Tuesday, 1 June 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
73. To ask the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment if the work on the circular economy, when completed, will become a major spine of climate action planning and cross-government implementation. [29517/21]
In the context of the circular economy strategy the Government is developing, will ambitious targets be set for, for example, reducing the material usage and increasing the sectors involved in the repair, refurbishment and sharing economy, which could affect the adverse impact of our environmental activity?
The short answer to the Deputy's question is "Yes". Today's linear economic model, which is based around take-make-waste, is environmentally and economically unsustainable. The programme for Government recognises that Ireland needs to establish a circular economy to help achieve our climate ambitions. As a first step in that process, the Minister launched a new waste action plan for a circular economy in 2020. This action plan goes beyond waste management. It looks at resource use much more broadly to capture and maximise the ongoing value of materials that might in the past have been discarded. The plan reconfirms the link between the circular economy and climate action and provides for the establishment of a circular economy division in my Department, with a mandate to ensure a whole-of-government approach in line with the programme for Government commitment.
My Department has produced a draft whole-of-government circular economy strategy. It is undergoing public consultation. Its first iteration aims to provide an overall framework for circular economy policy development. I intend to have the strategy updated in full every 18 months to two years. Future versions will include specific actions and targets for all Departments and sectors of the economy. Following publication of the strategy, an interdepartmental circular economy working group will be established to drive cross-government implementation. This joined-up approach will ensure circular economy practices are embedded across government.
In parallel, the 2021 climate action plan is in preparation and treats the circular economy as a cross-issue of importance. Circular economy actions and principles will be incorporated across the thematic areas of the document, for example, in terms of construction, agriculture, food loss and enterprise.
While I welcome the strategy's introduction, it is disconcerting to see that what has been published to date contains no targets, proposes no specific actions or timelines by which they would be delivered, and provides for no budget through which it would be effected. Does the Minister of State not agree we need to take a radical look at sectors like construction, retail and fast fashion and make genuine changes in the way their activities perform so that we can genuinely see a greater length of life for products and more usage of materials instead of products going to the dump at the end of their lives? Without targets, budgets and actions, it is difficult to see how the strategy will make an impact.
We are at the public consultation stage. We need budgets and timelines, but we must first establish what our principles are. I agree we need to take a radical look at practices like fast fashion. Since they are cultural, they will be difficult to change.
Deputy Bruton has made insightful contributions to the process so far. They are of great use to me. I thank him for putting in the effort to provide that information, which I am sure is based partly on his experience as Minister.
I thank the Minister of State and am glad he finds the work I did to be of some use, but I will repeat what I said. We need to see actual actions, for example, banning best before dates being put on food products and only relying on the use by dates, which is the statutory requirement. In large retail stores, 20% of space could be provided for people who bring their own containers. While I accept that establishing the principles is important, we need to go beyond that and see pragmatic actions coming from the strategy instead of relying on broad-based principles.
I tried to submit questions to other Ministries to learn how they were adopting the circular economy concept. Despite the whole-of-government approach, they rejected taking the questions. They did not even have the courtesy to offer replies.
I assure the Deputy that I am deploying and implementing measures instead of just producing strategies or documents that go on shelves. I am keen to see things happen, knowing that my time as Minister of State is not infinite.
Certainly, the idea of removing best before and sticking with use by is a good suggestion, as is the allocation of parts of retail use for people with their own containers, which is certainly something worth looking at. I will address the problem of the Deputy putting questions to Departments which are refused because they are not part of my Department. Just like climate change, the circular economy is a whole-of-government issue which means that every Department has to be answerable for their part.
Yesterday, I had a meeting with the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste on the circular economy and I know that at the highest levels in Government that they are keen to make this work and are fully behind it.