Tuesday, 26 April 2005
Ceisteanna — Questions.
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, together.
My Department follows best practice in recycling and our policy is expressed in our 2003 Annual Report in which it is stated that "The Department continues to seek out and avail of opportunities to recycle waste and, wherever possible, to use recycled paper".
All paper and cardboard waste from my Department is recycled. Paper waste is disposed of through a private contractor. For security reasons, I do not wish to disclose the name of the company. This contractor also removes cardboard free of charge for recycling.
Our current suppliers, Toshiba Ireland, who comply with the EC directive on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment, WEEE, and the EC directive on the Restriction of the Use of Certain Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment, RoHS, on the disposal of photocopiers, remove redundant photocopiers.
In recent years, my Department has had three main areas of IT equipment disposals, as follows: empty toner cartridges are boxed and collected by a company called Ergo Services for recycling. As part of this arrangement, Ergo Services donates a sum for each toner cartridge returned to it for recycling to a charity; hardware that is still useable but not good enough for more recent applications is made available for re-use — in 2003 and 2004, a number of PCs were disposed of to staff in my Department, for a nominal fee, while others were given, free of charge, to a charity called PCs for Africa and to schools-community groups; and hardware that could not be reused was disposed of in 2004 to a company called Systems 2000, following a tendering process. This comprised 62 monitors, 42 PCs, 11 laptops, 12 printers, 47 keyboards, one scanner and two routers. None of this equipment was of any further practical use.
Glassco Recycling recycles glass waste for the Department. We are in the process of putting in place arrangements to recycle cans and plastic bottles. Old mobile phones are disposed of to Temple Street Hospital for use for charitable purposes. Dublin City Council removes general waste. We are continually reviewing the possibility of increasing the amount of such waste that can be disposed of by recycling.
I ask this question after my colleague, Deputy Cuffe, asked each Department about various details of their policy on waste management. Will the Taoiseach indicate whether he regards it extraordinary that his Department, which is one of the smallest Departments with approximately 200 core staff, would create 104 tonnes of waste paper, which is approximately half a tonne per person? Other Departments appear to produce less. The Department of Transport produced 45 tonnes of waste paper; the Department of Foreign Affairs, 27 tonnes and the Department of Social and Family Affairs, which the Minister will agree is a large Department, produced 140 tonnes of waste paper for recycling.
Given that the Taoiseach has not given an overall figure for the total amount of waste produced in his Department, is there a possibility of reducing the level of waste paper? While he referred to best practice, he has not yet put in place facilities for recycling cans or plastic bottles, which constitute a large amount of waste throughout the country. Will he indicate what progress has been made since the last reply was given and if he has taken on board the need for better recycling infrastructure, given the closure of Smurfitts and the Irish Glass Bottle Company?
All the measures being taken in the different areas in regard to waste paper and cardboard, amounting to 104,000 kg, have been in place for a long time. I referred to glass and cans, which are already being dealt with. Efforts are being made to try to reduce and recycle waste as much as possible, which has been the policy of the Department for several years. We must ensure that waste disposal is carried out in line with best practice. I assure the Deputy that efforts are being made to deal efficiently with the issue and to try to continually reduce the amount of waste.
The e-Cabinet system throughout all Departments will reduce the need for a large amount of paper. This is already working quite well in that everything does not have to be replicated 40 times. This is having an impact each month as people begin to have more confidence in the system. Perhaps it will take another few years, but it will continue to make a big difference to the amount of paper that goes through the Cabinet secretariat, which creates a large volume of paper. It is writing up the system in that regard. It is being recycled but it is a question of doing so in a formal way. My Department, other than the staff, use it, but we do not have a great volume in that regard.
Will the Taoiseach note that these questions are timely given the publication today of an EU report that highlights, once again, the failure of this State to properly manage its waste? Does he agree the Government in general, and his Department in particular, have a responsibility to take the lead in this regard?
Given the significant number of hard copies of reports that Deputies and Senators receive almost on a daily basis, and certainly on a weekly basis, does he agree that such documentation would be better offered on-line? Will he initiate a process whereby his Department will take the lead in this area by offering each Deputy and Senator such reports on-line or notifying them of their publication such that they will be available to them on request? Does the Taoiseach recognise that I am proposing this because, in the case of reports received by many Deputies, whose job may not be to focus on the particular issues addressed in them, they are either gathering dust on shelves or are dumped? Sadly, I suspect this occurs in many cases. Does the Taoiseach agree that his Department can and should take the lead regarding a very programmatic and determined effort to reduce the very high volume of printed reports, thereby setting an example for other Departments and society in the wider context?
The Deputy raised a number of points. Most of the reports issued by the Department, including the social partnership reports, the annual reports and SMI reports, are published on the website straight away. However, I take the Deputy's point that this should be the case for all reports. On the issue of printing, there is a long tradition whereby hard copies are created of all the reports, including annual reports. They are circulated not only to Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas but also to many others throughout the country. I am sure they are looked at very attentively in many cases but it is probable that the majority are not. That is probably a valid point. I will check with my Department whether it publishes every report on-line. I have no difficulty doing that.
Projects such as the e-Cabinet project represent the best approach. I am told by colleagues that 5 kg less paper per Minister are coming to Government because of the e-Cabinet project. As it is extended over a number of years, as is intended, it will have a significant impact. I do not know about the merits of stopping the production of hard copies as I believe it leads to difficulties. In some areas, advertisements state that if one wants a report, one can seek it. I suppose that is the way things will move into the future.
On the Department's recycling policy, does the Taoiseach have any idea where the Department's waste goes? Does any of it end up in Northern Ireland, to which 250,000 tonnes of waste are sent from this city? What is the procedure regarding used toner cartridges from photocopying machines in the Department? Are they sent to a particular collection point or distributed to charities? Some agencies receive remuneration in this regard. Considering that the Taoiseach is in favour of e-government, does he have a view on the problem that arises from extensive packaging? When one considers the amount of packaging placed on the streets in our towns for disposal, by way of recycling or otherwise, one will realise the problem of recycling waste is as much a problem of packaging as anything else. The amount of packaging left on the streets for disposal by either recycling or collection reveals that the waste problem is as much one of packaging as of recycling. Packaging design includes a significant quantity of internal packaging for some pieces of equipment. Does the Taoiseach have a view on that? Is he satisfied that all the waste material in his Department is recycled and that only inert material goes to waste?
For several years a contractor, whose name I cannot mention for security reasons but which is well known, has disposed of waste from my Department. The Department has considered other companies but stays with this one because it provides a secure facility for sorting paper and non-paper waste which the Department requires. I asked about this some time ago and was told no other company provides such an efficient service.
This company has been entirely reliable over a long period particularly in terms of the speed and conditions in which it disposes of the large volume of paper waste the Department generates. Department officials have been to the location to see how the paper is treated and are satisfied that it meets the laws, directives and regulations on this issue.
Empty toner cartridges are boxed and collected by a company called Ergo Services for recycling. As part of this arrangement Ergo Services donates a sum for each toner cartridge received for recycling to the Jack and Jill Children's Foundation, which works out well.
Like everyone, when I open something and dig through boxes and wrapping I wonder why it is necessary, particularly if the contents are wooden or something else unlikely to break. There is far too much packaging on most items. Some new retailers opt for less design and packaging. It must be possible to reduce much of the refuse on the streets outside stores and take-away outlets. Few shops seem to make a serious effort in this direction.
Dublin City Council, and other local authorities which now have enough staff, run campaigns to reduce waste. There must be a way to reduce it significantly once a means can be found to deal with packaging.