Tuesday, 11 July 2017
Waste Reduction Bill 2017: Second Stage [Private Members]
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
With the permission of the House, I propose to share my time with Deputy Eamon Ryan. I will begin my contribution by recognising the role played by the Deputy and his colleagues in the Green Party in bringing the Bill to this point. It was the Labour Party that provided time for this debate, but it was the Green Party that drafted the Bill.
As well as thanking the Green Party for its work on the Bill, I thank the members of the Social Democrats, Sinn Féin, Independents 4 Change and Fianna Fáil, who have indicated their support. I hope that I am not being pre-emptive, but I am glad that the Minister will avoid the usual knee-jerk reaction of many Ministers and not kick the legislative can down the road. Instead, it is my understanding that the Minister will facilitate the Bill's passage, which is most welcome.
The Minister is all kicked out. I am glad to hear it.
In co-sponsoring this legislation, we have a couple of aims in mind. The first is straightforward, namely, to have what I regard as an important Bill transposed into law. I am not simply referring to its Second Stage passage. From our discussions at other fora, I am well aware of how many Bills have got to that point. I hope we will follow the path of the Labour Party measure, the Competition (Amendment) Act 2017, and that this important Bill can be enacted.
The Bill contains two straightforward measures. The first is to introduce a deposit scheme for drink containers. This idea is hardly revolutionary. Many of us will recall such schemes being available many years ago. As the Minister knows, such deposit schemes still exist in Germany, the Netherlands, Scandinavia and Estonia. Their introduction has not destroyed those countries' retail sectors or drinks industries. What they have done has worked, in that they have reduced the volume of waste being produced. In those countries, recycling rates average at more than 90%. Our recycling rates are not terrible, but we only recycle 40% of plastic bottles. That is a low rate and the Minister will agree it is not good enough. As such, we believe that a deposit scheme can have a positive and welcome impact.
Will there be a detailed debate on Committee Stage over how such a scheme should be designed and its specifics? Yes. Will there be discussion and probably some disagreement as we work towards how it should be operated? Yes. That is as it should be. This is not a theoretical exercise. It is legislation, and legislation should have meaningful impact and be fit for purpose. A deposit scheme is designed to increase recycling rates substantially.
The other measure in the Bill is designed to reduce the waste we create. I suspect that I am somewhat typical in not realising the damage done by the so-called recyclable coffee cups that we use day in, day out. Many of them come with that little recyclable symbol on them to give us comfort. Theoretically, they are recyclable. The only problem is that there is no recycling plant in Ireland capable of recycling them. Even in the UK, there are just two such plants, only one of which has ever actually recycled a disposable cup. We produce millions of these everyday. Most people are oblivious to the fact that they are throwing away multiple non-recyclable cups each day. Many of us have been working on the false assumption that they were both recyclable and recycled.
This proposal should not be difficult. Some businesses have already moved in the direction that we are signalling with this legislation. Container Coffee in Dublin and Mouse Internet Café in Cork are just two of those that have already made the move. If they can do it, others can certainly follow by 2020, which is the timeline that we have set out in the Bill. I hope that no Deputy will argue against the importance and validity of that proposal.
There are two purposes that the Bill will serve. The first is to get the Bill enacted and its two measures implemented. The second point of co-sponsoring this legislation might be a little less tangible, but I honestly believe it is no less important. We who are privileged to serve in this House have a duty to represent our constituents. That is a clear fact and most of us try to do that day in, day out. However, we also have a duty to act in the best interests of all our people. To uphold that duty, we are going to have to start doing things differently. The Punch and Judy show that is often put on by all of us in this House might amuse some of us, although at this stage I am no longer even sure if that is true. Outside the House, such tactics cut very little ice at all.
For 14 months, we have enacted less legislation than any previous Dáil. That is a simple fact. As Mr. Harry McGee pointed out in today's The Irish Times, only 14 Bills have been enacted so far this year. After last year, it seemed scarcely possible that less progress could be made on the legislative agenda, and yet this year we seem to be managing that. No number of Bills can be frantically thrown onto this week's Order Paper to pretend that these are not the facts.
It is no secret that I have been no fan of what has been classified over the past year as "new politics". It is probably time that particular phrase was itself recycled. In many instances, our current arrangements have ground progress to a halt. When a Government is not doing all of the people's business, real harm starts being done. Our people are entitled to expect better of all of us.
They are entitled to demand that we actually grasp difficult issues to the best of our ability in a chamber of differences. They are entitled to demand that we take on injustices and inequalities and, as far as we can, that we make them better. On such fronts, we are letting them down. In co-sponsoring this legislation, we are trying to do something different - not a Punch and Judy show and not a race to see whose idea can be tabled first. We are not trying to see whether we can get party advantage over one another or whose iteration of the same idea can cause a Government defeat, because there are two or three versions of some Bills on the Order Paper coming from different parties, as the Ceann Comhairle will be aware. Rather, this is a genuine effort in co-operation, an acceptance of the merits of a proposal drafted by somebody else and a willingness to reach across party lines to build a coalition of support for that proposal.
This cannot be done on every issue. Obviously, we in this House have differences. We have different approaches to taxation and many other issues. So be it, but there are many issues on which we do not disagree. There is enough territory for each of us to be able to work in co-operation and to find common cause. I hope tonight will show that the environment is one area in which we might work together to make a real difference. Since the election of the Government in May of last year, we have seen small progress in a range of areas. When it comes to looking after the environment, there has genuinely been real disappointment. The climate change legislation enacted in 2015 requires the publication of a national mitigation plan which will outline how we will make a just transition to a low-carbon environment. We are still waiting for the final iteration of that plan.
We have worked together with the Green Party in the past and I hope we will do so in the future. For example, we worked together on a Bill produced by the Green Party and Deputy Seán Sherlock in respect of microbeads. It is a shame that we do not do more. It is a shame that we all cannot work in closer co-operation to ensure that important legislation which will really make a difference and which has popular support can be enacted. Perhaps sharing the platform of all parties tonight might be the pathfiner to a different way of doing our business.
I echo Deputy Howlin's comments. I thank him and his colleagues in the Labour Party because what they did tonight in giving their time in this way is important. I know there has been much discussion on how we work here. I stand up for this Parliament. I stood up for it in the past and I stand up for it today. We are not a bad democratic assembly. We have a proud constitutional and democratic republic, but we all know that we need to improve the way we work. What the Labour Party did today is a step in the right direction. I am not exclusive in that. When I asked last week whether other parties would be willing to support this type of initiative, in fairness to Deputy Micheál Martin, he said "Yes" straight away. In fairness to Deputies Wallace and Daly and their colleagues in Independents 4 Change, they were the first people to contact me back by email to say that they would support the broad purpose of the Bill, as did our colleagues in Sinn Féin, the Social Democrats and other Independents. I echo what Deputy Howlin said, and I also welcome the fact that the Minister seems to be interested in seeing if this could be made to work. He has done so in the past. We did so in respect of the Bill on fracking. I would like to see us do it again here. There are examples of common cause being found in this House and when we do it gives us real strength.
It will not be easy. There are complexities, technicalities and difficulties, but I want to set out some of the reasons we should and could find common cause. First, it is a basic concept and we are only just beginning to think about and understand it. When the different parties were out on the plinth together today, which was good fun, I mentioned the line about eating chocolate - a moment on the lips and a generation or a lifetime on the hips. With plastic it is a moment on the lips, as one drinks from the coffee cup or the bottle, but it is probably about six generations in the environment. It takes that long to biodegrade. It can be as long as 300 or 400 years. There is a general understanding that has to stop and that we have to switch away from the use of plastics in this disposable, throwaway culture. I was reading different papers today and one was very interesting. It was a European Commission paper on plastic waste strategy and the environment. It states:
Plastic is perceived as a material with no value of its own. This perception favours littering. However, all plastics are high tech and complex materials that consumers should value in order to incentivise re-use and recycling.
That is what we are doing here.
As Deputy Howlin said, there is a climate imperative involved in this issue. Our use of plastics accounts for 6% of global oil use, half in the feedstock for the material and half for the energy needed to make the bottle or container. For every kilogram of plastic, 6 kg of carbon dioxide are put it into the atmosphere. If we could address it, it would be the equivalent of removing all aviation emissions. Aviation is difficult. Climate change does not have easy solutions in areas such as aviation, but there are solutions here. As difficult as they will be and as complex as they are, it behoves us to try in those areas which present the most immediate, tangible ways of improving our environment and reducing pollution.
I know this is somewhat of a step further in that line of thinking but, as a country, 80% of the energy we consume is imported. If one looks at this structure which we have set up and these highly-complex supply chains which include all these oil-based systems, there is a risk to us in that structure. We need to remove this risk to the country which results from being so reliant on oil.
