Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 18 May 2021

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine

Farm Plastics Recycling: Discussion

Mr. James Fitzgerald:

First of all, to address the position on the levy, the IFFPG is the statutory agency charged with collection of the levy. There are approximately 40 or 50 importers and retailers of farm plastics in this country. They are all signed up with the IFFPG. They pay a levy at the point of import, or the point of sale, on the plastics. This is a system that has prevailed as a result of legislation originating in 2001.

Down the years, there have been a number of players. The IFFPG has been in the market but prior to it being established, Farm Relief Services was also involved at a level alongside it. A number of contractors were involved with Farm Relief Services, some of whom subsequently joined the IFFPG as contractors. Most of us who are independent contractors have had a contract with the IFFPG at some stage. When contractors get involved and have an investment, and if the tender does not work out, they end up outside of the system along with their investments, licences and permits, so there is very little option but to keep going in the business they started.

The IFFPG collects 100% of the levy and uses it at its discretion within the company. Its business is to export farm plastics. The issue is that the IFFPG is deemed to have fulfilled its statutory remit when it has collected 70% plus of the material. The balance of us are collecting and have been collecting, shipping and exporting plastic over a number of years. We have been able to do that without the use of the levy in a buoyant market situation.

Originally, the IFFPG-type enterprise was set up under statutory guidance to correct the fact that there were no recycling or collection facilities and plastic was being spread out around the country. The original remit of the scheme was to address that particular issue. The situation has now evolved. The amount of plastic being used has considerably increased and we have independent contractors. The IFFPG goes out to tender every four to five years to ask contractors like me to tender for so many counties or whatever. Those that fail in that are still plastic collectors. We get no assistance whatsoever. What has helped us is that we were in a position to export plastics as a result of buoyant markets between 2012 to 2017 but since 2017, the Chinese market disruption has created a situation where a normal functional market has not worked. We are, therefore, looking to the IFFPG at this point for a share of the levy or, indeed, some of the levy that may be due on plastics already shipped. That is the background to the levies side of it.

What we have in mind when we speak about Repak, our understanding is that for assemblers of plastics, it will make a contribution to those that export. It is paying out the levy to anyone, whereas the IFFPG has ended up, by virtue of its remit, being a competitor in the same market as private operators. That is not exactly what was envisaged.

Senator Paul Daly made a point about farm collections by the IFFPG. The group runs a bring centre collection. I was part of its system for a number of years. The bring centre aspect of it has run quite successfully at various points such as towns, marts and various places around the country, but the IFFPG also provides a farm-to-farm collection service, which many people want. One reason there seems to have been a consolidation of IFFPG contractors down to a small number of five, six or seven is that they do not have the same geographical cover. Therefore, it appears it may not be economic for the IFFPG to send out a lorry to collect farm plastics in certain areas. In that instance, where the nearest IFFPG contractor is more than 40 miles away, the service I provide at a bring centre to take in farm plastics services a 30- or 40-mile radius. There is no particular issue with that but I do not have lorries on the road. It is a fact that the cost of keeping lorries on the road is quite expensive and prohibitive for farm-to-farm collections. There is a price at which it is viable and, perhaps, if we were getting more money for plastics or getting some contribution from the levy, we could be in a position to provide a viable farm-to-farm collection service. That is what we had in mind on Senator Daly's three points.