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 wish to draw attention to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. I also advise that any submission or opening statements made to the committee will be published on the committee website after this meeting.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I also remind members and witnesses to turn off their mobile phones or to switch them onto airplane mode as they interfere with our sound system.
I welcome all our witnesses today. I propose that the main witnesses speak for five minutes each. I will indicate after four minutes to signal that they have a minute remaining. I know some people are sharing time, so I can give an indication within that five minutes of a minute and a half remaining or I can come in at the last minute to let everyone know there is a minute left.
I invite Deputy Eamon Ryan, who is the sponsor of the Bill, to give a brief statement on the Bill. He has five minutes.
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.
Mr. Matthew Collins:
I thank the Chair and members for the invitation to participate in the detailed scrutiny of the Waste Reduction Bill 2017. It is reasonable to say that all of us broadly share concerns about waste. We are all aware of incidents of illegal dumping or fly-tipping locations in parts of rural Ireland or streets in our towns and cities. Similarly, we are gravely concerned that over one million tonnes of food waste is disposed of each year in Ireland, around one third of which comes from households. Every household in Ireland is responsible for one tonne of food waste and the cost per household varies between €400 and €1,000 per year. We may have different views on which issue should be prioritised, as well as the best way to tackle those issues.
The Minister, Deputy Naughten, has welcomed the Waste Reduction Bill introduced by Deputy Ryan, along with a number of other bills addressing this issue. However, he asked for the Bill to be referred to the committee for detailed scrutiny because he has some concerns around the provisions. I would like to take the opportunity to outline some of those concerns. The Bill suggests two approaches for dealing with single use plastics: a ban on non-compostable plastic cups, glasses and tableware; and the introduction of a deposit and return scheme for drinks containers. It should be noted by the committee that from a national and EU legislative perspective, plastic cups, glasses and drinks containers are packaging and consequently are subject to regulation by the European Union (Packaging) Regulations 2014 - SI 282/2014 - and the EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive 94/62/EU.
Before dealing with the specifics of the Deputy’s two proposals, it is useful to put them into Ireland's policy context. Our national approach to date for dealing with waste packaging has been based around the extended producer responsibility, EPR, principle as set out in European legislation. EPR seeks to ensure that the producer of a product bears a significant proportion of the cost of dealing with the waste management of the product they supply. In Ireland, this has been done very effectively through a producer-funded compliance scheme operated by Repak. Similar schemes operate in other waste streams such as waste electronic and electrical goods, batteries, farm plastics and, most recently, end-of-life vehicles and tyres. In a review of EPR schemes carried out in 2014 for the Department, it was concluded that Ireland has achieved great success in recent years in recovering and recycling packaging waste and one of the key reasons for that success was the shared responsibility approach to packaging waste. In its most recent bulletin on waste packaging statistics for Ireland, the EPA found that Ireland met and exceeded all EU targets for recovery and recycling. Of the estimated almost 980,000 tonnes of packaging waste generated in 2015, some 91% was recovered and the majority of that was recycled.
As regards the provision requiring the Minister to ban disposable, non-compostable plastic cups and glasses, the Minister has requested the committee to scrutinise this part of the Bill as it is his understanding that such a ban may be in contravention of Article 18 of the EU Directive on Packaging and Packaging Waste, which states: “Member States shall not impede the placing on the market of their territory of packaging which satisfies the provisions of this Directive." In considering this proposal, the committee may be interested to know that France tried to introduce a ban similar to that proposed, which is supposed to come into effect in 2020. The original idea when the law was adopted was to cover all single-use plastic cups, glasses and plates. However, the Commission pointed out that in some circumstances those items were considered as packaging when sold full with food or drink. This meant that the scope has been refined in France to all tableware falling out of the scope of the packaging and packaging waste directive. In practice, the result is that the ban only concerns packages of empty plastic tableware that one would buy at the supermarket and became known as the "picnic tax”. The Minister also had concerns that the proposed ban needed to be scrutinised to consider whether it is in breach of the free movement provisions of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
In recommending scrutiny of the legislation to the committee, the Minister suggested that a levy might be a better approach in light of these reasons. The plastic bag levy has worked very well in terms of behavioural change and this might be a possible approach to limit the volume of single-use containers being used. Environmental levies are not about revenue generation but are designed to encourage behavioural change and this might be an excellent way to deal with the issues raised. The committee may like to consider that further.
As I mentioned, packaging in Ireland is subject to a successful producer compliance scheme. As part of the review of the scheme in 2014, a wider examination of issues was undertaken and consideration was given to the introduction of a bring-back scheme for waste. The review report did not recommend its introduction because it concluded that to establish such a scheme was inappropriate in view of the operation of the existing packaging scheme. On Second Stage of the Bill in the Dáil, the Minister indicated that although he was not convinced of the merits of introducing a deposit and return scheme in Ireland for the reasons outlined, he was not averse to considering a review, similar to that under way in Scotland. The ongoing work in Scotland is of particular interest given that it currently operates a producer responsibility scheme. A feasibility study based on practice overseas, previous relevant studies, and stakeholder consultations identified how a scheme could work in Scotland and the possible set-up and administration costs involved. It gave a total estimated cost of a deposit and return scheme of £78 million sterling or about €88 million. With such significant suggested costs, any scrutiny of this proposal would, at a minimum, need to consider how much the installation and running of a deposit and return scheme would cost; how it should operate; who should operate it; what steps would be needed to provide the necessary infrastructure; what the likely benefits would be; and how it could be made compatible with our existing initiatives.
I apologise for interrupting Mr. Collins. We will have a further opportunity to discuss the matter, and if there are issues he wishes to raise, he can do so during the engagement with members. I want to keep within our time constraints.
Our next witness is Dr. Tom Ryan of the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA.
Dr. Tom Ryan:
On behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency, I thank the Chairman and members for the opportunity to address this important issue. As the committee is aware, the EPA’s mission is to protect and improve our environment as a valuable asset for the people of Ireland and to protect against the harmful effects of radiation and pollution. A substantial area of EPA activity in achieving that mission is the collection and statutory reporting of national waste statistics and the development and implementation of the national waste prevention programme.
In the context of national waste statistics, the Waste Reduction Bill proposes to target waste streams that are classified as packaging waste. The EPA reports national statistics on this waste stream on an annual basis to the European Commission. In 2015, over 980,000 tonnes of packaging waste was generated in Ireland, with packaging waste making up about one third of total municipal waste generated. Typical packaging is made from materials such as plastic, cardboard, paper, glass, steel, aluminium, wood and textile. Packaging made of composite, or two or more, materials is also frequently used, for example, in the coffee cups we take away from forecourts and the milk and juice cartons we use every day. In 2015, of packaging waste materials, plastics comprised 29% of the total, 84% of which is recycled or recovered through waste incineration. Paper and board made up 41% of packaging waste and 99% of that waste stream is recycled or recovered. For further information, interested parties may refer to the EPA’s recently redeveloped waste statistics platform on our website.
It is instructive to note that Ireland currently meets its statutory recycling targets for waste packaging but future targets envisaged in the EU’s circular economy package will likely prove far more challenging. For example, while Ireland recycled 34% of plastic packaging waste in 2015, exceeding the EU target of 22.5%, the current proposals in the circular economy package call for 55% of plastic packaging to be recycled or prepared for reuse by 2025.
While Ireland has made progress in improving recycling and recovery levels, further progress is needed to protect the environment, to meet the requirements of the incoming EU regulations and to facilitate the transition to a circular economy in Ireland.
As part of the process and commitment to continual improvement, the EPA is continually refining and developing national waste statistics in terms of how they are collected, assessed and published. In that regard, we are currently completing a new, comprehensive waste characterisation project, one of whose objectives will include, for example, estimates of the quantity of disposable cups in municipal waste. The report from that project will be issued during 2018, and it will provide more definitive statistics on that particular waste stream. We will be very happy to share the outcome of the project during the year with the committee and other interested parties.