Ultimately there is the big environmental concern involving the fact that the plastic is there for several hundred years breaking down into ever smaller parts which do not biodegrade. There has been an analysis which suggests that with the way we are going - a 5% per annum increase in the use of plastics - we will face a situation as early as 2025 in which for every three parts of fish in the ocean there will be one part of plastic. This will rise to one part plastic for every one part fish if we keep going the way we are going. That will be going into the food system which we will then ingest. This is something we must stop.
There are many other things we need to do in this highly complex area of managing our waste system but we have identified two which we believe we should adopt first. We chose them because, first, people can understand and connect with it. They see a real litter problem in their everyday lives. Coastwatch did a very simple survey, which it does every year, in which it measures what is along the coast. In 2016, it found 8,649 plastic bottles. That is one for every couple of hundred metres of shoreline. We can cut it out. In years past it measured plastic bags and used to find 18 plastic bags for every 500 m of shoreline. Now it is down to finding two, because we took an innovative decision in the Dáil to make it easy for us to clean up our environment and do the right thing.
We have examples. Scotland is looking in real depth at introducing a similar deposit refund system. For those in IBEC and other groups, possibly including the Department, who think that this is terrible and would cost us a fortune, the analysis the Scots carried out says that it does not have to. A circular income stream is created to fund the deposit given back to the householder, but that is not a cost. It is a circular transaction which makes it easier to do the right thing. In Scotland, which is not too different from Ireland, the best international consultants say that when real costs are examined, the money obtained from the feedstock because of higher recycling rates is considered, and the fund built up because of not everyone claiming their deposits is taken into account the system is pretty much revenue neutral. That is what they are saying. They could be wrong and we would also have to look at it ourselves but Scotland is not that different. Holland and other countries are not that different and they introduced this scheme back in 2005. Australian states have recently introduced this. It is not as if we are taking a huge risk and a step into the unknown. There are a number of schemes.
The Department should pay heed to the European Union because its directions on this are absolutely clear. When one reads its mandate on the circular economy and the need to develop this hyper-efficient economy, which is what we want to do, it says that we should be doing this. It is saying that we should not be burning everything. It is clear as day in the directives now coming from the Commission. When the Department comes back and says that it cannot be done and it is not the right strategy or policy, we can cite international precedent and European Union directions. It is increasingly clear that this is the right way to go.
It works. In those states in the United States where a deposit refund scheme is in place, the level of recycling is twice that in other states.
Germany has 95% recycling on plastic bottles, which indicates that it works. In saying we will get rid of the non-compostable coffee cups, France is going in that direction. No one said this would be easy, but the French are moving to eliminate the non-compostable, non-recyclable coffee cups. They will do it in the same timeframe as set out in the Bill, by 2020, so we can piggyback on that. We want to be up there among the posse of those countries that are taking climate change seriously and developing a circular economy. That is where the smart countries are going and that is where our people want to go. I believe we have cross-party agreement on this because all of us know in our everyday lives that we are being drowned in a sea of plastic that was not there previously.
I was slightly caught out when a younger member of our staff said to me: "Isn't it great? We have to get this introduced quickly before that older generation, who remember what it was like to get a deposit back on a bottle, are gone." I am afraid I am in that category. I propose that we pass Second Stage of the Bill today and engage really actively with the Department, bringing in international consultants as needs be in order to complete a major study in advance of the Committee Stage so that we can have a really complex analysis. We should bring in the industry and critically environmental NGOs, such as VOICE, Trócaire and others which have played a stellar role in highlighting the issue and setting out the way. Let us bring them into a working group to bring a really detailed plan to the Oireachtas committee so that on Committee Stage we will have a detailed proposal.
A Cheann Comhairle, in the context of our conversation earlier today, that is the sort of process that can get this Dáil working really well. We will go through the Stages, and change the Bill. We will listen to Sinn Féin, which will probably propose very detailed amendments. I know Deputy Stanley has a very detailed Bill. It would be brilliant to bring that thinking in, bolt it together with other parties' views so that we go to Committee Stage with a really advanced proposal. It is not impossible to have that by Christmas and have the legislation enacted by this time next year, giving it the time and the intelligent analysis, but let us do it. I think everyone is on the same side.
I thank Deputies Eamon Ryan and Howlin for introducing this important Private Members' Bill. Deputy Ryan has acknowledged that we passed a Private Members' Bill on fracking that I accepted. Of the 14 Bills enacted so far this year, three were sponsored or supported by my Department. We will have another one next week, the Minerals Development Bill, which has 250 sections. It has been through the Seanad and Dáil, and is about to go back to the Seanad for its Final Stage.
The principal aim behind the Bill before us tonight is one that all in the House agree with, namely, to reduce the amount of plastic waste in our environment, in particular in our rivers, lakes and oceans. One million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute and this number is set to increase. No one here, including me, does not accept the facts about the detrimental effect of plastic waste on our environment. The reckless discarding of plastic waste is nothing less than environmental sabotage.
To be sustainable, waste must be avoided, but when unavoidable it should be seen as a resource to be reused. Responsibility for waste is no longer in the environment division of our Department and instead sits in the natural resources division where it should be. It is about the sustainability of our economy and the survival of our planet. The reduction of waste has been a key issue for me since I became Minister. We must move on from dumping, to enable people take action to avoid, reduce and reuse. Waste efficiency, is effective climate action and it is economically smarter.
As a society, we discard an incredible 80% of what we produce after a single use. It gravely concerns me that 2 million disposable coffee cups a day are going to our landfills. Given the these concerns, I have personally had discussions with both Insomnia and Supermacs on this issue. Last October for Re-Use month, colleagues may remember that I supplied each Member of the Oireachtas with a "keep cup". An average family throws away €700 worth of food waste every year. For this reason, last March I established the first ever action group on wasted food in the retail sector, chaired by retail expert, Eamon Quinn. This group includes the leading supermarket chains and as well as looking at ways to combat food waste in the retail sector, it is also looking at ways to tackle the overuse of packaging in supermarkets. The Green Party first raised the issue of microbeads in the House last November. Two months prior to that, I led a discussion at an OECD meeting on the need for Ireland, the EU and other OECD members to ban the use of microplastics in cosmetics and cleaning agents.
I have examined with interest the proposals brought forward in the House this evening which can be summarised into two issues. The Deputies are proposing the introduction of a deposit-and-return scheme for drinks containers and a ban on non-compostable tableware and cups. There are elements of the Bill that are problematic for the Government. The lack of clarity on the costs associated with the introduction of a deposit-and-return scheme concerns me. I heard Deputy Howlin earlier speaking on another policy issue calling for an evidence-based approach. I fully agree with him on the need to do that. On this Bill, he quoted a statistic where deposit-and-return systems have been introduced internationally. He said the recycling rate can be up at 90%. However, he did not mention that is only correct where there is no existing infrastructure. The five EU countries that have deposit-and-return systems have had them for some time and did not have an alternative existing infrastructure. This is not the situation here in Ireland.
Deputy Ryan, when introducing the Bill, suggested the scheme would cost €276 million. A study investigating the possible introduction in the UK puts a figure of €790 million per year on it. These are enormous amounts. Before we spend even a fraction of this on its introduction, we need to ascertain what the benefits would be. I am watching with interest a proposal in Scotland to introduce a scheme there. It is of particular interest, given that Scotland currently operates a producer-responsibility initiative as we do here in Ireland.
A feasibility study, based on practice overseas, previous relevant studies and stakeholder consultations, identified how a deposit-and-return scheme could work in Scotland. The projected costs are worth listing for the House. The one-off set-up costs are estimated at £15 million; the machine take-back will cost £29 million per annum; the manual take-back will cost £8 million per annum; the logistics will cost £20 million per annum; the counting centres will cost £3 million per annum; and the administration is projected to cost £3 million. That comes to £78 million pounds, over €88 million euro at a minimum.
Without a complete understanding of the cost implications on the taxpayer, employers, retailers and customers, it would be financially reckless for me to proceed with its introduction here without proper scrutiny. I will not create another PPARS or another e-voting machine fiasco.
Our national approach to date for dealing with waste packaging has been based on the extended producer responsibility principle, EPR. This principle seeks to ensure that the producer of a product bears a significant portion of the cost of dealing with the waste disposal of the product it supplies. In Ireland, this has been done very effectively through a producer-funded compliance scheme, operated by Repak. Similar schemes operate in other waste streams such as batteries, waste electronic and electrical goods, farm plastics and the latest, which I launched earlier this year, to deal with end-of-life vehicles.
In a review of all these schemes in 2014, it was concluded that Ireland has achieved great success in recent years in recovering and recycling packaging waste. Recycling of drinks containers in Ireland is already one of the highest in Europe. Glass is at 86% which means only 14% of glass is not recycled.
