Dáil debates

Tuesday, 27 February 2007

3:00 pm

Photo of Ciarán CuffeCiarán Cuffe (Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
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Question 84: To ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his views on whether the Government's waste strategy is working in view of the confusion over the status of plans for the proposed Poolbeg incinerator. [7762/07]

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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The Government's waste management strategy has delivered demonstrable and successful results, including the achievement of domestic and EU targets well ahead of schedule. This strategy, as formulated in successive policy documents, has been framed against the background of EU objectives to move to specified recovery rates for various waste streams and to divert biodegradable waste from landfill.

Our municipal recycling rate has increased nationally from just 9% in 1998 to 35% by 2005. In fact, in 2005 we passed the target set for this country for 2013, which was, by any standard, a significant achievement. With regard to specific waste streams, we have worked successfully with industry through a range of producer responsibility initiatives. Our recycling of packaging waste rose from 15% in 1998 to 60% in 2005, comfortably exceeding the 50% EU target set for 2005 and attaining the EU 2011 target. A total of 87% of construction and demolition waste was recycled in 2005, exceeding the national target set for 2013. Ireland was one of the few member states to implement the WEEE directive on time in 2005, and in the first year of operation we greatly exceeded the collection target set by the EU. We are 50% ahead of the EU target for 2008.

The Government is determined to drive forward and build on these recycling achievements, supported by appropriate infrastructure to deal with waste that cannot be prevented or recycled. Waste to energy treatment can make an environmentally valuable contribution in this context. Given EU requirements on diversion of waste from landfill, it will be particularly important in the future. It is worth looking at the contribution of the Comptroller and Auditor General last week on this issue. Against this background, the Dublin waste to energy plant is being procured as a public private partnership by Dublin City Council, acting on behalf of the four Dublin local authorities and within the framework of the statutory regional waste management plan.

Dublin City Council has informed my Department that the selected service provider for the project has been seeking significant changes in the financial and commercial terms originally agreed. This matter is the subject of continuing negotiations between the council and the prospective service provider, and I do not propose to speculate about the outcome of those discussions at this stage. The applications for planning permission to An Bord Pleanála, and for a waste licence to the EPA, are sponsored by Dublin City Council, not the service provider, and are being maintained.

Photo of Ciarán CuffeCiarán Cuffe (Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
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Does the Minister and the Government still support the construction of an incinerator in Ringsend? It is hard to know from the soundbites and U-turns of the Minister and the coalition partners over the last few days. Does the Minister accept that we are sending as much municipal waste, if not more, to landfill as ten years ago? Does he accept that Ireland is producing more municipal waste than any other EU country surveyed by the European Environment Agency? Would he accept that the debacle over the Ringsend project will mean the authorities will have to seek a three year extension for the landfill at Kill in County Kildare? Does he accept that householders are being swamped under an avalanche of packaging waste at present? I regularly hear stories of householders having to jump up and down on the top of their green bin to fit the packaging waste into it. That is no way to run a waste strategy. It is the wrong strategy for the Government to pursue. Surely the Government can regulate, legislate and mandate that packaging waste be reduced, so the poor unfortunate householder is not reduced to having to jump on top of the green bin.

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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The answer to most of the Deputy's rhetorical questions is "No". There is a degree of extraordinary hypocrisy in the Green Party's stance on this issue. I was pleased last week that, in the course of the debate, Deputy Quinn made it clear that incineration or waste to energy will have to be part of any integrated waste strategy for the future. Recovery and reduction of waste will also have to be part of the strategy. There is no simple one-way solution. Tragically, there is no zero waste solution and we cannot simply legislate waste away.

We must be honest with the public. If we wish to achieve the same high environmental standards as those countries in Europe that are always held up as the exemplars, we must have the same infrastructure as they have. I agree that far too much waste in this country goes into landfill. I wish I was in the same position today as the Deputy's colleague in the Green Party who was the Minister with responsibility for the environment in the last German Government who went to a Council meeting of Environment Ministers and boasted he had passed a ministerial order preventing further waste going to landfill until it had been heat treated.

We must be honest about this issue. Waste goes hand in hand with economic development. If we are to achieve the same levels of high environmental performance and recovery as the countries rightly used by the Deputy and others as exemplars, we must put in place the same type of infrastructure. It is dishonest to suggest there is some simple way of wishing the problem away. There is not.

Photo of Ciarán CuffeCiarán Cuffe (Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
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Does the Minister not accept that the extraordinary hypocrisy is more on his side of the House than on ours given that his attempt to wrap the green flag around him is sullied by a burn it or bury it strategy and that his Government has paid little or no attention to any attempt to reduce waste, head towards a zero waste strategy or look at alternative options such as clean filling inert waste? The householder is suffering as a result of the lack of determination on the Government's part to reduce the amount of waste created and to recycle waste. The Government is not determined to examine many innovative approaches adopted in other European countries such as standardised packaging and the promotion of markets in recycled products. The Minister has made a late conversion towards the three R principles and he should get his own house in order first.

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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I do not agree with Deputy Cuffe. We have achieved extraordinary targets in waste management in recent years, for which the public is to be congratulated. We are in a position where recycling is a possibility and one on which we must work. Deputy Cuffe did not address the issue of combined heat and power energy production. To use waste as an energy resource is the next step.

Photo of Ciarán CuffeCiarán Cuffe (Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
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The Minister means incineration. It is like changing the name from Windscale to Sellafield.

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Minister, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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CHP, where energy is recovered from waste, has been adopted in every other European country. Even the deputy leader of the German Green Party boasted about it.

Photo of Arthur MorganArthur Morgan (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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The Minister should use the word "incineration".