Seanad debates

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

National Waste Strategy: Statements


4:00 pm

Photo of Déirdre de BúrcaDéirdre de Búrca (Green Party)

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, to the House and thank him for his presentation. I welcome the opportunity to make a statement on the Government's waste management strategy. I do so as a member of a political party that is a party of Government but has long been preoccupied with the need to move towards a more sustainable waste management system. As a party we are now in the very fortunate position of having a Green Party Minister at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, who can be part of bringing about the critical changes needed in coming years. Some might say that it is not so fortunate because the policy challenge of putting more sustainable waste management systems in place is considerable.

I am encouraged by the comments made by the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, today and by the Environmental Protection Agency's recent national waste report for 2006 which contained several positive findings. It showed that more than 1 million tonnes of waste was recovered in 2006. The municipal recovery rates for commercial and domestic waste exceeded national targets. Our 50% packaging waste recovery rate in 2006 exceeded our EU target. The quantity of paper and cardboard recovered in 2006 increased by 33%. Overall, the quantities of waste recycled increased significantly. For 2006 the recycling level was 36%, which is a significant increase given that a decade ago the levels of recycling were approximately 9%.

However, the report points out we have a long way to go in moving towards a truly sustainable waste management system. It clearly highlighted that the quantity of waste going to landfill has also increased. While the waste we are recycling has increased, so also has the amount we are sending to landfill because we are creating more waste. In effect we are running to stand still because in a consumer society we are consuming much more and therefore creating more waste and so the problem continues to grow.

We need to consider the area of waste prevention and waste reduction as mentioned by the Minister of State. Packaging is one of the areas in which we can do this most immediately. We need to consider the production processes used by companies and offer them incentives to move towards more clean production processes. The report pointed out that packaging levels in 2006 were the highest ever at 589,515 tonnes generated, an increase of 8% on the previous year. We need to focus on the area of packaging waste.

We also need to make further progress in the diversion of biodegradable and organic waste from landfill to meet our EU targets. We diverted approximately 34.9% of our organic and biodegradable waste in 2006. We need to double this figure by 2010 if we are to meet the commitments in the programme for Government, which is a considerable challenge. The programme calls for the introduction of segregated collections for organic waste - the brown bin system. That system is in place in certain parts of the country but it needs to be rolled out countrywide to achieve these ambitious diversion targets.

The Minister has stated his intention to increase the landfill levy to promote recycling. Unfortunately in recent years it appears that the gate fees for landfill have reduced which makes it a cheaper option for those involved in waste collection than considering the alternative of recycling. We need to do this and I know the Minister has committed to doing so.

My party colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, recently said that we need some new thinking in the area of waste management to break old habits. It is very welcome to hear the kind of fresh thinking expressed by the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, in his presentation today. For too long we have relied on the old methodologies of burning or burying our waste. We can no longer do that. We have become too environmentally aware as a society to continue to engage in these outdated practices that in the long run are not helping us to protect our environment. The fundamental change needed in the area of waste management is to begin to view waste as a resource rather than as something that needs to be disposed of and which, if used to good effect, can generate jobs, be a source of bio-energy or bio-fuels and result in new products and services.

The programme for Government has made a number of commitments in the area of sustainable waste management. The Minister of State, Deputy Tony Killeen, has referred to the fact that the Minister, Deputy John Gormley, has initiated an international review of waste management which will inform Ireland's waste policy, and which will be based on sustainability. It is important that this is an international review because we need to look beyond even the EU framework for waste management. The EU waste hierarchy is very useful and it places the different systems for dealing with waste in order of priority and preference. It gives more preferential status to incineration over landfill. This is a highly controversial ordering of waste technology.

The Green Party is of the view that incineration is no more attractive or sustainable as a waste management technology than is landfill. The party would like the waste review to examine international practice in the area of waste management. The zero waste model is increasingly being embraced in parts of Australia, New Zealand, Canada and America. This model regards waste materials as being potentially a very valuable resource which can be used and reused. It is my hope that the review will reflect some of the more progressive and state-of-the-art thinking on waste management which are applied in the international system.

The review will also examine the potential contribution of a range of technologies in the improvement of waste management practices in Ireland, thus ensuring these are operated to the highest environmental standards. The review will commence shortly and will report to the Minister within one year of the signing of the contract. It is my expectation that the review will highlight that we have over-provided for incineration capacity in a small country such as Ireland and that many other state-of-the-art technologies could be used for waste management. These include systems such as paralysis, biochar, aerobic and anaerobic digestion and many other new and ground-breaking technologies. I look forward to the review being concluded and the submission of the report to the Minister.

I note the several progressive and forward-thinking commitments on waste management in the programme for Government, which has set ambitious waste management targets for maximum prevention, reuse, recycling and modern waste treatment, to ensure that we match the best performance for recycling in the EU, with the objective that only 10% of waste or less is consigned to landfill. This is a decrease from 74% of municipal waste which was sent to landfill in 2000, making this an extremely ambitious target. It is clear we will be forced to engage with and embrace waste prevention, waste reuse, recycling and composting.

I refer to our legacy landfills to which Senator Coffey also referred and which will present a challenge in the future. Many old, unlicensed landfills are in existence from before the legislation on landfill and waste management was developed and these will need to be addressed. Given our experience in County Wicklow, I am familiar with the issue of illegal dumps as we discovered the county had a number of large illegal dumps. I call on the Minister and his Department not to give in to the pressure from certain parties who bought up sites on which illegal dumps were located and who are now attempting to have them developed into legal landfills. It would be a very dangerous development if illegal dumps were permitted to be converted into legalised landfills. I hope the Minister will not do so and will conform to the spirit of EU waste directives by insisting that all the waste in those illegal dumps is removed to legal landfill.

Other commitments in the programme for Government relate to reducing the cost of waste management charges, ensuring Ireland's waste management system is competitive, using technologies to achieve the use of waste for generating sustainable electricity, expanding the network of bottle banks, recycling centres and segregated collection and introducing household hazardous waste collections in all suitable recycling centres. The Minister has made a commitment to extend the opening hours of recycling centres or civic amenity centres. This is a welcome commitment as many members of the public find it difficult to access recycling centres within working hours.

I welcome the information provided by the Minister of State. The programme for Government makes important and progressive commitments to sustainable waste management. The Minister is committed to moving the waste management model from the old-fashioned or old-style mentality to a more forward-looking, resource management approach to handling waste which in the long term will be good for protecting our environment, for creating new job opportunities and for allowing Ireland to become a standard-bearer within the European Union, a country which other countries can imitate in its good environmental practice.


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