Friday, 6 November 2020
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
I support the points made by Senators Chambers and Murphy during the discussion on the previous Commencement matter. It is vital that the funding is provided to Knock Airport. I welcome Minister of State, Deputy Brophy, to the House and wish him well in his portfolio. I have not had an opportunity to do this previously. I will be sharing some time with Senator Buttimer.
The recycling of plastics is a very significant matter. We may not be able to do justice to it in the short time available to us today. There are many facets to the recycling of various types of plastic, including farm waste plastic, builders' plastic and plastic bottles. People tend to think there is just one type of plastic. It is hard to tell them that there are different types of plastic. We all think that plastic is just plastic. However, some plastics can be recycled and others cannot. What happens to the plastic that cannot be recycled? Where does it go? Does it go to landfill?
A number of representations have been made to me on the recycling of builders' plastic, such as that used to wrap pallets of cement or blocks. This type of plastic can also be seen at fuel depots, where materials like briquettes are bound in plastic. Those who use it have no place to send it to have it recycled. There is a difficulty there. What role does Repak play in the collection of this type of plastic industrial waste? Where does it go? Is there a levy? If so, who collects it? What happens the levy? How is it distributed?
A very significant levy for the collection of farm waste plastic is paid by every farmer who uses such plastic. Some of that levy is distributed, and more of it is not. I understand that there is €3.7 million somewhere that has not been distributed. Some collectors have difficulty in getting the farm plastic off to recycling. There was a big market in China at one stage, but that seems to have dried up. I ask the Minister of State to look into all of these matters. A factory in Littleton, County Tipperary, was going to carry out some of the processing of farm waste plastic.
The Government needs to rethink how it sees this matter going forward. There is a great need for fencing and garden products, all of which can be made out of recycled plastic. I hope the Minister of State will be able to shed some light on some of these issues. I refer particularly to section 60(3) of the Waste Management Act 1996, which relates to the export of plastics by local authorities.
I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Brophy, on his appointment as I have not seen him since then. I thank Senator Burke for sharing time with me.
Section 60 of the Waste Management Act 1996 is very important, but it urgently requires clarity. As Senator Burke has eloquently outlined, a myriad of plastics is used for business, commercial, building and farm purposes. A uniform approach on the part of the Government is required, but that has not happened. This is having profound implications for everybody. A regime change is required to assist the collection of plastic from a variety of holdings which is now deemed waste. I hope the local authorities and the Government will work with the waste farm plastic facilities that will be created, and the Irish Farm Films Producers Group will be able to achieve an outcome by having that plastic collected. This is important because we are all committed to recycling and reducing waste, but this waste is now being stored or housed. We need a facility, we need action and we need an amendment to section 60 of the 1996 Act.
I thank my party colleagues, Senators Buttimer and Burke, for raising this issue. I am delighted to have an opportunity to reply on behalf my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan.
In September, the Minister launched the Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy, which sets out an ambitious new roadmap for waste planning and management and seeks to shift the focus away from waste disposal to how we can preserve resources by creating a circular economy. The plan sets out a range of aims and targets for the State and the measures by which they will be achieved, including increased regulation and measures across various waste areas such as those that have been mentioned. It deals with plastics and packaging, municipal waste, construction and demolition, consumer protection and citizen engagement.
One of the functions of the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications with regard to waste management is to set the policy and legislative framework for the extended producer responsibility, EPR, model in Ireland, across various waste streams. Ireland uses the EPR model for dealing with a number of waste streams, including farm plastics, electrical equipment, tyres and batteries. These schemes have been developed on the basis of the producer pays principle. To date, they have operated very successfully and have enabled Ireland to reach its domestic and EU recycling targets. They have also successfully contributed to Ireland meeting its overall environmental goals and have diverted substantial amounts of waste from landfill.
The Department is not responsible for and has no role in the operational, day-to-day matters of any of the schemes. The primary role of the Department on farm plastics matters is to provide the legislative framework. Under the legislation, the Irish Farm Film Producers Group Limited, IFFPG, operates under an approval granted by the Department as the national farm plastics recycling scheme and has been doing so successfully since its establishment in 1998. The company is a not-for-profit body, which is owned by its members and the Irish Farmers Association.
Since its establishment, the IFFPG has been responsible for the recycling of over 350,000 tonnes of farm plastics waste and is currently recycling in excess of 30,000 tonnes of waste per annum. Under the approved scheme, producers pay an environmental protection levy to the IFFPG based on the quantity of product they place on the market. The environmental levy applies to all product placed on the Irish market. The levy, together with other sources of income, is used by the IFFPG to fund and provide for the collection, transportation and treatment of farm film plastics. The Department is not responsible for and has no role in the operational and day-to-day matters of the IFFPG, which include details regarding the levy. As required under its current ministerial approval, the IFFPG submits an annual operational report and audited accounts which are published on its website.
In 2018, the IFFPG's annual report outlined the impact of the then decision by the Chinese authorities to cease importing plastics waste. The European market was subsequently flooded with surplus material which precipitated a price collapse in the farm plastics market. The IFFPG therefore faced increased recycling costs which caused it to have to increase its levy and collection charges, albeit with a commitment to reverse those increases when the market recovered. The difficult market situation, characterised by reduced demand and the reintroduction of gate fees by European recyclers, continued to be a major challenge for the IFFPG in 2019, with approximately 12,000 tonnes of material carried over into the 2020 collections season. The IFFPG remains committed to managing farm plastic waste and meeting national targets as required under its approval.
The collected material is split between European recyclers and Irish recyclers. In the case of Irish recyclers, the majority is supplied to a pretreatment facility in Portlaoise where some contamination is removed before onward transport to European recyclers. The legal framework for the import and export of farm plastics is derived from EU law. The National TransFrontier Shipment Office, which oversees this work, has determined that used farm plastic intended for export falls into two main categories: green and amber waste. This classification between amber and green waste has consequences for where one can export to. This classification difference is a clearing mechanism to make sure that pure farm waste plastics are being exported. In late 2019, the IFFPG also began supplying material to a new recycling facility in Littleton, County Tipperary.This facility, which is currently being commissioned, is expected to recycle 20,000 tonnes per annum. It will greatly assist farm plastics recycling in Ireland.
The IFFPG has committed to supporting a greater circularity in the farm plastics sector to ensure more sustainable use of resources. It has a number of initiatives under way in this regard, including an extensive farmer survey to be carried out in 2021. It has also begun working to act as a facilitator between the various stakeholders in the farm plastics sector supply chain, with a view to encouraging greater use of recycled content from farm plastic waste in new farm plastic products.
The Minister of State outlined some of the difficulties but did not address many others. The industry needs support and we should have a proper structure in place whereby we do not export our problems. We should be able to use this waste plastic to manufacture products that can be used throughout the country. The Minister of State did not address the issue of private contractors either, many of whom, along with other contractors, have a build-up of plastic. Where will it go and what will be done with it? Something needs urgently to be done and the Minister of State needs to reconsider the levy of €3.7 million, something he made no reference to. I ask him to relay this matter to the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications in view of the difficulties. I have no doubt he knows quite well what difficulties are involved in the industry.
I support Senator Burke and thank the Minister of State, although I acknowledge it is not a matter for the Department in which he has responsibility. The industry needs support. The collection, holding and recovery of this material urgently needs a new way of thinking and a new model that can assist private and public contractors in working together.