Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Thursday, 7 October 2021

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action

General Scheme of the Circular Economy Bill 2021: Discussion

Mr. Leslie Carberry:

Today’s global economy is overwhelmingly based on a linear model of production and consumption – we take, make, then waste. This linear economic model is environmentally and economically unsustainable. However, the circular economy offers an alternative, whereby waste and resource use is minimised and the value of products and materials is maintained for as long as possible. In this scenario, when a product reaches the end of its life, its parts can be reused again and again to create further useful products. The circular economy, therefore, has the potential to significantly reduce dependency on primary resource extraction and complex global supply chains, thereby strengthening state and business resilience in the face of supply shocks.

Meeting our climate targets also requires a transformation in the way we produce and use goods. Therefore, making less or using fewer resources will play a key role in climate action. In line with the evolution of EU and UN environmental policy, A Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy was published in September 2020. This far-reaching plan reconfirms the link between the circular economy and climate action, and mandates a whole-of-government approach to ensure Ireland’s successful transition to a circular economy. The circular economy Bill 2021 is a key step in this transition and will provide a robust statutory framework for moving from a focus primarily on managing waste to a greater focus on adapting patterns of production and consumption.

The Bill will provide the necessary legislative basis for several key measures, including the circular economy strategy and the circular economy programme. The adoption of a high-level whole-of-government circular economy strategy will provide an overarching policy framework for the public, private and voluntary sectors. The first version of that strategy, which is due to be published shortly, will set out the first high-level steps we need to take to make the transition possible. The circular economy programme, which will be implemented by the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, will provide critical evidence-led support for achieving the objectives of the strategy.

Food waste is also a global problem with environmental, social and economic consequences. Worldwide, more than one quarter of food produced is wasted. Through the national food waste prevention roadmap, Ireland will provide a pathway to achieving the goal of reducing food waste by 50% by 2030. Placing the strategy, programme and roadmap on a statutory footing will ensure that the circular economy transition remains a national policy priority.

The Bill will also give the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the power to introduce new environmental levies on single-use items and, in due course, to prohibit the placing on the market of certain environmentally harmful products by replacing and building on existing powers currently set out in waste legislation.

Recognising the role of the environment fund and the need to align it more closely with the promotion of the circular economy, a new circular economy fund will replace the environment fund.

The Bill will also make important amendments to the Waste Management Acts to support the delivery of further actions in the waste action plan. In the context of waste enforcement, the Bill will advance a number of priority provisions, including the general data protection regulation, GDPR, compliant use of technologies such as CCTV, for waste enforcement purposes. This will support ongoing efforts by local authorities to tackle illegal dumping and littering. Provision will also be made for the use of fixed penalty notices for additional waste streams, including under the extended producer responsibility model for dealing with waste tyres. The changes proposed have the general aim of providing for more proportionate and more focused enforcement. A combination of legislation, guidance and the use of mandatory codes of practice will ensure that the processing of personal data may be carried out by local authorities tasked with enforcing litter and waste law, thus providing an important deterrent to protect our environment from the scourge of littering and illegal dumping, while at the same time respecting the privacy rights of citizens.

Further provisions in Part 3 of the Bill will help drive better segregation of waste in the commercial sector, where EPA statistics indicate that 70% of the material placed in the general waste bin should be in recycling or organic bins. This in turn will help us to attain our EU targets for recycling and landfill. The Bill will also help streamline and improve the end of waste and by-product application processes. These measures will help drive higher quality applications, and ultimately tailor the level of regulatory assessment of applications to their environmental risk.

Finally, Part 5 of the Bill will end the issuing of new licences for the exploration and mining of coal, lignite, and oil shale. This will consolidate our policy of reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.

A transition to the circular economy offers the possibility of a sustainable future and is a fundamental step towards achieving climate targets. Through increased awareness, better informed consumption decisions and appropriate incentives, Ireland can become a leader in this field, delivering environmental, social, and economic benefits. The circular economy Bill is a key step in that process.

I thank the committee for the opportunity to share the Department’s vision for our transition to a circular economy. We look forward to considering the report of the committee and taking part in the pre-legislative scrutiny process.