I would like to make some more observations, particularly on the Bill. The EPA believes it is important that waste policy and legislation be guided by the waste hierarchy, which accords the highest priority to waste prevention, followed by preparing for reuse, recycling and energy recovery, with disposal being the least desirable option. In this respect, Ireland's national waste prevention programme was established in 2004. It is led by the EPA. The EPA welcomes innovative measures that will increase resource-use efficiency and waste prevention, including actions to reduce the use of disposable items. In addition, such measures as reduce the scourge of societal littering are also to be welcomed. We recognise the range of options available. We desire to be innovative and efficient in that regard. For example, Ireland has pioneered economic initiatives that have changed consumer behaviour and prevented waste. A very pertinent example is the plastic bag levy. A range of extended producer-responsibility schemes have been quite successful.
I thank Dr. Ryan. I must stop him there. If there is something he has not said, he will have ample opportunity throughout the discussion to raise it.
Mr. Neil Walker will be making a joint presentation on behalf of Food Drink Ireland, Retail Ireland and RGDATA. Will there be a number of speakers?
Dr. Neil Walker:
I thank Deputy Ryan for meeting us last August. We acknowledge that his Bill is well-intentioned, if somewhat vague on the expected outcomes. We have conducted our own assessment of it. On reflection, we are unable to support it. We consider it unlikely that it would have got this far in its current form if an impact analysis had been carried out. Regulatory impact assessments are required not only under the Government's approach to better regulation but also to comply with specific European Commission guidance on beverage packaging. There appear to be unintended consequences arising from each of the Bill's two provisions that would be difficult to avoid.
As Deputy Eamon Ryan has acknowledged, the mandatory deposit return schemeenvisaged in the Bill would entail very large set-up and running costs. Businesses cannot afford to absorb them so Irish shoppers would face rising prices.
There is also a risk of distorting competition between town-centre shops and their out-of-town counterparts. Focusing briefly on the intended environmental benefits, our analysis suggests a prospect of reducedoverall packaging recycling. Drink bottles and cans comprise only a small proportion of post-consumer plastic packaging waste but are by far the most valuable component. Therefore, they are twice as likely to be recycled as plastic film. By taking that valuable stuff out of the green bin, one is undermining the financial viability of Repak, which reduces its ability to encourage waste collectors, which are private sector firms, to accept the less valuable packaging materials. With the closing of the Chinese market, it will be even more difficult to have further progress on the recycling of plastics. We should not be doing anything that makes it any harder than it already is.
We draw attention to a recent UNESCO-supported modelling study, ARIADNA. I can provide a copy or references. The study was carried out in Spain and considered the impact of introducing a mandatory deposit scheme alongside an established collection and recycling scheme. It found that, in addition to being very costly, the duplication of effort could feasibly cause a net increase in greenhouse gas emissions.
Plastic bottles constitute less than 2% of street litter. A deposit refund scheme might marginally reduce this already small amount, but possibly at the expense of an overall increase in the litter problem. Some households will forgo the return of their deposits simply to avoid the inconvenience of driving to, and queuing at, a reverse vending machine. One obvious way for enterprising individuals in the neighbourhood to make a bit of pocket money would be to go scavenging once the green bins are put out for collection. The quickest and easiest way to do this would be to upend every bin along the street looking for bottles.
Regarding the proposed ban on disposable cups, glasses or plates that cannot be composted at home, we would question the Minister's powers under the 1996 Act. Voluntary action by business should certainly be encouraged. For example, a number of IBEC's members are actively researching, along with their suppliers, the use of safe but compostable hot drink cups. We have had some dealings with CRÉ on this very issue. It is very interesting.
It is unclear whether there are any commercially available bioplastics that form the liner of a coffee cup that can be readily composted at home. In any case, home composting does not count towards meeting EU recovery targets because they are not collected. If the Exchequer were to provide money to local authorities for segregated waste collection in public places, it would certainly help improve recycling rates, but education and labelling would be needed to prevent cross-contamination.
As for litter, it is a social problem. A consumer who cannot be bothered to put soiled packing in the nearest waste bin will not bring it home in his or her pocket or bag to put in the brown bin.
Specifically on the idea of a levy, we do not believe a small levy of 15 cent or 20 cent will have anything like the effect of the highly successful plastic bag tax. The keep cup I bought was on sale, reduced to €15. It is huge. One cannot put it in one's pocket or bag after it has been used as it will leak. If a levy were to be introduced, it would simply be seen as a regressive tax.
Mr. Thomas Burke:
I am presenting today on behalf of Retail Ireland, the IBEC group that represents the retail sector, a sector that employs over 280,000 and contributes 23% of the State's total tax receipts. Therefore, it is very important.
Retail Ireland members promote and practice responsible retailing and take an active role in generating vibrant and healthy communities. Waste prevention and reduction programmes are a core objective of the sector's commitment to tackling environmental issues. Our members invest many millions each year to ensure we protect and promote our environment. An example of this commitment is the significant level of funding provided to the Repak organisation, which in turn funds the successful national kerbside collection of recyclable materials, or materials in the “green bin”. This direct funding by retailers has helped Ireland not only to exceed EU recycling targets set for 2011 but also to have already exceeded some of the suggested targets for 2025.
Retail Ireland agrees with the recent independent report commissioned for the Government on this matter that states the cost of implementing a deposit-and-refund scheme would outweigh the benefits. Our members are concerned that the development of a new system will undermine the good work done by Repak and many stakeholders, including retailers, to bring Ireland from having one of the worst rates of recycling in Europe to among the best today.
While many retailers already provide bottle and clothing recycling facilities on their properties, we have concerns about the suggested introduction of further units in the form of bottle-bank-type units or reverse vending machines. Such units would come at a significant cost and would have to be placed in locations outside town and village centres, with free parking and good access. Such a move could have the unintended consequence of reducing activity within towns and villages and further threaten the rejuvenation of regional town centres.
Mr. Paul Kelly:
From a food and drink perspective, consumer safety is the overriding objective of food and beverage producers, and packaging ensures effective communication to consumers and its safe use and handling. Because of effective packaging processes, food wastage rates at pre-consumption point are between 2% and 4% in industrialised countries. This compares with 50% in developing countries.
The mandating of a deposit-and-return scheme for sealed beverage containers must be considered in the context of our existing waste packaging, collection and recycling in Ireland, called Repak. In 2016, beverage manufacturers paid €6.6 million to Repak, which is close to 25% of its revenue.
Beverage manufacturers paid €6.6 million to Repak in 2016, close to 25% of Repak revenues. The impact of this financial commitment is evidence that before industry began funding Repak, 94% of all packaging went to landfill and now 93% of all packaging is recycled and recovered, according to the EPA. Placing a deposit return scheme directly on top of our existing scheme would put this progress at risk.
The packaging targeted by the Bill makes up just 4.5% of litter, according to the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. Tackling litter louts requires awareness programmes and enforcement of the Litter Act.
Ireland’s waste packaging collection and recycling scheme is built on the principle of shared responsibility. This shared cost approach is one where business, waste collectors and householders share the cost of segregated packaging waste collections. This recognises the obligation on collectors to collect waste from households, with householders contributing towards the provision of a service under the principle of polluter pays and business contributing to the additional costs of collecting packaging waste for recycling separately from other waste. Food Drink Ireland believes that this should continue to be the case to build on our recycling rates.
Mr. Séamus Clancy:
I thank the committee for the invitation to speak. I will give a synopsis of our submission as I will share my time with my colleague, Dr. Pat McCloughan. While we strongly disagree with some aspects of the Bill, we acknowledge the positive social intentions behind it and why it was tabled. As strong advocates for advancing this matter we believe this is a timely debate, particularly in the context of the EU’s circular economy plastics strategy that was announced yesterday. Ireland, as one of the 27 member states, has had major input into that in the last two years and has been actively involved in developing this particular paper which has been produced by the Commission.
Repak is the predominant route of compliance in Ireland. It was set up in 1997 under the Waste Management Act. It is not-for-profit. Repak represents 2,300 businesses and charges fees to its members in accordance with the amount and type of packaging they place on the market and reflects the recycling available in those areas.
In the last 20 years, we have put €400 million into the recycling of packaging in the country, bringing it from 15% to 91%. We increased the amount of packaging recycled overall from 794,000 in 2016 to an expected 804,000 tonnes for 2017.
