Seanad debates

Monday, 22 March 2021

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Waste Management

10:30 am

Róisín Garvey (Green Party)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire agus gabhaim buíochas leis as ucht an t-am a thabhairt don ábhar an-tábhachtach seo. I thank the Minister for his time on this important issue.

All plastics come from fossil fuels. To produce a plastic bottle takes the equivalent of filling one-quarter of the bottle with oil. It takes up to 500 years for plastic to disappear. Recycling just one tonne of plastic saves between 1,200 and 2,000 gallons of petroleum. Each year, Ireland produces 1 million tonnes of plastic waste. Approximately 30% of that waste is recycled. In Europe, the average is approximately 40% of plastic waste recycled. In Ireland, six disposable coffee cups are thrown away every second. Producing plastic products from recycled plastics reduces energy requirements by 66%. In Ireland, all soft plastic is going into landfill. The three "Rs" of reduce, reuse and recycle, which I have been advocating since the 1980s, may need a fourth - replace or remove. All solutions and alternatives are available but we need to make them the norm, not the alternative.

Some 220,000 plastic bottles are thrown away every day in Ireland. How can we make it as easy and simple as possible to address the challenges we face? How will we progress to a plastic-free society? That is what most people want in their hearts. While I commend the Minister on the Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy, I want to see what steps we will take next.

John McGahon (Fine Gael)
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The reason I am taking part in this debate is an email that was sent to my office and the Minister's office by Ellie Hoey, an 11-year-old from Dundalk, County Louth. It is much more appropriate that I read Ellie's words, as her email does much more justice to the issue than I ever could. It states:

Dear [Minister] Ryan ...

Hello, my Name is Ellie Hoey, I’m 11 and I’m from Dundalk, Co. Louth.

I hope you and your family are doing well in the current circumstances, and I know The Government are focused on important things at this time but I really wanted to write to you and bring something to your attention.

In these past years before Covid -19 I have become very interested in [the] Green Schools Initiative and climate change and what we can do to stop it happening.

I have gone to a few protests before and was supposed to go to more this year.

Because of this I have done some research into the matter and have discovered that Ireland produced over 1 million tonnes of packaging waste in 2018, for the second year in a row and that the recycling rate for 2018 had gone down from that of 2017.

Many small businesses in my locality have made efforts to move away from single use plastic and are instead using compostable and recyclable materials, and I would like to enquire about what The Government plan to do or are doing presently about the companies who can well afford to change recyclable and compostable materials who don’t appear to be doing so presently and especially because many family outings nowadays consist of going to the big chain coffee shops for a take away.

I am also worried about single use plastic straws, cutlery and shopping bags and the effects they have on the environment and while you can definitely see some change in companies trying to be more sustainable we are still very far off being as sustainable as we would like to be if we want to prevent climate change and the long-lasting effects it will have on our future generation and I am very worried if we don’t do something now that the earth that we will be passing on to my children and their children will not be a good one because of the amount of non-reusable plastics and waste materials humans are using up.

I think that the effects it’s having on the sea creatures and land creatures is devastating especially since they are not the ones using plastic and waste materials yet they are feeling the consequences [of our actions].

And the rate and way our streams, rivers, lakes and oceans are being polluted is terrible and they are becoming toxic very quickly.

I think this is a very important topic and almost more important than Covid-19 because we have found a solution to Covid-19 yet scientists are still [a little] bit unsure about how to stop climate change

I know I’m only 11 [years of age] but it’s me, my children and my grandchildren that this is going to have lasting effects on, so I wanted to write this letter to ask you what are you and your Department doing presently or are planning to do in the close future about this and I hope you understand why I’m sending this letter and how much this means to me and I would be thankful if you replied.

Thank you for reading,

Ellie Hoey.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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I thank the Senator and I am happy to update both the Senators and Ellie Hoey in Dundalk on the range of plans for dealing with plastic waste. It is a top priority for me to tackle the blight on our streets, countryside, beaches and our oceans, as Ellie has set out, caused by mismanaged plastic waste.

I am grateful for both Senators' support for the Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy, which we launched last September. It is an ambitious plan, which includes a range of measures to reform and strengthen our waste management programme. This plan is probably at its most ambitious when we outline how we will tackle single-use plastics and plastic packaging and I agree with Senator Garvey that those two more Rs, of remove and replace, are exactly what we intend to do.

