Thursday, 28 January 2010
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for giving me the opportunity to speak on this matter. In 2003, Ireland came close to introducing a chewing gum levy. However, ultimately this move did not go ahead and I believe now is an opportune time for the issue to be revisited.
Chewing gum residue is unsightly and very difficult and costly to remove. In an ideal world, people who chew gum would dispose of it properly in litter bins but unfortunately, this does not happen, and like cigarettes, the residue ends up on the streets. Reports indicate that chewing gum accounts for a quarter of all food litter dropped on streets, and last year Dublin City Council spent some €37 million cleaning up the streets. In the current economic climate much-needed funds should not have to be spent on cleaning up chewing gum and other litter.
An article in one of the Sunday newspapers last week indicated an unexpected side effect of the bad weather was that all the grit spread on the city's streets to combat the ice had the duel effect of lifting away much of the chewing gum. However, I believe the Minister of State would agree that this is not a solution to the problem. Earlier this month a survey carried out by An Taisce pointed to the fact that although many towns around the country have done a great job in reducing litter, our cities are not particularly clean. Dublin ranked 51 out of 60 towns and cities surveyed, and was found to be "littered" by European standards. Dublin, and Ireland generally, rely heavily on tourism and having clean, litter-free streets is crucial to ensuring overseas visitors are attracted here. Businesses in the city centre pay a host of rates and levies including BID fees. Dublin City Council relies on these moneys to provide essential services. Chewing gum is an enormous problem on our city streets, and a levy could be directly used towards cleaning this product from our pavements, allowing council finance to be diverted to other areas.
The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government indicated to me in reply to a parliamentary question that negotiations with the chewing gum industry are currently underway following the expiration of an agreed three-year awareness campaign. I believe that while the gum litter taskforce has done great work in raising awareness of this problem and educating people about disposing of their litter, a levy is the only way forward and I would ask that the Minister to strongly consider this.
While I welcome the raising of on-the-spot fines for littering from €25 to €150, it is critical that these are processed in order to be effective in deterring people from littering. Reports in June of this year pointed to the fact that more than half of litter fines imposed by local authorities remain unpaid, which is unacceptable and I believe this matter must also be addressed to deter people from littering.
Seán Haughey (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Dublin North Central, Fianna Fail)
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I am taking this Adjournment matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley.
In 2006 that Minister's Department entered into a three-year negotiated agreement with the chewing gum industry to address the problem of chewing gum litter on our streets. The agreement constituted a commitment by industry to a €6 million, three-year education and awareness programme aimed at tackling the gum litter problem.
A gum litter task force, GLT, was established as part of the agreement and a full-time executive was appointed to co-ordinate gum litter awareness and education programmes. The GLT organised three nationwide gum litter action campaigns in 2007, 2008 and 2009. These campaigns included extensive outdoor advertising, an educational secondary schools programme entitled "Bin It", the development of a dedicated GLT website, local radio, in-store and around store advertising, and the distribution of point of sale and promotional materials.
This campaign has achieved much success. For example, monitoring of gum litter levels in the five main cities has demonstrated a 37% overall reduction in gum litter over the course of the 2009 campaign, with all five cities recording significant reductions. Monitoring results in 2008 demonstrated a 36% reduction over the course of the campaign. This shows that the campaign is gathering momentum over time and is having a positive effect on gum litter levels nationwide. In addition, consumer research demonstrates that the campaign has been successful in increasing awareness of the gum litter problem with significantly greater numbers of respondents since 2006 agreeing with the propositions that "it is wrong to drop gum", "spitting gum is disgusting" and "I would feel guilty dropping gum". Overall the researchers concluded that there has been an overwhelming positive trend in attitudes and claimed behaviour in respect of gum disposal since 2006.
It must be recognised that a levy would not address directly the actual cause of the problem, that is, the incorrect disposal of chewing gum. The value of the chewing gum market in Ireland is estimated at €30 million. Therefore a levy pitched at 10% of the retail price would raise approximately €3 million.
The removal of chewing gum is more problematic than other litter items. The prohibitive cost of cleaning chewing gum from our streets means that many local authorities do not engage in this activity. Therefore the funds raised from the imposition of a levy would not provide anything close to the amount that would be required to fully cleanse the country's streets. There would also be substantial administrative costs involved, leaving aside any potential legal challenges which might arise. Furthermore the levy would have to be paid by all consumers of chewing gum, not simply those who dispose of their gum incorrectly, thus punishing all for the behaviour of a few.
It is clear that the imposition of a levy alone will not change the behaviour of those who dispose of their gum irresponsibly. This is the reason the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government believes that even were a levy to be introduced, it would remain crucial to continue to educate and raise awareness of the damaging environmental consequences of dropping gum on the streets. Short-term cleansing solutions do not tackle the root cause of the problem and are unlikely to improve the position in the long term unless one can influence the behaviour of those who continue to dispose of their gum irresponsibly.
The Minister is actively considering what steps to take in the future regarding the gum litter problem, including the possible imposition of a chewing gum levy. All options are being considered and he is currently engaged with industry to establish whether a re-energised education and awareness campaign, funded entirely by the industry and building on the success of the previous agreement, is a viable option.