Seanad debates

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

National Waste Strategy: Statements


4:00 pm

Photo of Marc MacSharryMarc MacSharry (Fianna Fail)

I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute on this issue. The Minister of State's speech demonstrates that we have come a significant way with regard to waste, particularly considering the situation in the 1980s when landfill was at the summit of our waste management strategy. It was the only option available to us at the time and there was little or no talk, other than an occasional school project, about recycling. We have come a long way since then with regard to the level of recycling that takes place. However, we have a mountain to climb in terms of what we must do to meet, at the least, our EU obligations, but also to reach the position we would like as good world citizens. I am glad the Minister of State mentioned that it is not just about meeting EU targets and avoiding the financial penalties that will be imposed on us if we do not meet those targets, but that we should use those targets as a starting point rather than as a destination. This is welcome.

Recycling has been embraced by many people, but not by all of us and not to the extent it should. One of the difficulties in embracing it fully is that we do not have consistency among local authorities. Senator Hannigan mentioned that Fingal operates a good system. Perhaps that system should be spread throughout the country. Galway city also operates a good system. We need consistency in this regard. We need more brown bins and other types of recycling bins. These should be supplied free of charge by the State through the local authorities to facilitate the recycling process.

We also need to provide more litter bins. One county manager told me he would rather have no litter bins because that would help people focus more on the problem of litter. I disagree. Not only should we have more litter bins in place but we should also have recycling bins in public locations. These are the types of innovative solutions we need to consider.

Senator Hannigan also touched on the issue of junk mail. The State is the main perpetrator in terms of paper wastage. Members of the Oireachtas need only look at what they receive through their pigeon holes each day to realise the level of waste in terms of hard copy. This is a disgrace, as mentioned by many Senators over the years, and it should be tackled. We all have computers and can receive and send e-mails. When an annual report is available from a State body or Department, we should receive an e-mail to that effect and download it if necessary. If one needs a hard copy, one can print it. We must lead from the front in this regard. There is no longer any excuse for such waste. While we all have two bins in our offices, one for recycling and one for general waste, the amount of waste paper we discard every day is phenomenal. It would be impossible to read all the reports we receive. At best, one might read the executive summaries of such reports.

Members opposite may giggle, but they know this to be the case. Ideally, we would love to be able to read the volumes of material we receive, but we do not. We would make a positive contribution if we read the executive summaries electronically and downloaded a report only when we required more detail. This would be better than the blatant reckless approach we take. We must start here. With regard to junk mail, a levy should be placed on marketing companies or on those involved in direct mail marketing which should go to the coffers of local authorities or contribute to a waste management strategy fund.

While incineration is an imperfect solution and one none of us would seek to promote as an optimum way forward, it must be part of the solution. We will have to accept it in some form and we must lead the way in choosing the locations for it, although it is obviously something none of us wants. The issue is similar to that of the Traveller community. We all want to ensure Travellers are treated fairly and that facilities are available to them, but time and again local authorities and local representatives oppose their location in particular areas. We cannot continue to do that. The same is true for incineration. We must lead in regard to such issues.

Litter is a significant problem and we need to do more to encourage members of the public to take responsibility for their litter. Many of them feel it is somebody else's responsibility. Too often we hear people complain about litter, but people seldom pick up litter and place it in a bin. This is also true of myself. We need to engage in programmes that encourage volunteerism whereby people get involved in keeping their areas clean. Education through the schools could contribute to this. Graffiti is also a problem but it is not directly related to waste management.

I will return to the issue of consistency and local authorities. All local authorities are engaged in street cleaning, but not all of them do it every day. Some do it a few times a week while others do it several times a day. We need consistency in this regard. We should also issue a directive or pass legislation with regard to graffiti. When graffiti in an area is reported to a local authority, it should be removed within 24 hours because research shows that if it is left longer, more will accrue in the area. By doing this, we would improve the general appearance of areas and might also help with the litter problem.

A litter survey, entitled Irish Business Against Litter, carried out under the auspices of Mr. Tom Cavanagh the head of the organisation, had honourable objectives and goals in terms of a litter-free Ireland. However, I question the consistency of this survey and I ask the Minister of State to raise it with the Minister, Deputy Gormley. It seems strange that Ennis, for example, should have a very low rating in the Irish Business Against Litter, IBAL, survey yet win the Tidy Towns competition. I am concerned that at times the survey does not compare like with like. It also depends on consistency among local authorities. The survey could take place in an area where the local authority does not conduct street cleaning on that day, whereas in other areas it might take place every day.

The main problem is that the results of these surveys are sensationalised in the press, with Sligo deemed Ireland's dirtiest town and Dundalk deemed Ireland's cleanest town. Take the example of Sligo. A number of years ago it was the dirtiest town, then for three years it was in the top five and now it is the dirtiest again. I can say with authority that it was never the cleanest and it was never the dirtiest. These surveys are not scientific. I agree that there should be a survey but it must be scientific and stand up to scrutiny.

The head of IBAL, Dr. Tom Cavanagh, said on radio last week that the survey captures a moment in time and that an area can be unlucky. That does not stack up when one is dealing with taxpayers' money and in view of the fact that the tag of being the dirtiest town is more damaging than the homicidal crime rate in an area in terms of media exposure and the effects it can have. It is wrong, and we should be cognisant of that and more responsible. When one considers the level of taxpayers' resources being devoted to the promotion of an area for job creation, tourism and so forth it does not make sense that, because the area may have been "unlucky" in the words of Dr. Cavanagh and the streets were not cleaned by the local authority on a given day, it could be given the label of dirtiest town. That is unjust and reckless. I believe the goals of IBAL are good and honourable but, in the organisation's own words, one could be "unlucky". That is a disgrace. Yes, let us conduct a survey but let us be responsible about how the results are announced and ensure that there is engagement with and consistency within the local authorities.

Ireland most certainly has a litter problem and Sligo is no exception. We must undertake more schemes and programmes to deal with it. However, it must begin with members of the public doing our bit in addition to the local authorities having a consistent approach. I thank the Minister for coming to the House and I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss this issue. We have come a long way since the 1980s but there is still a mountain to climb. I look forward to playing a small part in the ascent of that mountain. I hope the Minister will take some of the points I made on board.


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