearing in mind the recent comments of Professor John Sweeney of NUI Maynooth. I believe he also is the man who, some years ago, got into trouble for saying we were a bad neighbour in Europe, although perhaps I am mistaken in this regard. He has stated that, “Ireland has no friend left in Europe when you look at the burden of distribution. The 20 per cent is a signal that we misused the benefits we were given under Kyoto”. Consequently, we must press ahead and face some difficult and unpopular decisions. It will be a major task to educate people to recycle and, if necessary to bite the bullet of incineration.

Senator Dan Boyle: Information on Dan Boyle Zoom on Dan Boyle For too long, the debate on waste in Ireland has been about the end of pipe solutions, that is, how one disposes of the waste that is created. In Ireland, we invariably have chosen the landfill option and rarely took into account properly the reason so much waste is produced in the first instance. The per capita amount of waste produced in Ireland often is twice that produced by many of our European counterparts. Each Irish citizen produces the equivalent of 1.25 tonnes per year. That would frighten many people if they were standing next to it. Other countries have started successfully to reduce the amount of waste that has been created. We must ask ourselves the reason we have not done the same. We are now reaching the point at which after decades and generations of poor waste management, our countryside is littered with landfills, some of which have long exceeded their natural lifespans. Many are being closed and alternatives for them must be sought.

The question of mass burn incineration has been raised in this debate. I continue to believe that mass burn incineration is the wrong response. I listened with interest to Senator Norris’s contribution, who quoted the views of P. J. Rudden. As a consultant the latter has been the person most responsible for promoting incin[882]eration in Ireland and his company was the main author of regional waste management strategies that suggested the development of a necklace of incinerators around the country. It is clear this proposal was wrong and unnecessary. Incineration is a technology that demands to be fed. If one builds an infrastructure that requires the burning of X amount of materials, a consequential requirement arises to produce X amount of materials. This is utterly incompatible with a strategy in which one seeks to reduce waste at every opportunity. In philosophical terms, incineration is the wrong answer. Moreover, incineration is a combustion-based technology. As the combustion process adds to the major global environmental problem we face, namely, greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, it is a highly stupid solution. Until we cease to propose this option as a high point of any waste management strategy, we will not solve the central issue.

The programme for Government makes a number of commitments in this regard. A commitment in respect of the EU landfill directive states that by 2010 we must seek to have only 10% of waste going to landfill, with the other 90% being diverted either to recycling or other waste management technologies. The programme for Government goes further in stating that the preferred technologies are biological and mechanical methods of disposal. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is working assiduously to promote this use of technology. The other commitment in the programme for Government states that incineration will not be given an economic advantage, either by way of “put and pay” clauses, which are a controversial element of the contract that Dublin City Council has signed in respect of Poolbeg, or by not matching any increase in landfill levies with the introduction of a similar level of levy for incineration. The Minister is producing legislation in this regard that will bring into play that principle.

Although certain cases still are within the planning process and the courts, I remain optimistic that alternatives and other waste management options will emerge that will help us to avoid mass burn incineration. Members must give particular consideration to the subject of hazardous waste. As Senator Buttimer is aware, the proposal for a national hazardous waste incinerator in Ringaskiddy has been controversial. Ringaskiddy has been always a bad choice for a number of reasons. While it is a centre for the pharmaceutical industry, one must bear in mind that locating a national hazardous waste facility in a particular area means that waste must be transported thereto from the rest of the country. Advocates of incineration contend that Ringaskiddy, having been heavily industrialised, can accommodate more hazardous waste. I have always rejected this argument. It is rarely understood that there are already five incinerators in the Ringaskiddy area, two at the Novartis plant and three at the SmithKline Beecham plant. If I, as an individual, were to accept the principle of [883]incineration, it would be on the basis of having small-scale plant-based incinerators subject to integrated pollution prevention control licensing by the Environmental Protection Agency. On the basis of the industrial processes of the companies concerned, we would have a fair idea of what would be incinerated and what would be emitted.

It should be suggested as part of the current review of the national hazardous waste strategy that incinerators, if we are to have them, should be small-scale and linked to the installations producing the waste. We need to reject, by way of policy, the view that mass-burn incineration is a solution. I am confident that Government policy is going in this direction.