More than 84% of plastic, or 237,000 tonnes, was recycled and recovered in 2015. Based on Deputy Eamon Ryan's costs and Deputy Brendan Howlin’s recycling rates, we would spend €276 million to collect an additional four out of 100 glass bottles and six out of every 100 plastics. I could find a better use for that money. I am open to examining any proposal which would assist us in our efforts to reduce waste and avoid littering and dumping which I said I regard as environmental treason. Littering is a crime. It is doubly so because the scarce resources committed to combating it are needed elsewhere.
I have made €9 million available this year to local authorities to deal with waste regulations enforcement and an additional €1.3 million to fund my anti-dumping initiative. In a modern society where everything is available all year round at every price point, a new insight is required into how we can live within the capacity of the planet in the materials we consume and the waste we must manage. I am open to any suggestion that is workable and practical. We have a number of initiatives for consideration in this area, including the proposal from Fianna Fáil Senator Catherine Ardagh for dealing with litter, the intention of which I also support. The best way to deal with these proposals is to look at them in an holistic way rather than adopt the current scattergun approach. That is why the proper place in which to examine all of these issues, including the proposals brought forward in the Bill, is the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment.
The international review of waste management policy, published in 2009, was a major review of waste management policy in Ireland. The report was commissioned by the then Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Green Party leader, John Gormley. It reported on a deposit refund scheme that "the evidence is not sufficiently strong to support a recommendation of this nature, principally because the information regarding implementation costs is not such that the costs can be said to unequivocally justify the benefits". As Minister, I am looking for actions that will deliver real efficiency and sustainability. The committee can take the views of stakeholders, scrutinise the Bill and look at the complexities and costings involved, as well as the implications for existing EU law. I want to work with colleagues on all sides of the House to deal with the issue. I agree with the principle of what is being proposed and intend to work with the Labour Party, the Green Party and the Fianna Fáil Party on its legislation and Deputy Brian Stanley on whatever legislation he proposes to bring forward. Let us move forward together to deal with the proposals in a comprehensive manner through the committee system.
I, too, welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I also welcome the initiative of both the Labour Party and the Green Party. We have been working on a similar Bill for some time. The one lesson I have learned from Deputy Eamon Ryan in this case is not to get bogged down in the detail in advance of publishing a Bill. I had a difficulty in getting the Bill through the Bills Office where issues were raised about whether it was a money Bill or whether it would have various impacts in that regard. I have also had a couple of lawyers working on the Bill and there is definitely a lesson to be learned.
Ultimately, what we are trying to achieve in principle is to encourage a reduction in the amount of material that ends up in landfill and to do so in a way that changes the behaviour of citizens. That can be done if we do not provide them with the material to create unnecessary waste which is having a detrimental impact on the environment.
To some extent, I can handle the notion of more material going back, as Repak would put it, into a recoverable environment where it would be used as low-grade fuel or ultimately end up in landfill, but we must move away from it. However, the biggest curse in the proliferation of paper cups is the casual approach to their disposal. If some of my Kerry colleagues were present, they would know about the survey carried out there in conjunction with the local authority. Paper cups represented 30% of the total waste material taken from a specific area that had undergone an intensive clean-up programme and it included other forms of disposable waste. There is an encumbrance on us to do something significant and the Bill before the House has the potential to start the debate. We have a little work to do before we nail down the final detail of the Bill that will ultimately go to the Áras an Uachtaráin for signing but with the willingness of all sides and an input from all sides we can achieve considerable success.
Fianna Fáil supports the efforts to encourage recycling and waste reduction. While in government, it introduced Repak, a not-for-profit company which supports recycling. Between 1997 and 2011, rates of recycling in Ireland increased from 15% to 66%, more than a fourfold increase, one which this and the previous Government failed to match. I accept, however, that as one gets closer to 100%, it is harder to make progress.
Fianna Fáil also made Ireland the first country to impose a levy on plastic bags, a policy which has been emulated around the globe and that has kept millions of plastic bags out of hedgerows, oceans, landfills and green areas. We support the main message of the Bill, that we take further steps to minimise the amount of waste Ireland produces and maximise our recycling rates. However, the Bill is scant on detail of how the policy proposals should be implemented, as well as the role to be played by various stakeholders. Several key stakeholders have raised potential issues with the Bill and we believe further consultation with stakeholders is needed in order to design a system that will be fair, workable and effective.
When I spoke to Deputy Eamon Ryan last week about his desire to get the Bill through the House, he was very much of the view that we should engage and clear that the work should be done by the Oireachtas committee. To that end, we are supporting the Bill on Second Stage and will work constructively with our colleagues to improve and build on the Bill in the interests of creating an island that will appreciate the environment and seek to protect it from the harmful littering that has become such a key part of our way of life.
The Bill, brought forward in a joint effort by Labour Party and the Green Party, has two aims. First, it seeks to make the sale or free distribution of single-use tableware such as cups, plates and glasses, among other items, that cannot be composted in a domestic composting facility illegal by 2020. We will have to look at the date proposed for some products, but that will be a matter for the committee to address. Paper cups are the headline item coming from the debate, but I also draw attention to the behaviour of so many people when they leave fast food outlets, particularly in rural areas. They get into their car and eat their chips or other food item on the way home. The plastic bottle is then thrown out, as are the paper cup and the plastic container for the chips. The polystyrene burger box is also thrown out. Like a number of others in the House, I like to walk when I get a chance and I also jog, badly every now and again, but in doing so, particularly in the winter months when the foliage has died away and the ditches are more visible, it is absolutely appalling to see the amount of waste, even in some beauty spots. I am familiar with towns and villages that have won awards for being tidy and applaud the great work done by the Tidy Towns committees within their curtilage. They have done a wonderful job in maintaining the cleanliness and beauty of their area and invested in flowers and other greenery, but when move goes beyond the border and walks on roads a couple of miles out from the town or village, it is mindboggling to see the way so many citizens treat the natural landscape and our beauty spots.
It does not take a lot to change that behaviour; to encourage people to keep material in their car until they get home and dispose of it appropriately and in an environmentally friendly way. If a small percentage changed their behaviour, it would make such a huge difference to the countryside. We wholeheartedly support the desire to minimise the overall amount of waste that ends up in landfill. While there are no exact figures for paper cups in Ireland, I extrapolated from comparable population statistics a total of 200 million paper cups. I am interested to hear that the figure is almost four times that number. That gives some sense of the enormity of the challenge we face in changing behaviour. One of the positives is the scale of the usage of these products. It should be possible for the industry to make that change and shift.
Given the material involved in making single use tableware, the vast majority of it is non-recyclable. This means that after one use, the cup or plate is either tossed into landfill or burned as a form of low-grade fuel. In short, it is far from ideal from an environmental perspective. I am taken by the numbers produced by Repak, which refer to the amount that is either recycled or recovered. Recovered waste goes on to be used as a low-grade fuel. We need to be moving away from that. Waste should be recycled or not included in the mix in the first instance. We recognise that recycling can also only go so far and that it needs to be complemented by measures to simply cut down on the amount of waste that we produce on a daily basis.
Indeed, this was part of the reason Fianna Fáil introduced a levy on plastic bags in 2002. That policy change has drastically reduced the number of plastic bags consumed in Ireland from about 328 bags per capitato just 21. That is an enormous shift in behaviour which can be emulated with the products I have talked about. We need to find and support initiatives that cut down on unnecessary packaging and reduce waste. For example, the Government should be working with suppliers and retailers to minimise the amount of packaging that goods come in. We should also incentivise behaviour change, whereby people are rewarded for using reusable cups. I do appreciate that the Minister provided us with reusable cups previously. I just wonder how many of us still have them. I have mine but I am not sure I always use it when I visit Topaz on my way home late on a Thursday night, to get coffee to try to remain awake.
Fianna Fáil also supports the creation of a waste reduction task force, which would be responsible for identifying ways to incentivise waste reduction in the public and private sectors. This will also benefit the consumer, who will not be responsible for disposing of huge amounts of unneeded packaging. Those of us who have become a little more conscious of the impact of the materials we put back into our recycling system or into our black bin have come to realise that even where one makes a concerted effort to recycle material or dispose of it appropriately, there is too much packaging associated with the products we consume. Much of this is associated with marketing techniques. We have to work to reduce this. I am always struck when I see someone with a new iPhone or similar small piece of kit or technology by the amount of packaging that is presented to give a small item a perceived large value.
Fianna Fáil supports the principles of this Bill. We have consistently been and remain a firm defender of Ireland's natural environment. We support the main message of the Bill, which is to take further steps to minimise the amount of waste that Ireland produces and maximise our recycling rates. We need to find and support initiatives that cut down on unnecessary packaging and reduce waste. This Bill has two goals in respect of matters which are causing huge issues with rubbish tipped all over the countryside. First, it seeks to make the sale or free distribution of non-compostable single use tableware illegal by 2020. The number of disposable coffee cups used every day is staggering. It is part of a new generation whose members are seen with a disposable coffee cup in one hand and a mobile phone in the other. The majority of roadside waste is made up of these cups along with fast food takeaway wrappings, drink cans etc. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these disposable cups cannot be recycled as they are coated with plastic.
