Seanad debates

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

National Waste Strategy: Statements


4:00 pm

Photo of Dominic HanniganDominic Hannigan (Labour)

I welcome this opportunity to discuss the important issue of waste management which is sadly overlooked by the Government. I want to focus on the need to recycle more and how I, like many in this House, believe incineration is not the answer to Ireland's waste problems.

These days waste is generated by a large number of sources. In households alone, there are the problems of increased packaging and junk mail. In the latter case, waste is a matter not only of the paper produced but of the trees cut down, the ink used and the fuel consumed in the process of delivery to people's houses. We all recognise that the sheer quantity of junk mail is becoming an increasing problem. Were guidelines introduced on how junk mail should operate and what regulation of the distribution junk mail should be put in place? Will the Minister of State consider what can be done to regulate the junk mail industry?

Waste levels are increasing. Last week the Environmental Protection Agency recognised that the level of waste in Ireland in 2006 increased by 11%. Much of this is organic waste and I would like to see the extension of the pilot scheme for brown bins which recently has been introduced. The previous speaker referred to the need for more brown bins and composting, and it presents us with an opportunity to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill.

We are dumping a significant amount of degradable waste straight into the bin which, because of our system for getting rid of waste, ends up in landfill at tremendous cost, not only to the environment but also to the local authorities. As with recycling, we need to change our mindset when it comes to how we deal with this waste. I see biodegradable waste as an opportunity for us. It is one from which we can benefit if given some thought.

I was excited to see the considerable success of the brown bin pilot programme in Fingal County Council. It involves the collection of organic waste from the kitchens and gardens of 17,000 houses which is then brought to a commercial distribution centre outside Navan in County Meath for composting. The programme has been so successful that Fingal County Council has managed to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill by 30% in the past 18 months. We all are aware of the problems with landfill and the European Union directives governing this area, so anything that reduces the amount of waste going to landfill by 30% is good news and should be recognised as such. Therefore, I want to see this pilot programme from Fingal County Council extended to the rest of the country.

There is no central plan for how we treat and distribute organic waste and the Minister needs to spend time working out a programme to improve and increase the level of composting and learn from programmes such as the one in Fingal. People living in new developments in Louth, Meath and across the commuter areas would benefit from this bin service. There would be not only an economic benefit for the local authorities but also an environmental benefit, and we need to see this rolled out. I ask the Minister to put this at the top of the agenda when it comes to waste management.

Unlike the previous speaker, I do not believe incineration is the answer, nor is it fair to say most of us secretly want it. It is not just a case of not wanting it in our backyards. Few people want it in their backyards and previous leaders of Senator O'Malley's party argued against having it in their backyards. Incineration has not yet won over the sceptics here. Therefore, it is incumbent on us to spend our time and energy seeking solutions, other than incineration, that will work for a small island country. Incineration is the lazy, thought-free route that will solve nothing in the long run.

A proposal has been made to site an incinerator just outside Duleek, which is beside my home town of Drogheda, on top of an important aquifer. If something went wrong with the construction or operation of that plant, it could have a serious impact on the health of people living in the area through contamination of their water supply. Before we dive headlong down the incineration route, the Minister should consider other ways of dealing with our waste. The Fingal programme which uses brown bins suggests there is a way forward for degrading organic waste. That programme has led to a 30% reduction in landfill for the Fingal area. We need to consider the benefits that can be realised from a properly thought out waste management programme, one that examines ways of dealing with organic waste, lowers our dependence on landfill and leads to a healthier environment. I recommend that course of action to the Government.


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