Ireland is often accused of being a bad neighbour for exporting most of its hazardous waste abroad. This argument is similar to that on incineration in general in that it is a matter of economies of scale. If we are to have sufficient infrastructure in Ireland to deal with hazardous waste in an economically viable manner, we must produce more of it or import it from abroad. There is still a logic to exportation and I am glad the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has secured ongoing permission from the European Commission to allow some export of our hazardous waste. That said, we still require some hazardous waste facility in Ireland.

Regardless of what waste management method is chosen, there must be a degree of contained landfill. One can dispose of waste directly in landfill or one can use a mechanical and biological process or incineration. However, in the latter cases, a residue must still be sent to landfill. We must face up to the fact that we need a contained hazardous waste landfill as distinct from a hazardous waste incinerator. We must take care of as much of our hazardous waste as possible in Ireland and ensure we produce as little as possible, thereby guaranteeing there is less to dispose of.

Perversely, one item of good news that has emerged from our failure to deal with hazardous waste in the past is that it has created an incentive for companies to change their production practices. We have engaged in an act of waste minimisation over the past ten to 15 years that would not have occurred had the easy disposal option existed, as was proposed and as is still being proposed in some quarters. We need to strike a balance by reducing the waste we produce while ensuring it is very difficult to dispose of. Whatever other elements we require, such as a hazardous waste landfill or some exportation of materials we cannot handle owing to the expense or the requirement to produce more waste to justify processing it ourselves, it is a simple equation. I regret we have not been able to state it properly in political terms in the past. I am convinced, however, that through the work of the Minister and the programme for Government, the equation will be balanced in the short term.

[884]Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Hoctor, and wish the Minister, Deputy Gormley, a speedy recovery. Given that it is St. Valentine’s Day, I will not heckle Senator Boyle and will be amorous in my remarks to him. I welcome his continuing opposition to the location of an incinerator in Ringaskiddy and share his concerns.

At the beginning of his speech, Senator Boyle asked why so much waste is being produced. I agree with him that we need to change our production practices urgently. In the course of this debate, we cannot let the question hang without tackling the issue.

I listened intently to Senator Boyle and hope the proposals associated with the genuine position he and his colleagues had adopted prior to entering Government are realised through the waste management strategy. I do not mean that in a critical way and I refer in particular to mass-burn incineration which the nation should reject. I have not been convinced by its advocates and we need to send out a strong message that incineration does not work and lends itself to further production of waste. As the Senator stated, incinerators need to be fed.

On the programme for Government and the EU landfill directive, I would like to see concrete proposals on how we will reach our target by 2010. I hope the Minister will pursue the mechanical and biological solutions with vigour and that we will have an intelligent debate on the matter. It is the ordinary people who must buy into the philosophy.

There are already five incinerators in Ringaskiddy and the area has been developed on foot of the establishment of pharmaceutical companies in the region. The N28 is not capable of accommodating the existing traffic and there is a proposal for the Port of Cork to be moved towards Ringaskiddy. I ask the Minister of State to return to her colleagues in Government to consider that Ringaskiddy is an unsuitable location, as is clearly the case.

In having this debate, we need to engage with citizens on the national waste strategy. Senators have alluded to the fact that our current landfill practices cannot proceed forever and that therefore we must reduce what is placed in landfill. New approaches and mindsets are required and there is willingness across the political divide in this regard. The methods we encourage must be people-centred and promote thought before action. In many ways we have forgotten we are stewards of the environment and that each of us, from the President and Taoiseach down to the youngest child, is responsible for conserving it. There should be no strata or any divide because it behoves us all to pass on to posterity an environment that is clean, healthy and enhanced.

There has been considerable growth in the development of civic amenity centres in many cities and towns, which I welcome, but we need to enhance them. On the grounds of my GAA club, Bishopstown, of which I am chairman, there is a [885]civil amenity centre run by Cork City Council. People leave bottles and cans at the facility. Why can we not have a cardboard recycling centre running in tandem? It would encourage people to recycle.

I agree with the remarks of Senators Quinn and Norris on the Order of Business to the effect that we all receive a considerable amount of unnecessary paper. Over the Christmas period, I engaged a shredding company and filled ten bags with Cork City Council and Oireachtas paper.

