Seanad debates

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

National Waste Strategy: Statements


3:00 pm

Photo of Tony KilleenTony Killeen (Minister of State, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Minister of State, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Clare, Fianna Fail)

I am pleased to have the opportunity of dealing with this matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, who is unavoidably absent.

Since taking office the Minister, Deputy Gormley, has stressed the twin environmental priorities of dealing with climate change issues and ensuring we make the necessary quantum leap in the way we manage our waste. Just last week the scale of the challenge we face with waste was graphically illustrated in the Environmental Protection Agency's national waste report for 2006. We have made progress, particularly in regard to recycling, but we have a mountain to climb in terms of meeting our European Union obligations. This is especially so in the need to double our diversion of waste from landfill by 2010.

This is not just about meeting EU requirements, however, but about delivering a world class waste management system for our world class economy. That is why the commitments on waste in the programme for Government use EU targets as a starting and not a finishing point. In future we need a situation where Ireland is no longer playing catch-up on EU obligations but is leading the way, as we have done on the plastic bag levy and the smoking ban and as we will do on energy efficient lighting.

The programme for Government is not just about setting policy goals such as, for example, aiming to reduce our reliance on landfill to just 10% in the longer term. It also sets out how we will get there.

The next step is to carry out a fundamental review of the way we plan our management of waste. The Minister, Deputy Gormley, has approved detailed terms of reference which will ensure this review is as wide-ranging as it needs to be. It will not be about papering over cracks or developing stop-gap solutions. It will be about looking at all the technologies available to take us away from a reliance on landfill which is no longer environmentally, socially or economically credible. It will also be about ensuring we have the legal, policy and institutional tools to deliver best practice and become a world leader in sustainable waste management.

The Department is moving as quickly as possible under procurement rules to retain independent consultants to carry out this work. This is not a kick to touch. This work will be completed in months and not years. When the review is completed the Minister will bring to Government a comprehensive response to its findings, including any necessary legislative changes which may be required.

I mentioned the national waste report. I will briefly return to it because it is the backdrop to the terms of reference for the review. It shows that the quantity of biodegradable municipal waste has increased by 15% and the quantity of municipal waste has increased by 11%. While our recycling levels also continue to rise, we started from such a low base and our economy has grown at such a pace that in many ways we are running to stand still. We must make a leap forward and go beyond the type of incremental progress we have been seeing.

That is particularly so when the report shows that the quantity of municipal waste sent to landfill increased by 8% in 2006. That simply is unsustainable and demands urgent action not just to halt the trend but also to reverse it if we are to have any realistic chance of meeting the EU landfill diversion targets for 2010 set by the landfill directive. This is not just about national pride, although that too is important, but also about avoiding the financial sanctions which can result from failing to meet targets that were set not as a barrier to development but as a mechanism for ensuring our development can be sustained into the future.

In this context we must explore the full range of technical solutions as well as modifying our behaviour in support of sustainable waste management. I expect the study to identify existing and potential technologies the better to treat our waste mechanically and biologically so that we can eliminate gradually our reliance on landfill and minimise the need for incineration.

These efforts must be supported by a renewed commitment to source segregation, including the rapid roll-out of brown bin collections for our biodegradable waste. We must continue to win further public engagement in recycling and ensure facilities are available in all areas to respond to the undoubted willingness of people to do more.

We must emphasise also the development of markets in Ireland for recovered waste resources, as the national waste report states. The Department is in the process of procuring a contractor to deliver the Government's ambitious €13 million market development programme. A contractor will be in place by May of this year to drive this five-year programme which will take us on to the next level in our modernisation of the national approach to waste management.

The best way of dealing with waste is to prevent it arising in the first place. The national waste report shows that the waste prevention policies we have pursued up to now will not be sufficient in future. A national waste prevention programme, headed by the EPA, is in place and is being reviewed by the agency. It needs to drive waste prevention with renewed vigour and urgency. In addition, the waste policy review will identify international best practice in waste management, including waste prevention, that can be applied in Ireland to meet the highest international standards. We must make sure that there are adequate drivers for recovery, reuse and recycling. The EPA notes in the waste report that low landfill gate fees may be contributing to increases in the quantities of waste going to landfill rather than being recovered from landfill. This is not acceptable.

In the short term, I want to signal clearly that landfill is a solution of the past that can only have a minor and diminishing role in the future. While the present legal framework curtails what the Minister can do, it is intended to increase the landfill levy to the maximum extent possible pending the outcome of the policy review.

I anticipate that one of the legal initiatives to flow from the review will be a renewed emphasis on the use of economic instruments to promote sustainable waste solutions. It can be anticipated in this context that the landfill levy of the future will be much more burdensome than at present. This will change the economics of waste management and should encourage the sector to begin planning for investment in waste solutions that move us away from landfill.

We must also ensure that the waste sector is regulated in a manner which supports overall national waste management policies and objectives. The Department is giving consideration to the range of views which emerged when a formal public consultation on this issue was conducted. Any necessary policy or legislative changes will be brought forward in the context of the overall review.

This has been a necessarily brief overview of waste management in Ireland. One could be pessimistic and overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task ahead. That is not how I see things. This is a time of challenge and we should relish the prospect of rising to that challenge. The public has demonstrated a commendable willingness to modify behaviour, to make the very real effort to change bad habits in managing our waste and to meet the necessary costs of doing the right thing.

The Government has a duty to lead this process in a proactive way. We are determined that the review now under way will give us all the tools we need to take a 21st century approach to waste management. The House can be assured that if there are significant legal, policy and institutional changes ahead then we are determined to champion them. The aim will be to host a vibrant, innovative and creative waste management sector where public and private service providers can work to best effect in a properly regulated and resourced market.


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