The money is spent on subsidising the green bin to the tune of €64 per tonne. It subsidises the 1,848 bottle bank sites and 118 civic amenity sites for the recycling and recovery of packaging from all those sites. Repak also has an educational mandate and spends almost €1 million on this annually. I will not refer to targets, to which Dr. Tom Ryan already referred. We support almost 5,000 jobs within the recycling industry. We have been a significant contributor on behalf of industry since the regulations were introduced.
I will cover two key points. We broadly support the Bill on what it endeavours to do regarding coffee cups. It is important that a technical assessment is carried out to determine precisely what is needed in the area because there is considerable confusion between non-compostable and compostable coffee cups and the alternatives. We recommend that the committee examines this.
We are fundamentally opposed to the deposit return scheme as it has been presented and think there are major issues associated with it. It is important to note that we do not have a major beverage container problem but we have a major plastic recycling problem, particularly in regard to infrastructure in Ireland and Europe. It is important that those two facts are not confused. We do not believe that a deposit return scheme will have any noticeable impact on the recycling rate for beverage containers which make up about 4% of all packaging. We think a deposit return scheme would be extremely difficult to operate. It is important to carry out a cost benefit analysis on this. To put a deposit return scheme in place on top of an existing recycling scheme such as Repak would lead to unnecessary duplication of collection infrastructure, duplication of transport, increase traffic pollution, wasteful use of energy and have a negative carbon impact.
Dr. Pat McCloughan:
I am the managing director of PMCA economic consulting. Along with Ms Gill Bevington, an independent packaging consultant based in the UK, I was commissioned to write a report examining the rationale and likely effects of the beverage container deposit scheme as proposed in the Bill.
I will highlight the main conclusions of the study. On the rationale for the proposal, the way that economists would usually look at this is to ask if there is evidence of a market failure. Our report reviews the literature and previous studies, including a 2004 OECD report which sums the situation up well. It says that the rationale for a deposit scheme in a jurisdiction where there is already an extended producer responsibility scheme, EPR, such as Repak in Ireland, is just litter control. That leads to the question of whether there is a litter problem in Ireland and specifically one of beverage containers. Fortunately, there is extensive information for the position in Ireland provided by Tobin Consulting Engineers in tandem with local authorities. We have looked at that evidence in detail and it shows two things. The overall litter problem in Ireland is diminishing, as one would expect, because Ireland is a country with a green and clean environment and we have a vested interest in ensuring that. Looking specifically at the beverage container litter, as others have noted already, about 3% of all litter in Ireland is beverage containers and when one adds drinks cartons it increases to 3.5%. The trend over time is decreasing.
I apologise but I must stop Dr. McCloughan. We have received written submissions from all the witnesses and Dr. McCloughan will have the chance to come in again later. I call on our fifth witness, Ms Mindy O'Brien from VOICE.
Ms Mindy O'Brien:
Outside, there are around 100 people protesting about our need to do something about plastic. After the Blue Planet series, as the Deputy noted earlier, and the Sky Ocean Rescue campaign, plastics is a huge issue on which we are now reaching the tipping point. According to the Ellen MacArthur foundation, 8 million tonnes of plastic are leeching into our marine environment. That is equivalent to a rubbish truck emptying a load of plastic into the ocean every minute. By 2050 we will have more plastic in the ocean than fish.
We have received figures from Repak regarding how much of the plastic bottles and aluminium cans are being recycled. We have calculated that around 2.5 million plastic bottles, 720,000 aluminium cans and 500,000 disposable coffee cups are either thrown away, incinerated or littered each day. These are valuable resources that leak from the recycling scheme and there is value in these resources. This is the result of our throwaway society, a far cry from where we were 20 years ago. A takeaway coffee then would have been a thermos of hot instant coffee. While we have improved our household recycling, and Repak has been instrumental in subsidising the collection of mixed dry recyclables, we are terrible on the go when we have takeaway containers, bottles, cans and single use items that are either thrown away or littered into the environment. We cannot continue with the status quoand we need to take a step back to address where the problem occurs and how we can resolve it.
First, we need to examine how we can prevent the waste. This can be done through reuse. Economic incentives such as the latte levy or the imposition of other economic instruments could be imposed on single use items to encourage people to bring their own bottles, coffee cups and containers. This can be administered in the same way as we do with the plastic bags, when vendors file their VAT returns. We could ban their sale but that would be a problem under article 18.
We need to capture as many valuable recyclables as we can. Where people do not have a choice of bringing their own, for instance, when they buy a can of Coke or a bottle of beer, we call for a deposit refund scheme to be established.
Deposit refund schemes have been successful all around the world. I grew up in the state of Michigan where we have had one in place since the 1970s and there is up to 98% net recovery, that is, recapture of drinks containers. We do not turn the bins over. We also have reverse vending machines in retail establishments. When people go shopping, they bring their bottles and cans, put them in and get the chit to present when they buy items. It is convenient and people do it when they go shopping. I walked a mile on a beach in Michigan in October and found one aluminium can the whole way. I have a ten minute walk from the DART to work where I found 50. There is a litter problem. Companies such as Wellman International in the North and Shabra in Monaghan support deposit retention schemes because the quality of plastics and aluminium collected in single streams is much higher than what one gets in dry recyclable material. On extended consumer responsibility, as was stated earlier, Repak charges the same fee for PET bottles and non-recyclable plastics. This needs to be reformed.
There is a cost to litter and drinks containers make up around 40% in volume of all litter. It was said that it is 3% but that it is in items collected rather than in volume. One cannot equate a plastic bottle with a cigarette butt. It happens when people are on the go. They are drinking and eating on the go. They will not take that packaging home to be recycled. It ends up in our bins and is not recycled. Our litter is not recycled and it ends up being incinerated or as litter.
Economic incentives work. We have seen this with the plastic bag levy and we call for economic incentives to work again.
Dr. Dominic Hogg:
Many thanks for inviting me today. The company I work for carried out a study for the Government in 2009. We were reviewing international policy and this was based primarily on a review of literature. At the time we felt unable to call out definitively whether we should have a deposit scheme. Since 2009, we have conducted many different studies, all of them in the public domain. Interestingly, none of them was covered in the review undertaken by Repak. This has been rather interesting. We carried out those for DG Environment, Zero Waste Scotland, UK-based NGOs, Spanish NGOs and the Catalan waste administration. We are currently working with the Maltese Government, which said it wants to implement a deposit scheme, and the Kosovan Government which wants to implement one. Both Serbia and Latvia have announced they want to do it. We worked in Connecticut to improve a Bill there. Why are people doing this? What are the benefits to the system? Why would I recommend that the Irish Government do this if I had the chance again?
There are four key benefits to a deposit scheme. The first relates to the increase in recycling one will get in an effective scheme for beverage containers. That has consequences in terms of greenhouse gas benefits. It is particularly important for plastic containers. Increasingly, Ireland, along with other EU member states, is moving its residual waste management away from landfill into thermal processes. From a climate change perspective, putting plastic into a thermal process is possibly the worst thing one can do, especially as the background intensity of the energy being generated is declining over time as one seeks to address climate change objectives.
The second point is that litter will be reduced. The selective citation of the OECD 2004 study, which I know very well, having critically reviewed it for the OECD a few years later, states - I will quote it selectively - that deposit schemes will achieve an 80% reduction in litter of beverage containers. The Repak study says that beverage containers only contribute 2.5% and that the figure may be decreasing. What is acceptable here? We have a major problem in terms of litter and the flow of that litter into the marine environment. We know that this is a massive global problem. We can sit here and imagine that 2.5% or whatever the figure is. Imagine that the figure is decreasing, although I would dispute it. Even on Ireland's own econometric analysis, the t-statistics in terms of the trend in its own analysis are not significant. It is a random walk at the moment. We do not even know that the percentage is actually reducing. There is an issue here in terms of the litter.
The other point is the quality of the material. Ireland is seeing the diminishing availability of its markets. Repak's own data have shown the level of contamination of recycling material in Ireland. We have exactly the same problem in the UK and I hope that this will serve as a wake-up call in the UK and Ireland. We will not see a reduction in the recycling rate. Ireland can count that in its packaging recycling figures and it would be incredibly sensible if it did that as it would be improving the likelihood of getting to the 55% recycling rate it will have to achieve for plastics under the new circular economy package for plastic packaging. How will Ireland do it? It is at 33% at the moment, or is it? When measured against the actual recycling figures that it will have to report under the new package, I really doubt that it is. Ireland will have to report what is sent for final recycling and it will see a hit on its existing reported rate. That will go down and Ireland will have to do better.