Senator Cecilia Keaveney: Information on Cecilia Keaveney Zoom on Cecilia Keaveney The Senator is only a Member since September.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer Zoom on Jerry Buttimer I know. There is no facility in this Chamber for the use of laptops or other technologies but there ought to be if we are serious about being an e-nation, so to speak, and using modern technology. I hope the Seanad can lead the way by reducing the volume of paper it uses by using laptops in the Chamber to call up Order Papers during the Order of Business, etc. As Senator Norris said, we get reports, half of which, unfortunately, we do not read or simply scan. I encourage the Minister of State, Deputy Hoctor, to ask her colleagues to bring about this revolution to reduce the amount of paper used.

I refer to the regional plans drawn up by the county managers which I believe are on hold. How much has this cost? Where are we going with these regional plans? We need a national regulator for waste. It would be very effective in assisting all of us and, in particular, local authorities.

I was a school teacher before I became a Member of the House and I believe education is pivotal. The civics and the green flag programmes have engaged young people and have inculcated in them the need for recycling, reduction and reuse. It is a model which we should implement from primary school all the way up.

There is a major problem with littering. I was in New Zealand over the Christmas holidays and could not get over the lack of litter on, and the cleanliness of, the streets. The other night I went shopping in a centre in a suburb of Cork outside of which there was a plethora of cigarette butts and chewing gum with which one could tile the whole area. Despite the best efforts of many, we have not changed people’s mindsets on littering, which we need to do. We need to prosecute and name and shame people who dump illegally or who throw litter on the ground while walking the streets of our cities or towns. We need to take on these people.

Our local authorities are under severe pressure. We have the private operators versus the public service provided by the city or county councils. At one level, it is fine for the private operators to enter the business. They offer a great deal for six weeks or six months while the public service goes out of business. That is about to happen in Cork city where Cork City Council is under severe [886]pressure. It has reduced the workforce in this area.

Again, I praise Cork City Council for its dry recyclables collection. Will the Government consider a national waiver system similar to that which applies in respect of social welfare? Some people do not pay refuse charges because they cannot afford them. Others genuinely want to pay them but find the cost is prohibitive. We need to take on the private operators but we also need to change the mindsets of people who opt out of the public collection. In five years’ time many of our cities will not have council operated waste collections which will result in spiralling costs. This is an important debate which should transcend political lines. We need to scrutinise how we, as a nation, perform in regard to waste management.

Senator Martin Brady: Information on Martin Brady Zoom on Martin Brady I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Hoctor. I refer to a couple of points Senator Ellis made about dumping, farm waste and so on. I fish a lot and travel to many rural areas. In many lakes and rivers one sees much dumping of fridges, old cars and, in some cases, animals. This problem is not being treated seriously. The fines are so low that they are really not effective, particularly where rivers and lakes are polluted as a result of farmers spreading slurry excessively on land, which effluent then runs into drains.

We must consider initiatives to change existing waste disposal practices, reduce unnecessary volumes of waste, whether food waste, plastic waste or packaging materials, and encourage reuse, such as returnable glass bottles. Businesses must reduce waste to become more competitive.

I recently bought a battery charger for a mobile telephone. One would have needed a penknife or a good sharp knife to open it because it was wrapped in two layers of plastic packaging. That type of packaging is unnecessary. Some large bottles of minerals are wrapped in plastic. I do not see why plastic wrapping is needed on a bottle of Lucozade or whatever. It is unnecessary. Obviously, somebody is making money out of this. We must consult the manufacturers.

Senator Norris made a very good point in that if one asks someone to repair an electrical appliance, whether a television, washing machine or otherwise, the first thing one is told is to dump it and buy a new one. No one repairs appliances anymore. There were good people in that business, especially in the repair of radios and televisions. They made a good living out of it and they did a good job. Nowadays a television is dumped if the least thing goes wrong with it. That creates unnecessary waste. As Senator Norris said, we should encourage people to set up in business repairing these items and put proper incentives in place.

Car dumping is a major issue in Dublin. Last weekend I was on the Malahide Road and I noticed signs on a builder’s site beside a Traveller site saying “Used cars for sale —€49.99”. I made inquiries and found out that the owners of these [887]cars did not want to dispose of them and paid people to take them away. Those cars will be dumped two or three times.