Second, the Bill seeks to create a deposit and refund scheme for drinks containers, plastic and glass bottles, whereby customers will pay a small deposit on each drink, which they receive back when the bottle is returned to a bottle bank. As Deputy Ryan said, it brings me back to my childhood, when my mother used to put the glass milk bottles outside the door. The next morning, I used to think it was the milk fairy. The bottles were magically full. I can still see the sign in my local shop clearly: "no bottles, no milk." If we did not have an empty bottle the shopkeeper would not give us the milk, or else we had to pay a charge. We certainly were ahead of ourselves when it came to re-using. Back in the 1960s and 1970s we were certainly re-using the bottles. I suppose it is a principle we all were guilty of losing when convenience took over.
As Deputy Dooley said, in 1997 Fianna Fáil set up Repak, an organisation of Irish businesses that support recycling. Our rates have increased dramatically but we can and should do better. Fianna Fáil supports the principles of the Bill wholeheartedly and indeed we were to the fore when we introduced the plastic bag levy, a policy which is emulated throughout the world and has reduced the dumping of millions of plastic bags on hedgerows and in oceans, landfills and wooded areas. We will support the Bill and will work constructively with our colleagues to improve and build upon the Bill in the interest of creating a different Ireland, that we can pass on with pride to the next generation.
Speaking about the next generation, education is key. Green Schools is Ireland’s leading environmental management and education programme for schools. Promoting long-term, whole-school action for the environment, Green Schools is a student-led programme with involvement from the wider community. The work of the students in collaboration with teachers, parents, and local authorities is second to none. Children learn the principles of reducing, reusing and recycling, and caring for the environment. These children can teach us all a thing or two and the habits they learn will stay with them for a lifetime.
The Government needs to start working with suppliers and retailers to minimise the amount of packaging that goods come in. We need to incentivise waste reduction in a way which will benefit the consumer, who should not be responsible for disposing of huge amounts of unneeded packaging.
Having a short time to speak on this Bill, I thought it might be good not just to recycle what everybody else has to say but to take one minute of biological time to reflect on the history of the Earth. The planet is 4,600,000,000 years old. If we condense this inconceivable time span into an understandable concept, we can liken the Earth to a person of 46 years. Nothing is known about the first seven years of this person's life and only scattered information exists about the middle span. We know that only at the age of 42 did Earth begin to flower. Dinosaurs and great reptiles did not appear until one year ago, when the planet was 45. Mammals arrived only eight months ago. In the middle of last week, man-like apes evolved into ape-like men and at the weekend, the last ice age enveloped the earth. Modern man has been around for four hours and during the last hour, man discovered agriculture. The Industrial Revolution began one minute ago and, during the 60 seconds it has taken me to read this, man has turned the Earth into a rubbish tip.
I was a teacher for 35 years. As Deputy Butler says, the children in our schools know about the three "Rs" but they are not the ones many of us learned about - reading, writing and arithmetic. For them, the three "Rs" are reduce, reuse and recycle. I and my party, like the many community and environmental initiatives, tidy towns, green flag schools and so on all support recycling and reduction of our man-made waste. We need to take greater steps than ever before to minimise that waste and maximise our recycling rates.
The polluter pays principle is always going to be the cornerstone of waste management plans, as I said last week. While I support this principle, there is an even greater need to recognise that business cannot continue to heap that responsibility on the end user. The Bill is short in detail on how other policy proposals can and should be implemented, as well as the role of all stakeholders. I am not going to bore the House with my proposals. Many Members will continue to recycle many of them. I am prepared to work and to encourage all to share the burden of responsibility. We must find new and innovative solutions to ensure that equality is brought to the way in which we manage waste disposal.
No party or person has a monopoly on the issue of achieving our goal. Surely collective responsibility can save the day. I came into this House to play new politics. I will play my part in trying to find solutions to this problem.
I am substituting for Deputy Lahart. I come from County Kildare, which has two landfills that take rubbish from all over the country. To be honest, I sometimes feel I am surrounded by rubbish. We have many wonderful natural amenities in County Kildare, including the Curragh and our waterways and bogs. However, rubbish is being dumped and fly-tipping happens on a regular basis. It leads me to despair.
There is no doubt that littering and fly-tipping are crimes, just as there is no doubt that millions of people in this country care about our countryside and the scourge of rubbish. When the weather becomes nice and sunny, we see rubbish strewn across the seaside and the countryside. We have to accept that this is a symptom of a breakdown in community pride and in wider respect for our country, our natural resources and where we are from. It is bad for our psyche. It leads to substantial direct and indirect costs that run into billions of euro. The amount of money that Kildare County Council has to pay on clean-ups every year is absolutely shocking. I have no doubt that the position is the same in every other local authority area.
Every Member of this House, with one or two notable exceptions, agrees that climate change is one of the most pressing issues we are facing. The manner in which we deal with waste and refuse needs to be fundamentally changed. We need to look at every way of reusing, recycling, reducing and reusing packaging. Every time we take messages home and put them on the kitchen table, it is shocking to see the amount of cardboard, cellophane and non-recyclable plastic, much of which is superfluous. It behoves every one of us to do what we can to make Ireland cleaner and greener.
I commend those who have introduced this Bill, which would certainly help in this regard. It proposes to ban disposable plastic plates, cups, and other forms of tableware. It includes measures with regard to the coffee cup, which is the most notoriously inefficient single-use item. We need to encourage takeaways, coffee shops and supermarkets to offer more compostable packaging and to offer discounts to patrons who bring their own reusable containers, including coffee cups. The conscious cup campaign, which was launched recently, is asking coffee shops to support the transition away from single-use coffee cups by offering discounts to people who bring reusable cups with them. This Bill would also introduce a deposit refund scheme for drink containers. This welcome initiative would motivate people to return glass and plastic bottles and aluminium cans in order to reclaim their deposits, as many of us did when we were children. We need many good incentives of this nature. I commend the Bill.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important Bill. Sinn Féin welcomes the intention of this legislation and commends the sentiments behind it. We should make progress with the sensible ideas set out in it.
The pollution issues caused by plastic in our environment have been outlined. Once-off plastic packaging accounts for approximately 25% of all plastic that is produced. It is estimated that 32% of plastic packaging escapes completely from collection systems. By 2050, oceans are expected to contain more plastic than fish by weight. The entire plastic industry will consume 20% of total oil production and 15% of annual carbon budgets. It is clear to everyone other than people like Donald Trump who believe there is no much thing as global warming that this is not the way to go. We need to do something big. We need to move away from the throwaway culture in our society and towards a more environmentally economical system.
We need to face the problems that exist in parts of our countryside which have been destroyed by illegal dumping and litter. It is left to tidy towns committees, local community groups and ad hocgroups of people in the countryside to come together to pick up the waste that blights our landscape. Deputy Dooley mentioned what is revealed when he is out jogging, particularly in the winter months when the growth in the ditches has died back. We all see shocking amounts of waste in such locations. Can one imagine what would be there if rural dwellers and Tidy Towns committees did not go out and pick up rubbish from gateways and ditches in rural areas?
Schemes like the one that is being proposed this evening need to be seen as part of other initiatives. We have done very well with household recycling from a very low starting point. I remember talking in schools in the early 1990s about the need for recycling. Children were receptive to it but adults were not. It is estimated that 45% of household waste is now being recycled. This demonstrates that we can accept change and are willing to recognise what we need to do for the sake of the environment.
We received a good level of co-operation with the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 when it was going through this House. However, we are slow in making progress with meeting the intentions of that Act. Strong waste legislation needs to be implemented and enforced so that this country can catch up. We need to take actions that will reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. The Bill before the House, and Bills like it, will be part of that.
When we discussed the cost of waste collection and disposal last week, we were seeking to deal with the problem after it has been created. We were looking at back-end solutions. We need to move to front-end solutions that minimise the size of the waste mountain. This means reducing the size of the problem in the first instance. Ideas like the introduction of a deposit and recycling scheme and the banning of certain plastics are not radical. Such policies are in place in many other jurisdictions. In many countries, well-established systems of this kind are decades old. We need to follow suit in this State.
If this slim Bill is to fulfil its objectives, it will need a lot of work. Its intentions are good and we certainly support them. The Bill gives extensive powers to the Minister regarding the establishment of a scheme. It sets out how the scheme will function. We recognise that certain powers will be needed when the scheme is being set up. We have to be wary about how we handle this. We need more detail. It is difficult to picture fully how the scheme will work under this short Bill. Who will bear the cost of establishing the scheme? How extensive or limited will it be?
This Bill refers to powers under the Waste Management Act 1996. I have compared the provisions of this Bill with section 29 of the 1996 Act, which requires "a producer, distributor or retailer to operate a deposit and refund scheme". This Bill is broad in terms of where the burden will rest. Will it rest with the retailer, the producer or the citizen? The proposal in the Bill to ban plastic tableware refers again to the Minister's power under the 1996 Act to prohibit, limit or control "in a specified manner and to a specified extent, the importation, distribution, supply or sale in a specified container or other packaging of any product or substance". It seems to me that this Bill should further define the items in question.