What about the companies whose corporate social responsibility, CSR, objectives are to use more recycled content? This is interesting. We have had lots of discussions with them and some of them say that they do not like deposit refund schemes. We asked them where they get their material to meet CSR objectives of recycled content of 25%, 50%, etc.? Norway is the answer. This is interesting because it has come out of the deposit scheme. Everyone wants the quality of the material that those schemes provide. Why are we seeing the brands starting to shift? I understand why industry may initially feel a little threatened by this type of measure. I particularly understand it in the case of Ireland and the UK because we both have schemes where the producer responsibility scheme does not cover the full costs of the packaging recycling service. Therefore, we are in a uniquely interesting situation where the costs go up. Norway, funnily enough, has very high recycling rates of aluminium and there is a zero fee for the aluminium packaging producers. It is even thinking of giving a rebate because the value of the material more than offsets the costs of collecting it.
Therefore, there are a number of different reasons to do this. I understand the objections. I have seen them before. However, we have seen brands becoming more aware. They realise that having their bottles washed up on pristine beaches all over the world is not good PR.
Ms Tara Buckley:
I thank the committee for the opportunity to present. I represent the owners of 3,500 local, independent and family-owned shops, convenience stores, forecourt stores and supermarkets. RGDATA members are community-based retailers and we share the concerns the Bill seeks to address, namely, the need for waste reduction, increased recycling and reduction in single-use plastic packaging, food and beverage containers and utensils. The independent retailers I represent have played a significant role to date in the dramatic increase in Ireland's packaging recycling rates, from 15% in 1997 to 90% in 2016. Our members pay significant fees to Repak to fulfil their waste management and recycling objectives and to comply with Irish and EU regulations. They also pay for their waste to be taken from the backdoor of the shop as well.
We are active in our communities. We encourage reuse and recycling. Many of our members host recycling centres on their sites and are proactively working in their stores to follow best practice guidelines. They provide staff training on waste management, appoint green champions in their stores and adopt initiatives to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill and be more efficient in their use of natural resources. Many of our members are also trialling initiatives to encourage their customers to use reusable beverage containers.
The shop owners I represent are genuine "green grocers" and take their responsibilities in this area very seriously.
In principle, our members welcome any initiative which helps to reduce waste and contributes to consumers and retailers having more sustainable choices concerning packaging of food products. Accordingly, we are supportive of the general aims and objectives of the Bill. However, we do have concerns about aspects of the Bill which we feel need to be addressed to ensure that any new legislative measures achieve their objectives without unintended consequences. We also believe that any new proposals should be rigorously tested to ensure they will deliver value for money and that they will actually deliver on their objectives.
There are two elements to the Bill: the banning of non-compostable disposable beverage containers and tableware from 2020, and the introduction of deposit and return schemes for sealed beverage containers from July 2019.
On the first provision, banning non-compostable containers and tableware, it is important that consumers and retailers have ready access to affordable substitutes to the products currently being used typically for food to -go in shops and other outlets. There are concerns within the trade at both the cost and availability of substitutable alternatives which will be available in the numbers likely to meet the anticipated demand. Unlike the plastic bag levy, where people could bring their own bags to a shop and customers adapted very quickly to this, there are concerns within the sector that a significant proportion of consumers will be less inclined to bring their own coffee cups, containers or glasses to shops and will be reliant on the food or beverages continuing to be supplied in containers and with utensils from the shop. Consequently it is important that there are cost-effective and substitutable alternatives available to both retailers and consumers before any ban on the existing implements is introduced. Retailers have shown that once alternatives are available, they will fully embrace any initiative designed to reduce unnecessary or unsustainable waste.
On the bring-back scheme proposals in the Bill, we have serious reservations about how this scheme will operate and about the impact the new scheme will have on the existing producer compliance scheme to which retailers contribute. As I have pointed out, our members pay between €1,000 and €3,500 to Repak depending on the size of their store and the amount of packaging they put on the market. They already make a significant contribution to the cost of recycling in Ireland. There is concern that a new deposit-and-return scheme would undermine the rationale and justification for supporting Repak by my members and would amount to a form of double compliance with regulatory obligations with significant extra costs for the smaller retailer.
There are also concerns that such a scheme would be very expensive to set up and that the design of the scheme would need to take account of the place of sale for particular beverage products. For example, if a larger retailer is putting beverage containers out into the market place, then that retailer should have a commensurate responsibility to take back those products in proportion to the volumes put onto the market. It would be an unfair system if smaller retailers found themselves inundated with beverage containers which had been purchased at larger outlets, in circumstances where they would need to install the relevant infrastructure to manage, store and fund a deposit-and-return scheme for products that they did not directly put on the market. Obviously, we would like to see this rigorously tested before being applied because we are concerned about its impact, cost and effectiveness.
In general, we are very supportive of the principle of reducing packaging waste but believe that the design of any legislative measure needs to have due regard to the practical consequences of enactment on both consumers and retailers. There is no point in bringing in new restrictions where easily substitutable alternatives are not available or which serve to undermine existing producer responsibility schemes which are working well. Obviously, we do not place a disproportionate burden on smaller retailers by making them accountable for the sale practices and trading volumes of larger retailers.
In the interest of brevity, I will finish there.
I thank all the witnesses for their brevity on this. I propose that we bank the questions. If anyone wants to come in at any point, they should indicate to me and I will get around to any members who want to contribute.
My first questions are for the Department. On banning non-compostable disposable cups, glasses and tableware, I note Mr. Collins's comments on the incompatibility with the EU packaging and waste directive. I know the committee is taking its own legal advice. Is this an issue the Minister would raise with his European counterparts? Has the European Commission's plastics strategy been considered regarding this issue?
I note the EPA's point on the present treatment of recyclable waste which cannot be dealt with here and much of which is exported. Is Dr. Tom Ryan diplomatically asking where all this new recycling will happen if the Bill proceeds?
My final questions for now are for Repak. Presumably the deposit-and-return scheme, if introduced, would deal with more lucrative plastics. How would that impact on household waste charges? That is a concern for members of the public.
We will bank those questions. If anyone wants to come in on any of those later, I will let them do so.
I thank all the witnesses for their presentations and thoughtful contributions. I recognise that they are all here with some degree of vested interest depending on whom they represent, but the one vested interest that does not get enough recognition is the environment. It falls on us, as legislators, to try to craft and develop a series of legislative measures that force industry to respect and protect the environment.
The organisations before the committee today, particularly IBEC, represent industry and receive contributions from their companies annually. They represent those companies that want to sell their products. However, producers have not done enough to reduce the amount of packaging that ultimately ends up as waste. While we can clap ourselves on the back and claim we have achieved phenomenal results in the amount of materials we recycle, the volume has grown dramatically. It is possible to use statistics in whatever way one wants.
Like many other people I often walk the roads for enjoyment. During the winter period the amount of material that is disposed of into the ditches along our roadways has increased significantly. It is appalling how that has increased in recent times. Clapping ourselves on the back and claiming we are recycling much more material does not resolve that. We know from others about the amount of material that is disposed of into our waterways that ultimately damages aquatic life. It shows up in rivers as well as along our beaches, and we know the impact it has on the international seas. We need to take legislative measures to some extent almost disregarding what the industry is looking for because it will always push back and want to protect the producers. Unless we put serious measures in place to protect the environment and speak up for the environment, we will not see the kind of change we need.
I have great regard for what Repak does, but it is an industry representative group. Mr. Clancy is right in saying the recycling industry employs people and naturally enough there is a lobby group to protect the recycling industry as we know it. However, we need to find legislative measures to reduce and eliminate to the greatest extent possible the amount of waste material that ends up being discarded. I was struck by points made by one of the previous speakers that we are relatively good at recycling within the home, the commercial environment etc., but the disposable society we have and the amount of materials that are disposed of really is having a huge impact, and we need to look for other ways.
