Dáil debates

Thursday, 28 November 2019

Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions


12:30 pm

Photo of Michael LowryMichael Lowry (Tipperary, Independent) | Oireachtas source

The Tánaiste will be aware that the Irish Farm Film Producers Group, IFFPG, is a not-for-profit body approved by the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment to run the national farm plastic recycling scheme. Farmers understand and appreciate the necessity to properly dispose of farm plastic because of its potential to inflict huge damage on the environment. Farmers fully co-operate with and are willing participants in the scheme. All producers of farm plastic participate in IFFPG by paying a levy per tonne of plastic sold on the Irish market. The scheme then collects the waste plastic from farmers by way of farm collections or, more typically, the farmers can bring their plastic to bring collection centres where they are charged by weight.

A third source of income for the IFFPG in previous years has been the resale price of plastic to third-party recycling facilities outside the jurisdiction. The farm waste plastic market underwent a dramatic shift in January 2017 when the Chinese recycling market closed abruptly. There are other recycling facilities available in Europe, which our operators cannot afford to access. We have this ludicrous situation here because Ireland is the only country in Europe whose regulator has designated this type of plastic as amber waste material. The current Irish designation is amber, which attracts significant and stringent transport requirements and charges. These regulations are imposed by the National TransFrontier Shipments Office in Dublin City Council. In contrast, the status across Europe is that farm plastic is designated green and enjoys free movement with no additional costs.

A combination of closure of the exports to China and the non-viability of transfer to other European recycling centres has left alarming stockpiles of plastic in the hands of IFFPG and private businesses. It is now inevitable that such plastic will have to be exported from the jurisdiction to be recycled at a considerable loss. No Irish recycling facility is equipped to deal with such significant levels of farm plastic recycling. We now have, therefore, an enormous amount of plastic sitting in gigantic piles in several locations around the country. These mountains of plastics are growing daily and, ironically, have become a threat to the environment. They must be seen to be believed.

During its tenure, the IFFPG has collected quantities of waste farm plastic far in excess of its target. It is currently collecting approximately 70% of available plastic. The balance of the plastics on the market are collected by private Irish businesses. These independent operators are subject to the same regulation as the IFFPG but do not receive any portion of the financial levy paid by farmers. This is not a fair or equitable situation and leaves the independent operators at a financial disadvantage.

In light of the current market conditions, will the Government acknowledge that it is time for a policy review in respect of farm plastics, including: establishing a strategy for building a national farm plastic recycling facility; and reviewing the export status of farm plastics? Will the Government also ensure the equitable distribution of the producers' levy among all licensed assemblers and shippers of plastic, in circumstances where the IFFPG benefits from 100% of the levy on all farm plastic, even though it collects only 70% of the plastic?


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