Our aim must be to ensure those who produce excess packaging in the first place - this is done to sell products by making them look more glamorous or to beef them up a bit - bear responsibility for reducing waste and helping to establish schemes like that envisaged in this Bill. However, I do not suggest that such producers have all the responsibility. Everyone must have some responsibility. Every single citizen in the State, including the Members of this House, has some responsibility. We need to start at the source of the problem. While we welcome this initiative, it needs further work to ensure any scheme that is set up works and achieves its aims.
We know the cost of dealing with illegal dumping in County Laois, where I come from. The local authority in the county, which has a population of 86,000, spends €445,000 on illegal dumping and street cleaning each year. Unfortunately, it costs almost €500,000 to employ litter wardens, enforce the regulations in this area, clean up illegal dumping blackspots, clean streets and award tidy towns grants. The county council, which works with Tidy Towns committees, has to spend this money, which could be better spent.
In car parks on a Sunday morning, in Portlaoise and other town centres, despite the best efforts of everybody, one often sees four little piles of takeaway waste where four people sitting in a car have been eating and drinking and, when they have finished, they wind down the windows and each leaves a little pile outside the car. That defies logic.
Last week, I attended en event in Abbeyleix to mark its involvement in Tidy Towns and to judge an EU floral competition. Abbeyleix is maintained to a high standard due to the great efforts of the local Tidy Towns committee, Laois County Council and the local community employment schemes, all of whom have to be commended. Tidy Towns committees operate across Laois and the entire country so we must try to complement their efforts. The creation of a deposit return scheme should be one element of creating a much broader outlook as regards waste management and waste reduction in our society.
My party has its own Bill for a deposit return scheme and other measures which it will introduce tomorrow and which is much more extensive but it has, unfortunately, been in the Bills Office for the past five weeks, since 7 June. We were the victim of detail and went into too much of it in an attempt to cover all the angles. Nevertheless, this Bill is welcome. We have tried to take a holistic approach and we must progress on the issue without getting into divisions. The Minister spoke about costs but his figures may need closer attention. There is a cost but there is a cost, financial environmental and to communities and local authorities, if we do not do it. We cannot afford to do nothing and we should reduce waste by making it impossible not to reuse.
We need to make sure we do not place financial burdens on ordinary households. They have to take responsibility to reduce, reuse and recycle but the burden must not be disproportionate as against the major producers. We need a front-end approach to the problems and to deal with them at source. It is time to take our responsibilities seriously and the time for action. It is time to deal with our increasing greenhouse gas emissions because we have not covered ourselves in glory in this regard. Two years have passed and we have to play catch-up. I warned, in this Chamber, that we would face a carbon cliff and we are up against it now. We must step up to the plate and do something about it. I welcome the united front of the Labour Party and the Green Party with this Bill and its measures are good for the environment and for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and good for our communities and the economy. We cannot afford not to do it.
The Waste Reduction Bill 2017 is a modest Bill and a progressive Bill. It will promote recycling and it can result in environmental improvements. On that basis we will vote for and support the Bill. The backdrop to the Bill is the latest controversy relating to bin charges. Waste collection services in this country-----
The waste industry, following privatisation, is being run on a for-profit basis. A recycling policy cuts against the interest of profiteers. A modest proposal cuts against their interests in a modest fashion but a bolder and broader pro-recycling policy cuts more sharply, for obvious reasons. The more successful the recycling policy, the less waste there is and the less profit there is to be made from waste collection.
There is a contradiction between a pro-recycling policy and the interests of the forces that own and control the bin collection services. Given that they are in a position of power and influence, how are they likely to react? One option is to go for higher prices across the board. Another is to start charging for recycling, which would be an anti-environmental and reactionary policy. In this context there needs to be a debate not just about supporting this recycling initiative and going for bolder recycling initiatives, but about reversing the privatisation of the bin services, placing control of the bin services back in the hands of councils and the scrapping of bin charges. It can be argued that there will be a significant cost in doing that but there is already a significant cost in supporting the pro-privatisation policy.
When I was a councillor on Cork City Council, engineers explained to me that since the privatisation of the bins and the introduction of bin charges, there had been a tenfold increase in fly-tipping and illegal dumping. That is paid for from the public purse, not by the companies who benefited from the privatisation of bin services. The policy needs to be linked to the promotion of more widespread and bold recycling measures. One cannot have a debate on a recycling initiative without touching on the question of incineration. We have a huge incinerator at Poolbeg, which was supported by the previous Minister for the Environment, Deputy Alan Kelly, and there are attempts to establish a major toxic waste incinerator at Ringaskiddy in County Cork. An incinerator is like a monster - once it is up and running it has to be fed. It cannot operate at 10% or 20% capacity if it is being run by big business on a for-profit basis. Poolbeg will certainly be fed, with 600,000 tonnes per annum and 120 trucks per day. The bolder a recycling policy is, the more it cuts against the interests of the owners of incinerators because the more waste that is recycled the less will go to incinerators, cutting into their profits. If the incinerator companies have less waste to feed them they will import waste to maximise profit. Part of this debate has to be on the massive ramping up of recycling efforts and moving against the policy of incineration.
I will finish on this remark. The interests of big business and the environment cannot be reconciled. Globally, over the course of the past 30 years, more than 50% of emissions have come from 25 companies. The global campaign to save the environment must be linked to a challenge to the profit system.
Gabhaim mo bhuíochas leis an gComhaontas Glas agus le Páirtí an Lucht Oibre as ucht an Bille seo a chur os ár gcomhair. Tá gá práinneach leis an mBille agus ní bheidh drogall ar bith orm mo thacaíocht a thabhairt dó. I am not sure whether I am sharing so I will keep going. I was to share with one of my colleagues-----
------because I am passionate about this issue. I very much welcome the Bill, in particular because it has had support from both sides of the House. I thank the Labour Party and the Green Party for bringing it forward. I disagree with Deputy Howlin that new politics is not working. I think it is working and has worked on every occasion since we were elected. There are many new voices in the Dáil talking about different topics and giving voice to those topics. Given the vast majority the Labour Party had with Fine Gael in the previous Dáil, I ask myself why they did not introduce legislation such as this, but there you are.
I hate to say this when the Minister is not in the Chamber, but I was a little disappointed with his speech. It was very positive to start with, but he only dealt with one section of the Bill which concerned the deposit charge. He did not deal with the plastic aspect whatsoever, other than stating 2 million cups are disposed of daily. Then he took one example, Scotland, to discuss cost and so on. I would have preferred if he had given a shorter speech and placed it in context. Each time I rise in the Dáil, I make the point that this is the last Dáil that can take positive steps on climate change. This is simply one tiny step in making those changes, saying we will ban plastic cups and plates. This has been done in France, and it is significant that the Minister did not refer to France. Deputy Ryan did. France has brought in legislation such as this, it has been passed and it will come into effect in January 2020, so there is one example.
Then, quite extraordinarily, at the end of the Minister's speech he stated that he is worried that any outright ban on a product might lead to a breach of the free movement provisions of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. Of everything in these few pages, this part is the most frightening and the most ridiculous. France, which is one of the major parties in the EU, has already banned plastic cups and plates, and that is on top of a complete ban on plastic bags, as in other countries. We just put a levy on plastic bags, and that levy was very effective. Prior to its introduction in 2002, some 1.2 billion plastic bags were used. There was a 90% reduction in the use of plastic bags following the introduction of the levy. I ask the House to imagine what would happen if we got rid of plastic, full stop. As Sinn Féin mentioned, by 2050 we will have more plastic in our sea than fish. That is worth repeating. We will have more plastic in our sea than fish and 99% of all seabirds will have ingested plastic.
We have no choice. We are under an obligation to lead and do something. The poorer countries and the most vulnerable who have done the least to contribute to climate change will suffer rather than us. I have mentioned Galway, and I am sure that on occasions the House tires of hearing me talk about Galway, but ours is a very significant example of what is possible. I say this because Deputy Barry raised waste reduction in the context of for-profit and non-profit companies. In Galway, when the refuse service was under the control of the local authority, we reached the highest recycling rates in the country. We did not have a pay-by-weight system. We had no charge to start with and people recycled, then we had a flat rate and people recycled and then, foolishly, we had a pay-by-weight system and people still recycled. Under all three regimes, the people told us they wanted to recycle, they were active citizens who wanted to be involved, they did not need to be punished and they did not need lectures. They led us by the nose and we reached a recycling rate of 70%, an unimaginable figure, in a pilot project and, on a regular basis, 56% diversion from landfill. The reward to the people of Galway was to privatise that service and now we have illegal dumping and a citizenry that feels absolutely disempowered. If there is a lesson to be learned in this, and it would be great if we could learn it, it is that Galway was a great example of how to go forward with a non-punitive system whereby people wanted to actively engage.