I note the rejection from the Department and I accept that there are European issues that need to be addressed. Perhaps we would introduce some pilot projects that would not contravene the overall national policy, that would help to deal with what Ms Buckley says in terms of testing the viability of these initiatives, and which would get to inform policy into the future. We can be imaginative rather than just pushing back and pulling down.
Let us work together collectively in the interests of the environment.
I thank all the witnesses. I listened intently to all the arguments and points raised.
Sinn Féin broadly supports Deputy Ryan's Bill. The Deputy has listened to the debate. We acknowledge the Bill would possibly have to be heavily amended, but that is a matter of tweaking. Stepping back and looking at the broad picture - Deputy Dooley touched on this and was spot on - it is about the environment but also about people, and we are the people. The key here is that we need to be healthy to survive, so we must take a realistic and common-sense approach to the matter.
I reject a few of the comments made. Luckily enough, I remember as a young fellow getting the old 5p coin back for the glass bottle. I certainly did not go scavenging through bins, but it was an adventure and an education for young kids at the time. Our Saturday morning was getting up early and walking the country roads, hoping to God that, the farmer having cut the ditch, the bottle would not be broken because, if it was, we would not get the 5p. The comments about scavenging are a bit of a myth. Such schemes are a very cute and selective way to educate people. It was mentioned a while ago that we must educate people about recycling. Let us do so in a common-sense and rewardable way.
I acknowledge that legal dumping happens. I am a little disappointed by the Minister's recent statement and the fact that money was being allocated to address the issues, therefore effectively admitting we are possibly heading towards more legal dumping. The other side of that is that I acknowledge what Ms Mindy O'Brien said a while ago. It is said that by 2050 the plastic in our seas will outweigh the fish. That will be horrific if it comes to fruition. The more worrying thing about it, and this goes back to my comments about the environment and people, is that we will be eating the product from the sea. We should not be human recyclers in this. I go back to my first point, which was that the environment and people both have to be healthy to survive. As I said, I support the broad thrust of the Bill, although tabling amendments to it would be a common-sense approach. Things are achievable, and I appeal to all to think outside the box.
I will probably repeat the two previous Deputies' comments. I have probably not been here as long as some of the members present. I have been here about two years now, since 2016, but I am seeing a pattern. Everything cannot be done until it is being done. We see a lot of resistance again today. I respect entirely the mandates of the organisations that all the witnesses represent and the concerns they have. They are well voiced and, I am sure, well founded, but where there is a will there is a way, and perhaps that is the attitude we need to have to these kinds of environmental challenges that face us more and more now. When my party introduced the plastic bag levy, perhaps 15 years ago or more, such concerns were probably raised as well. We got over them and got on with it. I think the public is very accepting, possibly more so at times than the institutions and organisations, of what needs to be done, and they got on board with it in the case of the plastic bag levy.
Mr. Walker's comments about scavenging in bins caught my imagination as well. They painted an apocalyptic scenario and reminded me of watching "The Walking Dead" on Netflix, a programme in which people upturn bins on the streets and scavenge, prowling by night trying to find what might be around. I do not remember the 5p scheme in Ireland but I did live briefly in Amsterdam for one summer and was very familiar with what they had, which was a bottle deposit scheme, as opposed to a plastic deposit scheme. Every morning I was nearly run down by bicycles whizzing past with crates full of empties sorted for collection and return. It worked extremely well and was an incentive. I did not see anyone scavenging or upturning bins but I did see plenty of people on their way to the various collection centres every day.
On that note, I think it was Mr. Burke who mentioned the possibility that the collection centres may be outside towns and may somehow contribute to the demise of our town centres, a risk with which we are all familiar. However, I am not sure about that. I appreciate the witnesses must cover all bases, but I think it may be a stretch to associate the demise of town centres with the location of collection centres. We already have plenty of bring centres, and I have been involved in working to bring them into many places in my area. I see the Bill in the same vein and consider that collection centres can be complementary to existing facilities. They do not have to be brand new centres.
Regarding compostable cups and whether they can be composted at home, I think the brown bin could take a great many things. I am familiar with one company, Zeus packaging, which has kindly given us samples. They seem to work perfectly well and seem to be compostable. I know they can go into the brown bin. The technology and the products are already there. It remains to support them in the marketplace.
It was very interesting to hear Dr. Dominic Hogg's comments and it is very illustrative for us to hear how other jurisdictions deal with this issue. If I understood his contribution, various other jurisdictions have grappled with this and similar concerns and questions have been raised but they have been overcome satisfactorily. It would be very interesting to pursue that a little further and see how exactly that was done.
Going back to what I said at the start, the point of Committee Stage, amendments and Report Stage is to thrash these things out. It is really useful to have a discussion on this here, but rather than parking it and saying we cannot proceed because of these questions, I would say let us take the answers to these questions and put them into amendments and proceed on that basis.
Ms Mindy O'Brien:
Yes. We were talking about litter, and I just want to let the committee know that Coastwatch, an environmental charity, has just come up with its recent survey of beaches. Its members track all the litter on the beach, and what they found in 2017 is that the largest constituent of litter on the beach was plastic bottles. They found more than 8,800 bottles. They tested 538 areas. The next largest constituent was plastic lids, followed by metal cans. Those are the top three litter items on the beaches, which contradicts some of the comments made today. There are many bottles littering the countryside.
As for the environment, we have support outside the gates of the Houses today. We have signatures from 8,000 people and we have received 3,000 signatures to support the deposit refund scheme in the past four days. Thirty Tidy Towns groups have also lent their support for the Bill. They are at the coalface of seeing all this pollution and litter on the ground. They see plastic bottles and disposable cups. They are there and they see it so they support the Bill. I do not think they publicly support many pieces of legislation.
Compostable coffee cups are better than the existing coffee cups. The problem I see is that if we do not have the good infrastructure to collect them, they will just go to be burnt like any other waste. If one wants to have them composted, one must send them to a composting facility. That means separate collection.
Dr. Tom Ryan:
The Chairman's question really concerned whether I was being diplomatic in my comments about waste management infrastructure. I did not mean to be in any way ambiguous. My comments concerned not only the Bill. Looking at the plastic strategy published by the Commission yesterday and looking forward to the evolving policy demands of the circular economy, we are very keen to highlight the challenges of self-sufficiency of waste management, including recyclables, that lie ahead for Ireland. It has been rehearsed here already that we are heavily reliant on export markets for treatment of recyclable waste. We had suggested that efforts to enhance the management of those waste streams should include proactive planning for adequate future treatment capacity in the State. We see that as a really important step, particularly as we transition to a circular economy. The role that the EPA can play to support and assist in this is by providing evidence and by funding appropriate targeted research that might assist in that transition process.
Mr. Matthew Collins:
Yes. To respond to the Chairman's questions, the plastic strategy was published yesterday, so we have not had a chance to consider it fully at this stage. The focus of the Department's thinking now is really the legislative package that will be formally concluded probably this quarter by the European Union. That will bring in the legally binding waste targets for Ireland. They set the targets from 2025 to 2030 and 2035, and it is really in that context that we would very much focus on how Ireland will move from where we are today to delivering on those targets.
The best way to describe what we are thinking of is an attempt to put in place sufficient evidence so that we know what initiatives and measures we are proposing. We would like to understand what the impact would be, determine the best structure for the Irish context and know the cost. That will be an ongoing process now that we are approaching the conclusion of negotiations on waste targets. Whether or not the Minister has done so, we have already raised the issue of tackling plastic and packaging with the Commission and the European Union at an official level. Depending on direction of the Bulgarian presidency, the circular economy package it is due to be discussed by the Council of Ministers. I have no doubt that the Minister will raise the issue at that point as well. It will be the Minister's first chance to consider the publication of a plastics strategy, and hopefully also to sign off on the new targets for 2025 and 2035.
The real challenge for us as a Government Department is providing robust evidence on the impacts of the instruments we choose to use, whether they are economic or regulatory in nature. Deputy Dooley asked if we would consider ways of testing the viability of options. That is certainly something we would like to pursue. In our work with the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, we explore possible research projects examining how various measures might operate in an Irish context. That would be a challenge, but it is something we would definitely be willing to look into.
