Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 17 January 2018
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment
Scrutiny of the Waste Reduction Bill 2017
I thank the Chairman. I welcome this opportunity to undertake legislative scrutiny of the Waste Reduction Bill in advance of Committee Stage. There has been delay from the Second Stage debate to now, which I regret. We are looking at different ways in which we could do the detailed analysis, but we have really benefited from the work of the legal advisory service and the Oireachtas Library and Research Service. The reference and research work they have done has been really helpful and useful. We have just had a presentation from them in private session, and I look forward to engaging with everyone here today.
A number of other developments in the interim since Second Stage have, to my mind, copperfastened the case for the Bill and for a certain speed and urgency in having it implemented. I cite first of all, and I am not sure if the Chair has had a chance to read it yet, the strategy paper published by the European Commission, "A European strategy for plastics in a circular economy". In my mind, it is a defining document in setting European policy for the next ten years. On a regular basis, the document refers to the sort of provisions contained in our Bill and recommends them as part of fitting in within the new European packaging and circular economy directives that are coming our way.
It is an excellent overview for anyone who has an interest in the subject. There are endless figures that could be plucked from it, but I refer to the analysis looking to the five best deposit and refund schemes, along the lines of what we are proposing, that indicates that they work. In countries where they have such schemes, they get a 94% recycling rate for plastic bottles.
Timely for our own work was the introduction by the Chinese government, as it promised last July via the World Trade Organisation, WTO, of an end to the importation of what it calls foreign garbage. I imagine Europe and Ireland are some of the highest percentage exporters of our plastic recycling to China of what is an ill-segregated and often contaminated waste stream. China is no longer accepting this and it means our whole approach will have to change because of the reality that we face. I also present to the committee a very useful analysis by the UK government. Only last week it presented a whole new plastic strategy which is in tune with the European approach, whatever else happens with Brexit. I refer the committee to the work of the UK committee which, back in December, made a very clear recommendation to introduce in the UK economy, which is a very similar and has similar circumstances, the sort of measures included in our waste reduction scheme.
I notice with interest IBEC and Repak looking to keep everything as it is and arguing that we are just great. This Bill is important in terms of the deposit refund scheme and how we deal with disposal single use coffee cups and so on. However, it should be part of a wider change of our entire Repak industry scheme as is also recommended by the UK parliamentary committee. It recognises that it is completely outdated to have a single price in terms of that industry scheme. A differentiated and designed scheme in the UK has to a much more sophisticated, advanced and appropriate marketing or management of the whole plastics waste stream. I also refer to the Blue Planet series on the BBC just before Christmas, a remarkable television production. At the core of it, David Attenborough had an absolute plea to policymakers, similar to our responsibility here, to start addressing marine pollution and plastic pollution in the environment. This is again picked up by the European Union and others.
I have two other points.
I will cite some evidence. There was a group outside the Oireachtas today calling for action on this issue. A group of people went to Dunmore Strand in Sligo yesterday and picked up what was on the beach. They collected this bag of rubbish. The same could be done on any beach in the country. If one goes to any river, canal or street in Ireland and starts looking for waste, one is sure to find a similar amount, by volume if not by weight. Everyone realises and sees that. The public are fed up with the level of waste in their environment. Irish people are very good at recycling and have taken to it in terms of the usage of green bins, but they are increasingly and rightfully suspicious that the authorities and those managing that system are not being honest with them in terms of where the waste is going and how it is managed and are not being ambitious or matching the public ambition for an end to the culture of the wasteful and throwaway use of plastic. This Bill is an important step toward changing that culture. More than anything else, it will change the minds of the public through going back to measures such as the deposit refund schemes that I saw implemented as a child and that will change the public connection to this issue, which is one of the biggest gains we could get from the Bill. I look forward to the question and answer session in due course.