Another way to dispose of a car is to take the number plate off it and drive it on to Dollymount Strand so that the local authority disposes of it. We should trace the owners of these cars and the proper action should be taken against these offenders.

There is another problem with unlicensed waste disposal operators who advertise and put fliers in doors. People living alone, in particular, give them €150 to take waste away, whether chairs, other furniture or whatever. That waste is dumped on the roadside beside Traveller sites. I am not singling out Travellers because everybody has a role to play in this. I have spoken to Dublin City Council about this problem and removing this waste costs a considerable sum of money. However, nothing is being done about it. When people camp illegally on the roadside and move off - everyone knows who they are — all their rubbish is left behind. Nothing is done about that.

The question of the material we get has been raised. Agencies, whether the Combat Poverty Agency or otherwise, send us much material. When one goes to a launch or a presentation, one gets much glossy material which is a waste of taxpayers’ money and is unnecessary. There is no awareness among some people that this material is unnecessary.

If one buys a coffee and a biscuit in the canteen in this House, the biscuit is so well wrapped that one would need a scissors to open it. The same applies to ketchup. There is no need for such wrapping. People drinking six packs in parks dump the cans and wrapping and nothing is done about that. Prevention is the name of the game. The greatest increase in waste has occurred with households and that could be reduced if waste was managed. There are better facilities for recycling, such as the depot on Oscar Traynor Road in Coolock. Sometimes it is full or no more waste can be taken because the lorry did not arrive to take it away. It is then dumped down on Dollymount Strand and things are so bad now that the residents themselves have had to set up a voluntary organisation to do a clean up a few times a week. We should take a serious look at this kind of issue. Action must be taken against offenders for illegal dumping, irrespective of who they are.

There are also licensed operators who use skips when people are clearing out houses or carrying out building work. These skips are often left on the streets for weeks without being picked up. They become a nuisance and a safety hazard. They are not lit up at night and they are quite dangerous. Young people often remove cans of paint from them and pour them all over the road. It costs the local authority thousands of euro to clean up afterwards.

Senator Boyle has opposed any moves on incineration, but we must have some form of it [888]because waste must be disposed. The key is prevention. Manufacturers should be consulted because there is no need for the over-packaging in the clothing and other industries.

Senator Cecilia Keaveney: Information on Cecilia Keaveney Zoom on Cecilia Keaveney I am glad to make a brief contribution to this important debate. It is a feature of life that we deal with waste every day. Whether it is by hot air or otherwise, we should continue to do what Senator Buttimer said and try to change the mindset of the public. It is easy to use the trendy phrase to reduce, reuse and recycle. It all comes down to the three “r”s, but until we decide we have a problem and that we want to deal with it, it is only a catchy phrase. We must go back to the start, which is in school. There are initiatives like the green school initiative where the children are getting opportunities to be environmentally friendly. There is great enthusiasm from children in primary schools for such projects. They tell me about how they told their mammy not to ask for plastic bags with their shopping.

To be fair to the Government, it led the way internationally with the plastic bag levy and it has been one of the most important features of daily life. It is a bit like the Troubles in the North. We remember the days of the plastic bags and we remember the Troubles in the North. I remember getting searched going into shops, but there is another generation that does not feel it is normal to use a plastic bag. A couple of generations ago people would have brought a trolley with them. My father and grandfather were managers of co-operatives and everything was about putting as much as one could into a cardboard box. When I go to the supermarket now, I feel like I am going back into history because I look for a box into which I can put my shopping. We must send out a message as to what is normal and that will become normal for the next generation. We have tried to put out the message that plastic bags are not normal, not needed and not the solution to everything that they once were. Back then, one could get a bag into which shopping was placed, but also a bag into which the bag was placed in case the first bag burst.

The point about over-wrapping cannot be emphasised enough. There is a great amount of wrapping being done, but children will be more familiar with rapping than wrapping. However, children hold the information and that will change the parents. We should not throw everything back at the teachers, because teachers seem to be the people solving all the woes of the world.