Mr. Séamus Clancy:
I think it is important to understand that we are on the same page where the intent of the Bill is concerned. We are supportive of the intention. We feel that other ways to deliver the potential outcomes should be examined, and we should be trying to achieve measurable outcomes. In that context, we are developing a plastics strategy. We have been working on it for about two years. There are a lot of complex stakeholders involved in this. We believe that Ireland Inc. needs to implement a good strategy to deal with plastic, and recycling as a whole, in order to hit the 2025 targets. We have a huge deficit in infrastructure.
I welcome the comments from the EPA calling for this to be examined in a very serious way, because that is what is needed. I am suggesting to the committee that this must be examined in a very holistic way, with the involvement of producers. At the end of the day, they are the people placing the material on the market. We work with them all the time to try to prevent and reduce use, reuse and do away with unnecessary packaging. Unnecessary packaging is a blight on our landscape throughout the country. It has to brought to an end, but they have to play a part.
The consumer has also been referred to. In urban areas, green bins have up to 30% contamination. That has an immediate impact on how much we can recycle. The third area to consider is the development of technology. It is still at a very low ebb, particularly for recyclers. The technology still needs to be developed. The circular economy package refers to tackling this problem.
Last but not least, Ireland Inc. needs to have a coherent, cohesive strategy to deal with this. The Chair asked a question about the bin itself. Removing polyethylene terephthalate, PET, the plastic present in beverage bottles, from the recycling bin would remove a valuable commodity. It is one of the varieties that is fairly stable worldwide. In the main, it does not go to China but is recycled in Europe. A much bigger problem is the amount of low-grade plastic on the market. I recommend that the committee looks at this in its totality, and uses this as a core body of work. The focus should not be on something that is a relatively small area in the overall context of plastic.
Moreover, when we are making comparisons it is important to remember that the situation in Ireland, where there is an extended producer responsibility scheme for 20 years, differs from a jurisdiction where there is no scheme and deposit returns are to be introduced. They all have different mechanisms for reaching the same level of return. It is important to note that in the countries where there is a deposit return scheme there is very little difference in overall recycling rates. A good example is Norway, which has had a lower overall recycling rate over 40 years than Ireland has today.
Dr. Neil Walker:
It is a pity that Deputy Dooley is not here. He made two comments; that business is not doing enough and could be doing more; and that the problem is all about litter. Businesses are doing more than we advertise, and we are very strongly committed to the polluter pays principle. Ms O'Brien and I sit on the water forum, and she can testify that I have been quite outspoken on the polluter pays principle in the face of some people. Let us not get into the water charge debate though.
We have supported the EPA's waste prevention programme with a 75% full-time executive since 2010. We have provided consultation to hundreds of companies in effectively promoting resource efficiency. Dozens of them have done resource efficiency assessments. We are planning a big campaign on this issue in 2018. That has now morphed into a circular economy role. We have a circular economy executive which is virtually full time. We will run member surveys to determine a baseline and another survey at the end of the year, to see if we can change hearts and minds. The circular economy is a huge opportunity and we want to avail of it. There could be first-mover advantages.
Greenhouse gas is a minor issue in this regard. If we could increase the recycling of high-density polyethylene, HDP, in bottles, we might get an extra 10,000 tonnes or 15,000 tonnes. If it cost €10 million or €20 million a year to do it, that equates to €1,000 per tonne. An equivalent carbon tax would collapse the economy. The greenhouse gas argument is not the major one. Litter is a huge problem, but if the Government is to spend €10 million or €20 million a year in running costs, with set-up costs further to that, it raises the question of what could be done with that money that would be more effective in reducing litter?
Litter is a scourge. I bloody hate it. I would like to quote one of Deputy Lawless's Senatorial colleagues, Senator Catherine Ardagh. She spoke in the Seanad on 10 May 2017, talking about Dublin City Council and litter, and we wholly agree with what she said. The Senator remarked:
" In 2014, there were 18 litter wardens in Dublin city but we now only have 16. There were 2,295 fines issued, 698 fines paid and 542 prosecutions for failure to pay on-the-spot fines, of which only 44 were successful. It seems from the statistics that no one was prosecuted either summarily or on indictment."
That is not intended to be a criticism of Dublin City Council. If the council had more money, it could employ more enforcement. Why are there no council employees going up and down the beaches on Segways? If we want to stop litter, we must deal with it as a litter problem.
I have one more point in response to Mr. Clancy's remarks about Norway. Our packaging recycling rate is higher than Norway's. Over all packaging, our rate is 68% while Norway's is 56%. Some 57% of plastics in Norway are incinerated. For Ireland to be more like Norway might please President Trump, but it would not necessarily make us any better at recycling. In the area of plastic packaging, we are roughly on a par with Norway. According to 2014 data, the most recent we have, Norway recycles 36.1% while Ireland's rate is about 0.5% lower than that. As much as I love Norway, I am not sure it is a role model that is any better than what we currently do.
Dr. Dominic Hogg:
I will respond to Dr. Walker's comments first. It is very welcome news that the industry bodies are developing a circular economy. It is important to recognise the opportunity. The company I worked for recently carried out a major review of waste statistics in environments where deposit schemes apply. The initial executive summary was pretty stinging, because we felt we had been here so many times before. Sadly it is very difficult to do comparative analysis on European waste data. In a discussion of the effect of a deposit scheme on packaging statistics, another question arises. How much of the total packaging consists of beverage containers?
The other issue is that when we are talking about total packaging and what the effect of a deposit scheme is, we have to ask how much of the total packaging is actually beverage containers. It is not massive. That is interesting, because when we talk about the collection system and the effect of it, we have to think about what is in the collection service. All the paper, card, steel cans used for food, glass jars not used for beverages and plastic bottles not used for beverages are all still there, as well as all the other types of plastic. The idea that some system is made redundant or that its economics are radically altered is not true. We recently did some analysis of this for UK non-governmental organisations, NGOs, and the net effect in terms of local government service tends to be marginally positive because of the cost of the disposal on the residual side and the marginal benefit in terms of litter clean up costs. The cost of dealing with litter is not completely eliminated, of course. I believe that point is overplayed.
I agree with the point about carbon if it was only justified on that basis. The interesting thing is that we are starting to learn more about what the externalities associated with the disamenity effects of litter are, and we are starting to understand what they are in a marine environment. That opens up a whole new area of research. Litter is never both on the land and in the sea at the same time. The same piece of litter moves from one place to the other, and there is a large amount of research that needs to be carried out to help us understand that better and to understand those externalities. We do know that the effect is big. It is much more important than climate change externalities on a tonne-for-tonne basis. If an impact assessment of this nature is carried out it is not the case that it stands or falls on the climate change impacts, in our view. It has to take into account the disamenity and the impacts associated with litter, which is something we are getting a better handle on.
On the question of the markets, Ireland, the UK, the United States and other countries are suddenly getting a wake-up call that we are not collecting stuff very well and are not getting quality material out. We are trying to sell this to anyone who will take it, and some people are saying that they are fed up and do not want to take it anymore. In the context of a circular economy, if there is 30% to 40% contamination of plastics - and that happens - what can be done if one is trying to develop a reprocessing industry here? If 30% or 40% of every tonne that comes in has to be thrown away over €100 per tonne will have to be spent to get rid of it. If it is shipped to China what is the disposal cost? It is peanuts. The transport of the material to China is effectively funded. If the quality of the material is better it is more likely to stay here and it is more likely that people will come forward with a view to actually using it and actually developing the markets in reprocessing here. This is not a straightforward issue.
On the final points about the costs of recycling, when we did the work back in 2009 we had some very interesting discussions with Repak. I welcome Mr. Tony O'Sullivan, who is at the back of the room. Our discussions concerned the cost of recycling in the Republic of Ireland. We did not ask what Repak pays to support recycling. That is a different matter. We were focused on the cost. We carried out a piece of analysis, because - and I do not wish to take this into a completely different area - we feel that Ireland has a relatively expensive system because it is based on the open market, which in our view leads to inefficiencies in the delivery of the service. I know that is a hot topic here and it opens up other issues. The fact is that we do not have a really good handle on the cost in all cases.
I will make a final point on small retailers.