One of the key weapons in the plastics battle will be Directive (EU) 2019/904, commonly referred to as the single-use plastics directive. This directive, which will be transposed by July of this year, specifically targets the ten most common single-use plastics which are found on European beaches and waters. I will be making it mandatory for all producers of single-use plastic bottles to ensure that their packaging contains a minimum of 30% recycled content and that the producers of all single-use plastic beverage containers will have to ensure that the caps remain attached to the bottles.

To improve recyclability rates the directive also sets a separate collection target of 90% for plastic bottles by 2029 with an interim target of 77% by 2025. A report prepared for my Department by Eunomia concluded that a deposit and return scheme, DRS, is essential if we are to achieve the required levels of performance.

The Waste Action Plan tor a Circular Economy sets out a clear roadmap for the introduction of a deposit refund scheme for plastic bottles and aluminium cans in the third quarter of 2022. I shortly will be taking the second step in this process when I launch a second public consultation on the regulatory framework to support the DRS later this month and I am looking to the producers to take responsibility for this and have stipulated that the DRS must be producer-led and operated on a not-for-profit basis.

As Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, I am committed to significantly reducing the amount of single-use plastic cups and food containers that are placed on the Irish market. When coffee shops and restaurants reopen after the Covid-19 pandemic, I will be trialling the elimination of coffee cups entirely in selected towns with a view to achieving an eventual full national ban on them. In addition, by July 2021, I will ban a range of single-use plastic products from being placed on the market, including straws, plates and cutlery, as well as polystyrene food and beverage containers, in accordance with the single-use plastics directive.However, the plan also demonstrates our ambitions in going beyond EU targets and we will also be banning a further range of single-use plastic items including non-medical wet wipes, single-use plastic hotel toiletries and sugar and condiment items.

The plan also details how we will deal with waste arising from packaging. By 2030, all packaging placed on the market in Ireland must be reusable or recyclable and we will be working throughout the supply chain to achieve this. All producers of plastic packaging will be subject to the extended producer responsibility regime. This model of waste management, which is based on the "polluter pays" principle, has been employed very successfully in Ireland for years with items such as electrical equipment, batteries and end-of-life vehicles. In addition, all producers will be subject to eco-modulation of fees whereby a reduced levy will be applied to recyclable and reusable packaging while non-recyclable packaging will attract a heavier fee. The legislative basis for this is in the European Union (Waste Directive) Regulations 2020, which I signed last summer.

I could go on outlining a range of other measures and talking about Ellie. Senator Garvey has worked in the past with An Taisce's green-schools and campus programmes. We have provided further funding of €200,000 to foster this engagement and disseminate further the necessary messaging. That is a critical part of this transition. We all must understand why this is in our interests and that it is our responsibility to make this change.

Róisín Garvey (Green Party)
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I am so happy to hear that there is a definite date for the deposit and return scheme in the third quarter of next year because people have been asking about that for ages. It is an important step forward. I am also happy that the producers will be the ones dealing with this issue and taking on the responsibility because as a consumer who tries to avoid plastic, the producers make it very difficult to do so. If the Minister needs any help finding towns in which to pilot the scheme, Ennistymon and Ennis both took on the "Love Your Cup" campaign way ahead of the game, offering 30 cent off to people who were bringing their cups back. If the Minister needs that piloted maybe we can help him in County Clare.

John McGahon (Fine Gael)
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Ellie is in school at the moment so she is going to have to watch this debate later on. She is also a very active member of her green schools committee in the CBS in Dundalk. I felt that the words of an 11-year-old girl, in such simplistic and yet concise language, would give far greater emphasis to this issue than I ever could.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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I hope that by the time she finishes school most of these measures will be in place and Ireland will be a better country. There will be less litter. As Senator Garvey said, in effect a third of every one of those bottles is filled with oil in order to make them. Reducing their usage and increasing recycling is part of the battle we have to take on against climate change and it will all be for the better. It will create a better economic system and less local pollution and there will be less long-term plastic, which is in the environment for 500 years. It will be there not just in the time of Ellie's grandchildren or great-grandchildren; one could say "great" many times and it would still be there in the environment. By making this change now we will clean up our act for the next 500 years. That is why it is such an important part of the changes we are making in Government at this critical time.

Sitting suspended at 11.39 a.m. and resumed at 12 noon.