Senator Brady mentioned returnable bottles, but there is no such thing nowadays. When we were young, the five pence we got for bringing back an empty Cidona bottle could mount up pretty quickly. When scavenging for money in order to buy sweets or something more substantial, we were very good at finding these returnable bottles everywhere. By getting a few coins to buy something, we were doing our little bit for reusing and recycling. People say that it will not [889]work now, because they would walk past five cent or even a euro on the ground. However, I wonder if the same mindset exists among younger people today as existed when we were very young. Money should still mean something to them, and if they could get some for gathering a few bottles, then maybe they would go for it. We should look to manufacturers to see if we can bring back the concept of returnable bottles.

When I was in secondary school, one of the companies asked for the lids of cans, which were collected in the big supermarkets in Derry. I am not sure if this was a Northern policy, or whether it was an all-island policy. The money raised from collecting all that aluminium was put into providing wheelchairs. Even though people may not be excited about getting five cent for returning a bottle, they are excited by a good cause. We should try to use a few carrots, rather than big sticks.

The elderly waiver form needs to be examined. Waste will continue to become more expensive and we must be mindful that if some people cannot afford it, then it needs to be dealt with properly. I am also worried about the anti-social aspect of some forms of littering. People who drop their cigarette butts outside the pub, because they are not allowed to smoke inside, would not consider their behaviour to be anti-social. However, a number cigarette butts in the one place will come across as anti-social. In the rural areas of my constituency, we have a problem with items left in storage such as paint. People are inclined to open the storage and toss the paint around the place. Any bags tied up are untied and the contents are strewn around the place. This littering is not caused exclusively by dogs, foxes and other wild animals. It is often caused by citizens who are not litter conscious.

I commend the Government on its role in the development of the waste centre in Carndonagh, Inishowen. There also may be a need for a similar centre in Buncrana. The centre was free to use for some time. It is an important facility on the peninsula to which people drive to dispose of their waste. I am aware fees will be imposed henceforth on some aspects of waste disposal, but I hope that measure will not reverse the cycle of waste disposal in designated facilities and result in people dumping their waste in boglands or in the Sperrin mountains.

I would like to inform Senator Brady that scrap car prices are high. We have no problem with scrap cars in my area. As soon as the price of scrap cars increases, one cannot find a scrap car for love nor money, which is good thing. However, when the price decreases, places are littered with cars that failed the NCT, which have been sold for €20 upwards. Boyracers who tend to buy them, fill them with diesel or petrol, drive them until they run out of fuel, spin them on the road causing danger to themselves and others and then burn them on the spot. There was a spate of such incidents until the price of scrap cars increased. Perhaps a mechanism could be put in [890]place in the Department to intervene in the market by ensuring a reserve is put in place when the price of scrap materials, be it glass, paper or cars, is low and uncompetitive to ensure such materials are collected and retained.

I strongly support the notion of one individual having the role of a litter warden and a traffic warden and being able to give on-the-spot fines. Such fines could constitute the wages of such individuals, at least initially, and they would force people to quickly clean up their acts.

The tidy towns initiative, in which the Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, was involved, has resulted in great work being done. I am pleased the initiative has been increasingly linked to activities in schools, which ensures communities are assisted. Initiatives such as that in place in Donegal County Council need to be maintained. If members of a community decide they want to clean up their local areas, the council will arrange for them to be provided with a skip, gloves and other equipment. This is a commercial venture and, as in the case of any commercial venture, the council cannot afford to leave a skip in an area for weeks on end.

There are many other issues I would liked to have raised. An EIS for the Moville sewerage scheme was submitted. We were advised initially by the EPA that it was not needed and later advised it was. If a council has gone above and beyond the requirements to submit a comprehensive impact assessment on waste management, An Bord Pleanála should be more than happy to receive more information rather than reject the information offered and then request further information.

The need for enforcement officers and for a reduction in the amount of wrapping on products is important to reduce the volume of waste created. A proper mindset is necessary to tackle the problem. The involvement of children in the green schools initiative and the tidy towns initiative is a good starting point to address the issues involved.

