Thursday, 16 September 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
12. To ask the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment if his attention has been drawn to the lengthy application process for end of waste licences; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44122/21]
Yes, my attention has been drawn to this because, during the summer, I met with the company that was experiencing difficulties in this regard and I then contacted the Department and the EPA to discuss this.
Article 28 of the European Communities (Waste Directive) Regulations, S.I. No. 126 of 2011, sets out the grounds by which a material which is recovered or recycled from waste can be deemed to be no longer a waste. As the designated competent authority, decisions regarding applications for end of waste are the responsibility of the EPA. They are not licences; they are determinations. The EPA published guidance documents in 2020 to assist applicants with preparing end of waste applications, and the guidance documents are available on the EPA website.
The waste action plan for a circular economy, launched in 2020, has a dedicated chapter on end of waste, and commits to a number of measures, which include: working with stakeholders to streamline the process; examining whether certain end of waste decisions should be determined by local authorities rather than the EPA; establishing a working group to develop national end of waste applications for identified priority waste streams, which would obviate the need for individual applications within those streams; and introducing a fee for end-of-waste applications to help fund the process and encourage high quality applications. The upcoming circular economy Bill will progress some of these measures to streamline the process.
I also contacted the EPA and asked it for details on how long it was taking to process these determinations, what was involved, was it correctly staffed and so on, and it provided me with data which I can share with the Deputy. Its average processing time, it tells me, is six months once it has received all of the information from the applicants, and it said it has a difficulty with some applications which are incomplete or not supplied with the right information. To address some of the problems that have arisen, the circular economy Bill will contain a number of measures which seek to correct those problems, to make sure determinations are reached rapidly and that we look to see if we can get determinations on a national level, as well as on an individual project level, so those can be reused and drawn upon as needed.
This is an important initiative and it is where we need to be going with a lot of our products. I am pleased the Minister of State met with the company and has contacted the EPA in this regard. My understanding is there are currently 34 applications on its desk. The time taken to assess these applications varies from five months to more than two years, and in some instances the timeframe has exceeded four years. These are companies that are required to get these determinations and they need clarity and certainty as they are operating businesses. For them to have to wait that length of time in order to get the approvals they require is not acceptable, when we compare that to Northern Ireland, where the exact same application would take three to four weeks. My understanding is that some companies are considering moving their operations to Northern Ireland, which would be very unfortunate, because our systems are not being sufficiently resourced or moving fast enough for them.
For a start, no company should ever have to wait years for a decision from the Government on anything, and that stands to reason. The EPA tells me that it has only ever received 68 end of waste applications. Of these, 13 have been delivered, with a further 13 applications deemed to be abandoned or withdrawn. Of the remaining 42 applications on hand, which is more than the number the Deputy stated, 21 applications are considered as under active assessment, while a further 21 will be allocated and assessed in due course. Of the 21 that are under active assessment, one is at advanced stage, five further applications relating to recycled aggregates are being assessed and will be progressed in parallel, 12 have undergone initial assessment, two relate to national applications and one relates to fertiliser material. It is important that we keep track of what is the actual data, how long things are taking and so on.
I accept there is an issue that needs to be addressed and the upcoming Bill will address it. I hope I can engage with the Deputy on that to ensure the right provisions are there to fix the problem as it is, but we need to assess what it is.
I agree that, hopefully, this Bill will address any future issues but there are a considerable number of applications and companies waiting for an assessment currently. This is impeding them from operating properly and impeding them from actually reusing their waste in a sustainable manner. Will the Minister of State tell me what he will do to ensure those companies have their applications assessed as quickly as possible? The company I am dealing with is probably the company the Minister of State also met. It has now been waiting longer than two years and it is not okay for that to happen. What specific thing will the Minister of State do to ensure that something is put in place for it and companies like it so they can get their applications assessed while the Bill is going through the system? We know Bills take time and there will need to be consultation on it. I do not think it is fair for us to expect companies to wait in this hiatus while that policy and the legislation is put in place.
One of the issues is that the EPA has no legislative or strategy requirement to come to a determination in any timeframe. I think that, generally, there should be some limit on how long it takes to reach a decision. Specifically, what we can do is to make sure the EPA is sufficiently staffed and that it has the resources it needs to do it, that we monitor the length of its applications stream, even though the rules will probably change within a few months, and that we make sure the EPA addresses those that have been on hand the longest - the outliers. We need to make sure the companies are provided with all the information they need to make their applications but also that they are kept up-to-date on exactly what the status is and whether any more information is required in return. Those are the specific approaches I am going to take to make sure any company that is waiting for an end of waste determination can have its application justly progressed and done in a reasonable timeframe.