Dr. Dominic Hogg:
We have had discussions with small retailers in the UK, involving a similar discussion about a deposit refund scheme. We carried out a report for an NGO around the impact of deposit refund systems on small retailers. There are good systems and bad systems. We always want to design a system well, and the Repak report makes some very positive contributions in that respect. The good systems will always pay some form of handling fee to the retailers. There may be a cost. A reverse vending machine does not have to be in place. Manual take back could be done as well. One could be paid to recompense for the take-back of that material. The gut instinct of governments is often to exempt small and medium-sized enterprises. Imagine there was a deposit scheme coming in and that every person who returns a container gets 15, 20 or 25 cent back. Do retailers want them to come back to their stores? The footfall argument is a really important one for the small retailers, and if this system is going to come into place I suspect that the small retailers would prefer to be part of it rather than out of it, as long as it is well designed.
This is very useful in terms of this complex area. We have had damn lies and statistics, so I am very glad that the EPA is seeking real clarity now. It was said in the presentation that 84% of plastic packaging waste is either recovered or recycled. What percentage is recycled and what percentage is burned? I would be interested to hear if the Department agrees with Mr. Hogg and indeed the European Commission, which released a report yesterday which does not take long to read and is absolutely definitive in saying that we should not send plastic towards incineration. Does the Department agree with that? Can the EPA give me the percentages of each? Does it have statistics in terms of the percentage of our recycled plastic which goes to China? I know that some goes to Europe, but what is the percentage?
I do. I am very interested in what Mr. Clancy said in his statement. If I understood correctly he said that 30% of green bin waste is contaminated. Does that mean that 30% of the content in our green bins is the wrong content? I would be interested to know from Mr. Hogg if there is then a cost for managing that. What is his understanding of the implications of the Chinese decision to refuse to take anything except highly segregated, high quality material? What are the immediate implications of that decision, which was signalled eight months ago and is now in operation? What immediate effect is that having on his operations?
Mr. Stephen Treacy:
On the first question, in terms of plastic recycling waste recovery, the 84% rate of recovery includes the recycling as well. The recycling portion of that is 34% and the remainder is recovery in waste incineration plants and energy recovery.
In terms of the exports, I do not have the percentage table here but approximately two thirds of packaging waste in total is exported. Some 77,000 tons of plastic are exported for material recycling, and 68,000 tons are exported for energy recovery. Those are the 2015 numbers that are on our website.
Mr. Séamus Clancy:
On the salvation issue, we carry out waste characterisation studies twice a year at all the major plants in Ireland, and we separate household from commercial waste. What we find is that the contamination level in the cities and urban areas is far greater than in the rural areas. That is predominately down to the collection process, but there are also many more apartments and there is less consciousness of the issue.
The cost associated with recycling means that there is a greater need for facilities to separate it. Where there is significant contamination, the whole load collected can be lost. If, for example, someone puts a container of oil into his or her recycling bin, it contaminates the whole truck and that is lost. That is a continuous education issue that we are working with. The industry is examining ways to track down and highlight this to consumers who are contaminating their recycling bins and we are very much in favour of that.
On the cost issue to which Mr. Hogg referred, we have started in the past three years to do detailed costings on the collection and recycling costs across all the different sectors and facilities. There are nine main recycling facilities in the country. We have a breakdown of those costs and we are breaking it down to material type in particular as well to better inform us. The greater the cost of recycling a particular material, the greater the subsidy level. Our subsidies are fixed until the end of 2018. From then on we will seek to recalibrate those in line with targets from the European circle economy package.
China has not closed its doors, it has said that it is reducing the contamination factor to 0.3% for plastic and 0.5% for paper. It is virtually impossible to get to that level. The European norm for each of these is 2%. The majority of the material leaving Ireland is within that 2% to 5% overall. That is why the recycling facilities here are working hard to improve the technology they are using to create greater segregation. Everyone in this room needs to realise there are still many people hand-picking recyclable material going through all these facilities.
This rubbish was collected yesterday on Dunmoran beach in Sligo by a member I think of Voice Ireland. I am randomly picking out the items, for example, Coca Cola. Why is it that Coca Cola in Scotland is supporting the introduction of a deposit refund scheme but IBEC is objecting to it here. I presume it is a member of IBEC. The second item is Ballygowan bottles. I think Ballygowan is owned by Britvic. As I understand it, the British Soft Drinks Association is also open to deposit refund scheme. Why is it that British companies and global companies are supportive of the measures in this Bill in other jurisdictions but here the industry federation fights it tooth and nail?
Mr. Séamus Clancy:
To put this in context, the UK does not have an extended producer responsibility scheme and it does not have deposit return schemes and it is seeking to introduce something that will increase its level of recycling overall and my understanding is that Coca Cola is supportive of the principle of testing it but not unless it is going to work. It is considering it not in Scotland but in London. I am not too sure exactly what is going on in the UK but it uses a producer returnable note, PRN, system, which is a trading. I would be very interested to know what Mr. Hogg thinks of that because it definitely is not delivering in the UK.
My last question is for Mr. Hogg. It is very useful to have him here because he does have extensive international experience. I am very concerned when certain of my colleagues say we need to test or we do not know the potential implications when around the world, in America, Australia and Europe, similar schemes exist. It is not as if we are shooting for the moon. There are numerous international examples of deposit and refund schemes.
One of the key questions the Department asks relates to what might be the cost. I am not sure Mr. Hogg has done the mathematics in breaking down the cost of a deposit and refund scheme but let us say there was a 10, 15 or 20 cent deposit refund what would be the cost per bottle for operating the scheme? Has Mr. Hogg done any work on that? He said earlier that he is sceptical of the statistics for recycling rates here. The recycling rates are uncertain. I think that is why the public is also suspicious about this area. We are not clear about what is going where.
Where does Mr. Hogg think best practice exists? Where would we look for example? My understanding is that the Scottish Government has agreed to commit and introduce this scheme. It is not doing it on a trial basis but across Scotland and I understand the UK Government is about to do the same. It will not do it on a trial basis but across the UK. What would be the implications for the Border if there was a collection refund scheme in the North but not in the South?
Dr. Dominic Hogg:
I will start with the cost. In our view, a good system would be designed with a central element much as was suggested in the Repak submission. That system would be entitled to retain the unclaimed deposits from those who decided not to return the beverage containers. The fees to the producers, the beverage companies and the importers would have to make up the gap between the running of the whole system and on the plus side, income, the money coming from deposits that people did not claim and the revenue from the sale of the materials. If there is a low level of return the value of the unclaimed deposits can fund the whole system. We would like to see something in legislation that would push for high return rates from the scheme. If it goes up to 90% or just above that and the system is very efficient, in our calculation the order of magnitude of the cost to the beverage manufacturers and importers would be of the order of 1 cent per container.
Dr. Dominic Hogg:
Yes. Those administrative fees vary. The scheme could be designed very badly. I hope that would not be the case if it is done here. That is part of the trick. The committee will probably be quite interested to know that in some states in the United States the unclaimed deposit revenue goes to the state and is used to fund political campaigns. We will not see those return rates going up soon.
Mr. Thomas Burke:
This has been a very interesting conversation. I have listened and I am learning. What is encouraging is that we are all on the same page and everyone has the same objective. There has, however, been very little conversation about the consumer. It has been about what producers and retailers should do but we need to take cognisance of the role of the consumer and educating that consumer and explaining the challenges posed by littering. It is a cultural problem. We can invent compostable schemes and deposit return schemes and we can bring in levies but if the consumer does not react and continues to litter, as they are undoubtedly doing, the problem will not go away. That is a real challenge. I am disappointed that Deputy Lawless left, particularly as he is my local representative.
Mr. Thomas Burke:
We share a local shopping centre and I wanted to relate an experience of mine. It has been a concern of retailers that the deposit return scheme will lead to extensive litter and waste building up around the machines and when I went to the centre over the Christmas period to return some glass bottles there were bottles all around the machine, as far as the eye could see. The system could obviously not cope with the level of supply. It will be unsightly and will drive traffic through their car parks unnecessarily.