Senator Ciaran Cannon: Information on Ciaran Cannon Zoom on Ciaran Cannon I support every aspect of Senator Boyle’s well-worded arguments against the concept of incineration. If we as a nation are ambitious, which we should be and I believe we are, in reducing and minimising our waste, I cannot understand how alongside that ambition we are also proposing to use the concept of incineration. It, by its nature, needs massive amounts of waste to remain viable. I fail to understand how those two ambitions are compatible, and that is all I will say on that issue.

I wish to dwell on one aspect of our waste management problem, namely, superfluous packaging, which was addressed by a number of Senators this morning. The kernel of this problem lies with the fact that industry nationally and worldwide is allowed to have the word “disposable” in its dictionary. The word “disposal” comes into direct conflict with the word “sustainable”. As long as society and industry insist on [891]clinging to this trend of throwaway objects, we will have a waste management problem on our hands for many generations to come. If we ask our parents, or grandparents — those of us who are fortunate to still have them — about this issue, they will tell us they did not use the word “disposable” before the 1950s.

It is interesting that nature has been designing its own waste disposal solutions for millions of years. If one looks at the tree outside one’s window, one will note it disposes of its leaves in the autumn. In the human world, this would be considered waste and they would be raked up, bagged and sent to a landfill. However, that is not so with nature, the soil simply breaks down the leaves, which provide a once yearly feeding for the plants.

This principle needs to be applied to all processes throughout industry, agriculture and the home. Most packaging, which makes up about 50% of our waste stream, should be composed, as far as possible, of organic material. In this way, a discarded wrapper would not become litter and as it composts it would become soil. There is no need for shampoo bottles, drinks cans and equipment packaging to last centuries longer than its contents.

Industry needs to address the issue of lifecycle in all its products. For instance, an electronics company in Japan has produced what is known as the first immortal television. Rather than selling the product, it is leased to the customer on a lifetime basis and covered by a warranty by the manufacturer. As the manufacturer owns the television, it is made up of sturdy and durable materials that are used in the making of the product. The fewer parts it has to replace, the more money the company makes. Similarly, a number of years ago, Xerox developed the first ever recyclable photocopier, which it called the zero landfill photocopier. This machine was developed to be long lasting and highly repairable and at the end of its lifecycle it is collected by Xerox and returned to its factory where it is dismantled into its component parts and rebuilt into another machine which can be resold as a brand new product. These are examples of efficiency and the kinds of products we should strive to ensure are used across all industry.

Waste management in Ireland is not solely the responsibility of local authorities or the Government, it is also that of the waste producer. Industry, has only begun to recognise its responsibility in this respect. It is helping by subscribing to a packaging reduction scheme, Repak, which recovers packaging materials for reuse.

As an island nation, it has become evident with accelerated awareness that the amount of land we are willing to devote to storing piles of rubbish is limited. An average of 400 kg of waste per year is produced by each individual, which amounts to a total of 44 million tonnes of waste every year. We should not store rubbish as it leaks down into the water-table and contaminates our drinking [892]water. Furthermore, it smells, attracts vermin and rots for 100 years by which time parts of it will still not be broken down, even on a geological time scale. The position could appear to be hopeless, but it is important that we as a Government encourage people to exercise their consumer powers as householders and as employees or employers. We must start to encourage people to refuse to purchase overpackaged goods. We must ask people to vote with their money and manufacturers will soon get the message.

  1 o’clock

I strongly support the point made by Senator Quinn on the Order of Business and reiterated by Senators Norris and Buttimer. We should be ashamed of the superfluous and unnecessary paper we generate in this House every day. I doubt if there is any Member who does not have access to email facilities. Every item of correspondence that emanates from our offices should be sent, by default, via email. If any Member still requires hard copies, he or she could make a special request for them. I spent two years in Galway County Council asking the secretariat to issue meeting agendas and minutes via email and finally it has happened. Some members now bring the agendas to the meetings on their laptops, thus negating the need to print them out at any point. Why can this not be done here? We are an important and relevant arm of Government and we should set the example.

Acting Chairman (Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú): Information on Labhrás Ó Murchú Zoom on Labhrás Ó Murchú When is it proposed to sit again?

Senator Diarmuid Wilson: Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson At 2.30 p.m. next Tuesday.


Last Updated: 21/04/2015 12:15:37 First Page Previous Page Page of 9 Next Page Last Page