On top of this, we had a cash for cans system - not a cash for ash system - whereby we encouraged people to return cans for recycling and if they had 100 aluminium cans in a plastic bag, we gave them a sum of money. What happened? The system was overwhelmed with the response from people. The system could not cope with the number of people who came to deliver cans and pick them up in the parks and on the streets. What happened after that? The system did everything possible to undermine the scheme. They said people were misusing it and that shop owners and pub owners were coming forward and so on. They failed to embrace the fact that no matter where they came from, people wanted to bring back the cans and recycle.
I have absolutely no hesitation in supporting this Bill. Certainly, the details must be worked out. I do not think there are many details to be worked out regarding the prohibition of plastic cups and plates but the details of the deposit scheme must be worked out. This is why we have a committee system.
Finally, perhaps we could start in the Dáil. I checked before I came into the Chamber whether the cups available on the premises are recyclable and I am told they are not. Subject to correction, perhaps we could start there agus, faoi cheannaireacht an Cheann Comhairle, rud a dhéanamh go deonach ansin. D'fhéadfaimis fáil réidh leis na cupáin agus leis na plátaí sin, mar shampla agus mar eiseamláir.
Yes. I thank the Green Party for highlighting this problem and bringing it before the House for discussion. However, unlike others, I am very sorry to say I will not warmly welcome it and say I am delighted with it. The first question I would ask the proponents of the Bill is what this will cost. I say this with the utmost respect because I have seen these Deputies operating since I entered the Dáil and have grown to admire the way they conduct their business. However, we are after having the debacle of Irish Water. We had millions and millions of euro worth of water meters installed that are totally defunct and no longer good for any purpose, and now these Deputies want to bring in a scheme that has not been costed. I respectfully say to them that reducing the amount of waste is, of course, very laudable and something we would all love to aspire to, but what will it cost? They are not telling us the cost involved and the kind of enormous burden this will put on the already overburdened taxpayer.
One thing I have heard from this side of the House a share of the time is complaints about the private operators which manage our waste services. They are spoken about in this House in a very disparaging tone and as if they are some sort of criminals and are doing something wrong. These are private business people who have taken over from local authorities that were not able to continue the services. I will give the House an example. By 5.15 a.m. this morning, I had passed four lorries coming against me on the road. Every one of those four lorries was owned by an individual who runs the waste collection service in County Kerry.
I applaud that individual and the men driving the lorries who were out at 4 a.m. with their helpers. They are spoken about in disparaging tones in this House, but they are respectable people who are conducting a business and working damn hard at it. I hate to hear Deputies speaking about them as if they are criminals. They are earning a living. The business people operating these businesses are great people. They are respectable and doing a good job.
The amount of waste and rubbish, especially bottles, seems to be multiplying all the time. In different times, there was a charge on bottles. In pubs or anywhere else, when someone took a bottle away and then brought it back, one got back whatever they had been charged for it. Publicans were sub-charged for bottles and if they did not return them, they had to pay the bill which was very costly. Bottles were sterilised and reused, but no one can tell me that it is cheaper to break and take bottles away and manufacture them again rather than simply reuse them. I cannot understand it and it did not make sense to stop that system. Bottles by the bin are sent all the time to be recycled at a high cost, which causes trouble. As the customer does not get his or her money back, he or she so has no interest in bringing bottles back.
The use of plastic bottles could be reduced if more companies were to start using glass bottles again. Supermarkets provide a great facility to have a cup of tea or coffee, but all of the cups seem to be thrown away. If long distance drivers or others on the roads all the time were educated or encouraged to use a flask-type cup and have it refilled in a supermarket - at a cost, of course - it would eliminate the need to use many of the paper cups which are thrown away.
On the greater problem, there is a need for everyone to review the possibility of reusing some of the waste that goes into the bin. It is a shame that food is dumped. Long ago people would have fed pigs and had meat of their own. There are many starving children in Third World countries who would be very grateful to receive food that is only days out of date.
Since they are the leaders in climate change, I would not have liked to interrupt them too much.
The motion is not contentious, but I would like to make one point. Plastic is far too easy to produce and far too difficult to destroy and recycle. The reduction of the production of waste products is the key. A system under which we would not produce the amount of waste we are producing is the key, rather than trying to recycle and address the problem from that point of view.
There was a Greek philosopher called Diogenes who lived in a barrel and collected useless objects. Perhaps there are Members of this House who recognise Diogenes syndrome in themselves. We accumulate large amounts of items, for example, papers, bottle tops and bric-a-brac. We are a society that is the opposite of Diogenes in that we accumulate little or nothing and throw away everything. We are living in a throwaway society.
To return to Deputy Eamon Ryan's point, I come from a generation as part of which I collected bottles which financed my visits to the pictures and second-hand bookshops where I could buy back editions of National Geographic. The way forward is to reduce production, but it must be clear that education is extremely important in schools and universities. We should become an innovative society. Our young scientists in schools and universities should be given the task of developing biodegradable, compostable packaging which would really address the problem. The kernel of the solution is that must develop systems under which we will not accumulate non-recyclable and non-compostable packaging.
The Bill is very welcome. It is both timely and necessary. In the past few weeks people have rightly been concerned about waste charges and their impact on household budgets. As part of that conversation, issues started to arise about how goods were packaged and the superfluous waste with which many households found themselves dealing. We are so used to hearing the words "reduce, reuse and recycle", but we rarely focus in any real sense on the reduce element. One only has to take a quick walk around Leinster House or the block to see that every second person has a disposable coffee cup. Some simple changes could help to address the problem. Increasingly, businesses are taking into account customers' desire to avail of more environmentally sustainable options. It has become something of a badge of honour for many businesses and customers who are environmentally conscious will try to gravitate towards such establishments.
The dearth of information on and the confusion about what can and cannot be recycled are striking. In many cases, it differs, depending on the waste operator in one's area. I recently asked a parliamentary question, the reply to which revealed that ships full of waste containers had been forced to turn back because they had contaminated material on board. I asked what the price was in turning back a shipment and the answer was €13,000. I understand 92 containers were returned last year. It is purely down to people not recycling correctly. I do not believe most of it is done deliberately, but there is a real need for an information campaign as we need consistency across the country. In the context of the measures contained in the Bill, there are some things we could do with technology that would make some of the measures more feasible into the future. We have an opportunity to try to future-proof the legislation. There is a proposal to design digital bottle banks that could be used, incorporating simple printouts and mobile phone technology. We need to think about what is possible. I recall that after a flood event in County Kildare, material was washed onto a particular farm. I walked the land with the farmer and was absolutely astonished by the amount of waste material that had washed onto the land. There were literally skiploads of plastic bottles and the like. That is what is flowing into the sea and it really brought home to me the importance of what we are talking about.
Is cúis áthais dom gur éirigh leis an gComhaontas Glas an Bille tábhachtach agus practiciúil seo a thabhairt os comhair na Dála anocht. Ba mhaith liom buíochas a chur in iúl freisin do Pháirti an Lucht Oibre as tacú leis an gComhaontas Glas an Bille seo a chur i láthair. Go deimhin, gabhaim ár mbuíochas freisin leis an réimse leathan Teachtai atá i bhfábhar an Bhille.
The co-operation we have seen, with politicians from all parties and none, clearly shows that to tackle the greatest threat that lies before us as a nation and a people and the world, we must work together. No one political party has ownership of environmental issues, but for as long as that is the perception, the environment and, ultimately, the people will lose. That is why we must work together and the Bill presents an opportunity to do so.
In Ireland, we are producing in the region of 210,000 tonnes of plastic per year, but only 40% of plastic packaging is recycled. The level of micro-plastics pollution in Irish waters is now so severe that recent research shows eating freshwater fish may constitute a risk to people's health. It is clear that the prevention of waste is the best cure for the current plastic crisis. In 2002, Ireland proudly initiated the first plastic bag tax in the world. Once again, it has the opportunity to be a world leader in banning plastic. The Bill, however, and environmental issues and challenges should not be viewed or seen in isolation. These problems do not recognise borders, nor is it relevant which political party delivers. It is the power of the people in communicating their serious concerns through the body politic that is the real catalyst for us to respond to take effective steps to secure our children's future; it is the power of the people in taking a stand and saying enough is enough, that more can and must be done.
It is clear that the Members of this House of all political parties and none are listening to the people. They are embracing new politics, although judging from some of the Minister's comments, he is not quite embracing new politics but going in kicking and screaming, still unable to think big and full of doubt rather than the vision needed. The majority of us in opposition, however, are willing to cast past differences aside, united in a type of Opposition rainbow coalition response, or if not a rainbow coalition, perhaps rainbow co-operation, to ensure the Bill will be passed and in so doing that we take one small but meaningful step to tackle the greatest challenge of our time.