It was suggested that innovation was at the centre of all this and retailers are innovating in this regard. They work with suppliers to look at new packaging solutions and to reduce some of the unnecessary packaging to which Deputy Dooley referred. It is not in our interest to continue to produce this packaging because we have to pay to take it off the market. At the same time, we need to be cognisant of food security and consumer security, particularly in the case of coffee which is a hot, hazardous substance from which the consumer needs to be protected. All these issues need to be borne in mind.
Dr. Pat McCloughan:
The Repak report refers to the success factors of deposit refund schemes in other countries. It concludes that most of the schemes were introduced at a time when refillables were still commonplace in those countries but the refillables schemes have long disappeared in this country. The second factor is that they were introduced before kerbside recycling was undertaken. In 2008 my colleague, Gill Bevington, authored a report for Repak looking at the same issues of whether a deposit scheme would be suitable for Ireland and she concluded that it would not, because of the same set of factors. One has to ask what has changed in Ireland in the meantime. Has there been any significant change? What has changed is that there has been a growth in the kerbside and household sector, albeit with contamination issues. Tonnage has been growing successfully in these areas and the cost of recycling has also improved.
The cross-Border situation is a big issue and the CSO undertook a module in 2010 on cross-Border shopping. Many people from the deep south of Ireland, Cork, Kerry and Wexford, would journey to Newry and Belfast to do their shopping and the second biggest purchases by these people are alcohol. They spend hundreds of euro, more than people from Donegal or Sligo, and this raises the question of dumping and how we handle the additional items. If the North had its own scheme it would raise the question of co-ordination. We are not in outright opposition to a scheme but we appeal to the evidence. There has been a debate about that but we have to deal with the facts from official sources.
Ms Mindy O'Brien:
In regard to the deposit refund scheme, if bottles have value they will not be lying around. I have had experience of this in Michigan and have lived with it for 40 years. A reverse vending machine is easy to use and the stuff can be used in big and small shops.
We have to deal with trade across state lines so we get bottles from Indiana, Illinois etc. There is no deposit on them but this information can be read from the bar code so a person will not get any credit for it. We really need to address single-use items such as straws, plastic cutlery etc. and think of banning such items. Polystyrene is a scourge of the oceans. We met with zero-waste people in San Francisco and Seattle and they all use compostable containers for food, such as wooden forks. I asked if it cost more but they said that, as demand increases and there are more producers, the price comes down.
Dr. Dominic Hogg:
I was interested in the comment about innovation because one of the more interesting points was the level of engagement retailers get with their consumers in connection with modern deposit schemes and the reverse vending machine. They can engage instantaneously via touchscreens and online and the data retailers can extract from a modern deposit refund scheme are at least as valuable to them as the scheme itself. We are engaged in a study on what we would do if we were to design a recycling system anew today. The technology has moved on in terms of quality, particularly in the case of the extraction of plastics from mixed waste sorting. In the Norwegian example, they decided that having a deposit scheme for high-value containers meant they would not have to bother with the rest, which they would extract at the back end before the material went into an incinerator. This also recognises that if plastic is left to go into the incinerator we would just be burning fossil carbon and sending it up into the sky.
Mr. Paul Kelly:
I agree that an outright ban is inconsistent with the legal base, which is the internal market. One would see an impact on the free movement of packaged goods and it will also be inconsistent with the policy objectives of the circular economy package. We are opposed to alternatives such as the latte levy and it is worth bearing in mind that a latte is 80% milk. I am sure the Minister will look forward to detailed consultation with the dairy sector and farmers on that.
The EU plastics strategy makes reference to deposit schemes but it also references key measures to improve the economics and quality of plastic recycling and to put in place well-designed EPR schemes. We believe we have a well-designed scheme but we would welcome more stringent targets.
Ms Tara Buckley:
In response to Dr. Hogg, there are a lot of issues around what a deposit and return scheme would look like and cost. He said it would drive footfall but one of the issues for small retailers these days is that everyone tells them their thing will drive footfall to their stores but the retailers have to turn on the lights, pay the staff and organise the facility, training, etc., so talking about driving footfall is not good enough. They have to know that it will be cost-effective and that they will be able to pay for the service. I ask him to keep that is mind.
Mr. Séamus Clancy:
Following on from what Mr. Burke said, we have a shortage of bottle banks and recycling facilities in the country. The 1,848 we have represent a ratio of 1:2,004, while the norm is 1:1,000 in continental Europe, though not in the UK. Leixlip is a good example, where 15,480 people live but there is one bottle bank. We have struggled to push local authorities and producers for more bottle banks and we hope the committee can take this on board.
Repak would welcome the committee taking on board Mr. Hogg's recommendations. It is in recommendation No. 10 from his 2009 report. If the committee looks at the executive summary produced by Dr. McCloughan, it will see that they are practically identical or compatible in terms of the detail that should be looked into so if the committee is going to look at this in detail, it should make sure a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis is carried out in conjunction with dealing with and answering the questions they pose. That would be a great starting point.
Ms Mindy O'Brien:
We have been focusing a lot on plastics and plastic bottles but the deposit would also impact on aluminium cans. Right now, we are only recycling 55% of aluminium cans, which is really low given that aluminium is such a high-value, 100% recyclable material. This sort of deposit would increase the amount.
I very much appreciate that and I appreciate everyone coming here. It has been a very useful meeting. I did promise I would come back to Mr. Walker, which was difficult because I was listening to everybody. According to the plastics strategy, the Commission will propose new rules on waste management. These include clearer obligations for national authorities to set up separate collection and targets to encourage investment in recycling capacity and avoid infrastructural over-capacity for processing mixed waste, for example, incineration. I could go through its circular economy package notes throughout the day. The Commission could not be clearer that this is not the way we should be going.
Our Bill is political in the sense that this really is a political choice because it asks that we avail of the mechanisms within the Waste Management Act 1996. It is really a political question in terms of whether we want to join the myriad countries that are looking at this issue in terms of both. Ms O'Brien is right. We concentrated on the deposit refund scheme and bottles today but there is the issue around the use of disposable throwaway plastic coffee cups, cutlery and other items. We must address this across the board for climate reasons, environmental protection reasons and circular economy development reasons and to simply meet EU rules in terms of how we are going to get from 35% to 55%. If someone has a better idea and if some other party will say that it has another mechanism which will help us do that, I would love to hear it and I would love to read cited international papers - such as the studies carried out by Eunomia and others - which fit in with what the Commission is saying.
What we are suggesting in this Bill is absolutely in tune with where European regulation is going and is also in tune with ensuring due regard is had and with the precautionary principle in terms of protecting our marine environment in particular but also our land environment. I hope we can proceed to Committee Stage. A lot of further work will be done. We recognise that we want to do it in step with other international developments, particularly in Scotland and the rest of the UK because they are similar jurisdictions, and France. Our nearest neighbours are legislating in this direction. We are not saying it must be done tomorrow but I believe we should go to Committee Stage. What this Bill does is signal intent and the desire to use the Waste Management Act 1996 and indeed work with Repak and other industry people here, particularly small retailers who will be at the centre of our concern in terms of getting it right going back to those days where when we went back with a bottle, it was to a small retailer. This could be an opportunity to turn around the nature of the retailer-customer relationship. It is not just about this bottle and the cups but this is an important part of the overall picture because it involves the public. It is something we can all understand. If we get the public behind us on that, it is so much easier to understand all the other different strands involved and the various changes we will have to make. We have done good work in the past 20 years but now is the time to jump up to a much more extensive recycling circular economy system. This is one part of it but it is an important part because the public would be with us on it and it will help us to do the other things we will need to do.
Dr. Neil Walker:
We want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. We advocate stronger enforcement of existing litter laws. It costs money but one needs to spend the money on having ten more wardens. One needs better education. The educational campaign on gum litter more than halved the proportion of gum litter in all litter over a period of years. IBEC was very supportive of that. Why will it not work for this?
I take this opportunity to thank those who have travelled and all the witnesses who have come here this afternoon. It is proposed that the committee will publish the submissions and opening statements received on its website. Is that agreed? Agreed. The committee also received submissions - items of correspondence Nos. 644 to 655, inclusive - in support of this Bill. It is proposed to note these items of correspondence and to publish them on our website. Is that agreed? Another item of correspondence, No. 656, another submission does not support the Bill. It is proposed to publish this submission on our website. Is that agreed? Agreed.