I welcome the Bill and compliment the Green Party and the Labour Party on bringing it forward and confirm my support for it. It is a short but significant and important Bill. Section 3 will ban the sale or free distribution of non-compostable tableware, while section 4 will introduce a deposit and return scheme for beverage containers.
Plastic pollution is everywhere. According to the United Nations, 8 million tonnes of plastic leak into the oceans every year, the equivalent of dumping a truckload every minute into the sea. Ireland produces approximately 210,000 tonnes of plastic each year. In its report in 2013, the Environmental Protection Agency found that only 40% of plastic was recycled. According to the national waste report of 2011, 52.5% of all plastic packaging waste went directly into landfill. The measures contained in the Bill will, of course, not solve the waste plastic problem, but they will make a significant contribution to a solution. Deposit and return schemes are a proven way to reduce littering and increase recycling. Schemes are operated successfully in other European countries and have led to a reduction in the level of plastic pollution and littering. It is noteworthy that refillable glass bottles can be used 50 times and refillable polyethylene terephthalate, PET, bottles approximately 15 times. I believe the public will respond positively to the measures contained in the Bill and look forward to its passage through the Oireachtas in a timely fashion.
I am sharing time with Deputy Jan O'Sullivan.
I am proud to be part of this joint initiative between the Labour Party and the Green Party to deal with this very serious global issue. This is new politics at work and it is very effective.
This is not a particularly radical Bill, but it is one that makes sense and that will help the environment. It will foster an increased buy-in to a recycling ethic that will further change our attitudes to waste and renewable use containers. It is a short Bill with a long reach, one which, if implemented - we believe it most certainly should be - will have a similar impact to that of the plastic bag tax in 2002 when we were consuming 1.2 billion plastic bags per year in Ireland which, for a country of its the size, was incredible. Three years ago, our plastic bag consumption had reduced by 95%, while the plastic bag levy was bringing in €12.8 million to the Exchequer. What an incredible turnaround that was. In my ten years as a public representative, I have never heard one person lament the plastic bag levy. People instantly knew that it made sense and we replaced plastic bags with bags for life or paper bags. I believe the Bill, if implemented, will have the same impact. Irish people know if something makes sense and the Bill does. I commend the Green Party on bringing it forward and its commitment to adopting a sensible and long-sighted approach to waste and protection of the environment.
Waste and waste disposal have shot back to the forefront of people's consciousness in the past couple of weeks owing to the deferral of the pay by weight scheme and an announcement by Panda Waste Management that it would be inspecting bins for cross-contamination. This has caused some surprise and shock. Under the new contracts being issued by the company, customers will be fined between €10 and €25 for putting contaminated waste in any of its green, brown or black bins. The new contracts specify that contaminated waste in black bins includes, but is not limited to, paint, electrical equipment, batteries, organic waste, including food waste, and hazardous material. I have received calls from constituents who are raising valid concerns about this new approach by the company and others. We can all appreciate this: we put our bins on the kerbside at night prior to collection. The bins are unattended for up to 12 hours before they are collected. It is wide open to individuals to contaminate the bins of others. It is very worrying that someone who so much as puts a banana peel in someone else's black bin could cost that individual a fine of up to €35. People lliving in mid-terrace homes in estates such as Castleview in Swords, where laneways are inaccessible, have no choice but to leave their bins in a public space all week. They are open to contamination by passers-by who think nothing of putting an empty beer can or apple core in someone's bin. The Minister should intervene and bring some common sense to bear on this element of the problem.
The provision in the Bill for a deposit and return scheme for sealed beverage containers - it is a great scheme - will revolutionise people's approach to the use of glass and plastic bottles. Deposit and return schemes are commonplace all over Europe and while we led the charge in Europe with the plastic bag levy, we are playing catch-up when it comes to schemes such as this. We do not need to look very far to see the extent of plastic and glass bottle litter. It particularly affects waterways. Tidy Towns Facebook pages around the country show copious evidence of bottles in parks, rivers and lakes. I encourage everyone to watch the “We Need to talk about Plastic Bottles” video on The Guardianwebsite. It is a powerful 80 seconds of video. It states 1 million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute. Despite the rise in recycling culture in the past few decades, just 7% of those collected last year were turned into new bottles. Most end up in landfill or the ocean. It is estimated that by 2050 plastic waste will outweigh all fish in the sea. These are absolutely shocking statistics. The scheme will not solve the global problem, but it will help us to play our part as a small country on the western coast of Europe by being responsible global citizens. The Bill will go some way towards that objective and I am happy to support it. Tonight, however, is the easy part. Committee Stage will be very challenging, as the Minister said. Having worked in the biggest soft drinks company in Ireland and, possibly, the world, for many years, I do not underestimate the challenge.
I am delighted to be part of this new venture for the Dáil in co-operation with the Green Party-An Comhaontas Glass in using our Private Members' time to introduce this Bill, for which there is support around the House. I was very hopeful, listening to the start of the Minister's contribution when he told us this area came under the natural resources rather than the waste section of the Department. I thought his speech would be really proactive and supportive, but it is disappointing that at the end of it he was throwing cold water on the Bill, particularly the cost issue. I would love to see everybody, including the Government, working to agree on whatever changes people felt were appropriate. I do hope there is still scope to work together on this issue because it is so important. Not so long ago when people came out of pubs or restaurants smelling of smoke, it would have been hard to think that was going to change. When I did my shopping perhaps 15 or 17 years ago, I came out with a trolley filled with at least ten plastic bags.
There was even another one tied onto the detergent box, which would not fit inside, to show that I had not robbed it. That is exactly what happened. That has happened very quickly. I give credit to Deputy Dooley's Fianna Fáil Party, albeit I have to give the credit for Repak to the Labour Party. The legislation introducing Repak and that system was brought forward by my colleague, Deputy Brendan Howlin, when he was Minister. It was specifically covered by a statutory instrument, SI 242/97, signed by Deputy Howlin on 10 June 1997. Credit where it is due over there but also where it is due over here.
I agree with Deputy Catherine Martin on the importance of clear information. Deputy Howlin referred to that as well. Many of us still do not know whether the plastic wrapping on the food we buy is recyclable. There is no clear information on that. Whatever the Minister of State and his officials take away from the debate, that needs to be clear. I prefer to buy oranges loose but if the only option is to buy a tray, there will be a piece of polystyrene on the bottom and plastic wrapped over the top. That should not be happening and we should be able to buy loose fruit and vegetables. Tomatoes should not be packed up, rather they should be hanging from the green thing that they grow on. Having said that, we should at least know whether the packaging is recyclable, in particular if it is plastic. The statistic quoted about there being more plastic in the sea than fish is really frightening. Information is important.
I want to focus on disposable coffee cups and so on. Everything at a child's party is now disposable, including the plates and cups. Surely, that is unnecessary. It is definitely not necessary for a coffee cup to have a piece of plastic somehow intertwined with the paper part of it so that it cannot be recycled in any meaningful way. It is very hard to separate the plastic from the paper. We need action on that. That is the second part of the legislation. Whatever about doubts about the cost of the return and refund provisions, this part of the legislation can surely be implemented. Even in the Houses of the Oireachtas, we should be trusted to buy our coffee in a mug, take it to our office and bring it back to be washed. Could we even set an example here and not have this large pile of paper cups? The point was made about people walking around the streets with these cups. Perhaps that should be discouraged in the same way that one would not walk around the streets with a cigarette. People should be discouraged from walking around with their coffee in cups that cannot be recycled. There is a great deal of public education to be done in all of this also.
There is a scheme in Limerick called Team Limerick Cleanup, or TLC, and it is fantastic. It happens once a year and everyone gets involved in their own communities to clean up their immediate areas. It is headed up by people like Paul O'Connell, of whom everyone will have heard. As well as cleaning up the place, it reminds everyone that we want our neighbourhoods to stay clean all year. Again, there is a huge element of education in all of this. I am delighted we are taking the Bill tonight. It is a very positive measure. I hope there will be more of this kind of cross-party co-operation on issues like this, which are really important.
I thank Deputies Brendan Howlin and Eamon Ryan for bringing forward the Bill. I note that it is current Young Fine Gael policy to introduce a small refundable levy, similar to the one proposed in the legislation.
I am delighted to address the House on this important matter. I understand the importance of dealing with the problem of plastic wastes. It is horrific to think that between 5 and 13 million tonnes of plastic leak into the world's oceans each year. The Department has engaged with relevant stakeholders around waste prevention and reduction for many years. Ireland has gone from being a poor performer in relation to packaging waste to being one of the best due to the combined efforts of stakeholders. In its most recent statistical report on waste packaging, the EPA estimated that over 870,000 tonnes of packaging waste was generated in Ireland in 2013. Of the total generated, 88% was recovered, including preparation for reuse, recycling, energy recovery and other recovery, and 70% was recycled. These figures put Ireland well ahead of most of our EU partners and considerably exceed our EU mandatory targets for treating this waste stream.
The potential for any ban on single-use non-compostable cups and other tableware to be in breach of either the packaging directive or the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union is a matter of some concern, as the Minister, Deputy Naughton has said, and will need to be examined before any move is made to introduce it. I am aware that our colleagues in France, notwithstanding this, introduced in 2015 a ban similar to that proposed by the Deputies which is supposed to come into effect in 2020. The original idea when the law was adopted was to cover all single-use plastic cups, glasses and plates. However, it turns out that in some circumstances those items were considered as packaging items when sold full with food or drink. This means the scope is limited to all plastic cups, glasses and plates falling out of the scope of the packaging and packaging waste directive. In practice, it means that the ban only concerns packages of empty plastic cups, glasses and plates that one would buy at the supermarket.
As the initiatives put forward in this Bill are not intended to be limited as I have outlined, the correct approach is for the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment to look at this and other proposals being suggested to help us deal effectively with plastic wastes. The committee would also be a good place to examine whether instead of a ban on these items, a levy might be a better approach. The plastic bag levy worked very well in terms of behavioural change and this might be a possible approach to limit the volume of single use containers being used. Campaigns such as the "Conscious Cup" show that people are willing to change but need to be incentivised to do so. Such a levy could make a visible difference and encourage people to bring reusable cups when making a purchase. I am very much a fan of tea, but I could count on the fingers of both hands the number of times I have bought a plastic cup. I have tea in a cup at breakfast, lunch and dinner or while watching television. Others use plastic cups however. I do not drink coffee and it is possibly coffee culture more so than tea culture which has impacted in this regard. Environmental levies are not about revenue generation. They are designed to encourage behavioural changes and this might be an excellent way to deal with the issues raised.
Moving on to the Deputies' proposal for the introduction of a deposit and refund scheme for drink containers, it must be 25 years since I was on Inis Mór on the way to Dún Aonghasa and was told on buying a can of Coke than I would get a refund on returning the empty can. That is the last time the offer of a refund was made to me. I appreciate the times were less recycling conscious 25 years ago. Packaging in Ireland is subject to a very successful producer responsibility compliance scheme operated by Repak. As part of the review of the producer responsibility compliance schemes in 2014, a wider examination of issues within the packaging sphere was undertaken and consideration was given to the introduction of a bring-back scheme for waste, including beverage containers. The review report did not recommend the introduction of a deposit and refund scheme, concluding that to establish such a scheme was inappropriate in view of the operation of the existing packaging scheme and policies concerning household waste collection plus the high administrative costs of introducing such a system. While I am not convinced of the merits of introducing such a scheme in Ireland for the reasons I outlined, I am not averse to considering a review similar to the review which is ongoing in Scotland.
Ireland has been very successful in dealing with waste prevention through the national waste prevention programme run by the EPA in conjunction with a wide variety of stakeholders. From the "Green Business" programme to the "Stop Food Waste" campaign, a lot of work is being done across a variety of waste streams to reduce the waste we generate and to deal effectively with the remainder. A plastics strategy is currently being examined at the EU in relation to the circular economy package. Any potential change to existing legislation could be looked at as part of the transposition of the circular economy package when it is agreed as this will necessitate redrafting of the packaging directive. This would allow time for the current proposals and any others to be examined.
It would also be possible to ask our national waste prevention committee, which includes members of the eNGO sector, to assess the necessity for a review of our current systems.
In particular, it might be helpful to ask them to consider how much the installation and running of a deposit and return scheme would cost, how it should operate, who should operate it, what steps would be needed to provide the necessary infrastructure, what the likely benefits would be and how it could be made compatible with our existing producer responsibility initiative.
Questions such as these will allow for informed decisions to be taken and we could address all the proposals made around waste reduction and litter. We need to look at the situation as a whole, as introducing changes without examination can have unintended consequences. For example, if the more valuable materials such as aluminium cans and polyethylene bottles are removed from our recycling bins and brought into a deposit and return system, the costs to the waste collectors will change and this could have an impact on the costs of treating material from the recycling bins as well as implications for our waste targets when we are currently well ahead of most of our EU colleagues.
Notwithstanding our concerns, this issue is worthy of debate and consideration. We will not oppose the Bill and will support its passage to Committee Stage, where I hope there will be a good and thorough discussion, including comparisons with other countries, in particular those in the EU, and a debate on how some of the schemes that work on the Continent might be brought in here, the limitations to their use and what we can learn from them. Notwithstanding some of the concerns, I support the basis and the rationale behind the Bill.
I congratulate the Green Party on bringing forward this proposal. The Green Party itself would argue that this is an iterative process. I thank the Minister of State, in particular, for his speech. While there may be a healthy degree of scepticism, concern or questions about the legislation, the Minister of State also poses a particular set of practical and reasonable questions that we all would want to address to ensure that if it were to happen, such a scheme would be devised in the most cost-effective way and in a way that can be future-proofed.
To go back to some basic points, it is important to reiterate what we are trying to do on this little island is respond in our own way to a what is a global crisis, in particular in terms of the production of plastics. An article by journalists Sandra Laville and Matthew Taylor appeared on the online version of The Guardianon Wednesday, 28 June. I am reiterating some of what Deputy Ryan said here. The article stated that a million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute and that the figure will jump by another 20% by 2021. It stated that more than 480 billion plastic drinking bottles were sold in 2016 and that this is up from 300 billion a decade ago. As we know, most bottles used for soft drinks and water are made from polyethylene terephthalate, which is recyclable, but, the article continues, as their use soars across the globe, it is impossible to keep apace with that use by collecting and recycling them in order to keep them from polluting in the way that they do, in particular the oceans.
Deputy Catherine Martin referred to microplastics and plastics working their way into the food chain through fish and so on. The article noted Plymouth University has reported that plastic was found in one third of UK-caught fish, including cod, haddock, mackerel and shellfish, and that the European Food Safety Authority has called for urgent research, citing increasing concern for human health and food safety. Therefore, it is not just an environmental issue; it is a human health issue too. The authority called for this research "given the potential for microplastic pollution in edible tissues of commercial fish". Plastics cannot be assimilated into the food chain. That is self-evident. We know that. Where they are ingested, they carry toxins that work their way quite literally onto our plates.
What we have here is a rare outbreak of co-operation and we should embrace it. I understand the Government has legitimate questions about the inherent costs but the legislation can be worked on. It is a legislative process so it is an iterative process. I would also welcome any move to work with entities such as Retail Ireland and Repak. It is time for us, as a Parliament, to re-engage with Repak, perhaps through the committee structure, because we have legitimate questions. The Minister referred specifically to Repak when speaking about the producer responsibility compliance scheme. There was a review in 2014, when we were in government, but, to quote the Minister:
[A] wider examination of issues within the packaging sphere was undertaken and consideration was given to the introduction of a bring-back scheme for waste, including beverage containers. The review report did not recommend the introduction of a deposit and refund scheme, concluding that to establish such a scheme was inappropriate.
I am perplexed by the use of the word "inappropriate" in view of the operation of the existing packaging scheme and policies concerning household waste collection plus the high administrative costs of introducing such a scheme. Both the Minister and the Minister of State have spoken to the potential costs, which is something we have to grapple with in a pragmatic way. However, it is worth our while to kick the tyres, if one wills, on the work that Repak does. This is very positive work to which we all subscribe but a closer examination of it would be a worthwhile exercise.
We also need to engage with the beverage companies. I nipped out during the debate for a cup of tea in the Members' bar. While there I noticed that all the bottles behind the bar are glass bottles. They are all reused and recycled. I am not sure what mechanism or economic model is used by the big drinks companies in terms of their pricing but I am sure the cost of recycling and reuse is priced into the product for the end user. For the record, I was drinking tea.
If one goes into a bar or any good hostelry and looks behind the bar, alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages are not being sold out of a plastic container but a glass container. If that can be done in all the bars in Ireland, I do not see why we cannot move towards a glass-based approach for the beverages that are sold by what I call the multiples in this country, that is, by the supermarkets.
If we are imaginative and think laterally about how we want to proceed, we can achieve a lot. However, this goes back to the fact it is impossible at the moment to keep apace with the level of production of plastics. There is more being produced than is being recycled. We need to do something. There needs to be some positive disruption to that dynamic. We are a maritime nation and, as one, we may think the Atlantic Ocean, the Irish Sea, St. George's Channel and the Celtic Sea - however one might want to term those passages of water - are pristine. However, as someone who has an interest in sea-kayaking, I see on the water first hand the amount of plastic that ends up in our oceans and, ultimately, in our food chain. We do not want to go there from a public health point of view. For all sorts of environmental reasons, we need to be smart about this.
This type of co-operation across party political boundaries is important, especially on an issue that unites us all. I reiterate our congratulations to the Green Party on bringing forward these proposals.