Seanad debates

Thursday, 24 March 2022

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Recycling Policy

10:30 am

Photo of Róisín GarveyRóisín Garvey (Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. We hear a lot of talk now and we have new buzzwords coming in.The word “sustainable” is one, although it has been misused for years, and there is also "climate change" and "biodiversity". A newer buzzword that is coming to the fore is “circular economy”. I know the Minister of State has done much work done on that. I therefore thought it would be appropriate to invite him to the House to make a statement on his work on the circular economy, including on proposed funding mechanisms such as the latte levy, and what funding is available to groups, individuals and businesses when working with our developing ideas and processes that look at the circular economy and see what we can do to try to stop the constant dumping in landfill of precious materials, whether it is plastics from fossil fuels or precious ores.

The Rediscovery Centre out in Ballymun, which the Minister of State told me about first, is inspiring. It is diverting furniture, bikes, paint and clothes from landfill, which deals with issues such toxic waste and fast fashion, one of the biggest problems we have in the world. I have contacted the Rediscovery Centre and it is available to go to local authorities, set up academies and engage with community groups that might be interested in setting up social enterprises. There is also money to be made in this. Jobs can be created out of renovating bikes and selling them as well as from selling on paint and clothes. I am pleased to say that, since the Minister of State gave me the notice, I have been to the centre and its representatives are coming Clare on 7 April. We will be inviting community groups to come and avail of free training and see what we can do in Clare. This is something we can do throughout the country. I look forward to hearing the Minister of State's response.

Photo of Ossian SmythOssian Smyth (Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank Senator Garvey. Indeed, the term “circular economy” is technical one. It is a challenge for me to get that concept clear to the public. We are bringing in a new circular economy Bill. The Senator is right. The Rediscovery Centre in Ballymun is a great way for people to understand this because it is so practical. It is doing four things: upcycling, paint, bicycles, furniture and clothing. It is very practical, it gives people employment and skills, and it keeps resources within the economy. It is great it is now being duplicated throughout the country. It is a fantastic scheme and I agree with the Senator on that.

The Government recognises that the current take-make-waste economic model is not sustainable, economically, socially or environmentally, and that a fundamental shift in our production and consumption patterns is now needed. We are committed to building a circular economy where waste is minimised, economic growth is decoupled from resource consumption, and the value of goods and materials is retained in our economy for as long as possible. This approach led to our 2020 waste action plan for a circular economy, which committed to a range of actions to make the transition to a circular economy a reality. This included the adoption of a high-level, whole-of-government circular economy strategy.

The strategy was launched last year in December 2021 and it has five main objectives. First is to provide a national policy framework for Ireland's transition to a circular economy. Second is to identify measures that can significantly improve Ireland's circularity rate relative to our EU peers. Third is to raise awareness across society about the circular economy. Fourth is to support increased investment in the circular economy in Ireland. Last is to identify and address the economic, regulatory and social barriers to Ireland's transition to a more circular economy.

My Department has commenced the implementation of the strategy, and this work will be carried out with a strong focus on stakeholder participation, and in co-operation with other policymakers across the Government. In addition, on 8 March, the Government approved the publication of the Circular Economy, Waste Management (Amendment) and Minerals Development (Amendment) Bill 2022. It is intended the Bill will be enacted before the summer recess. The Bill will underpin multiple actions committed to in the waste action plan and it will provide a robust statutory framework for adapting our national patterns of production and consumption.

The Bill provides for new environmental levies on items like single-use cups, food containers and food packaging to incentivise the use of reusable alternatives. The new levies will work in a similar way to the plastic bag levy with the proceeds ring-fenced in a circular economy fund for projects relating to environmental and climate action objectives. The various levies will be introduced incrementally. However, the initial focus will be on the introduction of levies on disposable hot drinks cups. Ireland currently sends millions of disposable coffee cups to landfill every year, and that needs to change. The figure is approximately 200 million per year.

The objective of the new levies is not to raise revenues. Indeed, the aim of introducing them is to encourage the use of reusable alternatives so that the consumer never incurs the levy in the first place. The precise details regarding the scope and rate of the levy on disposable coffee cups will be set out in secondary legislation following the enactment of the Bill, with the intention of bringing the levy into force as early as possible. The amount being considered is 20 cent. The new levies will build on Ireland's successful experience of the plastic bag levy and the landfill levy. I look forward to introducing this levy as soon as possible this year. I expect to see a rapid and significant surge in the use of reusable cups, as well as a decline in coffee cup litter throughout the country.

I recognise the role played by the environment fund since its inception and the need to align its objectives more closely with the promotion of the circular economy. The environment fund will be replaced with a new circular economy fund under the Bill. The fund will continue to support key environmental projects in the coming years. The circular economy innovation grant scheme, which was established last year, is currently funded from the environment fund and it will continue to be funded from the circular economy fund following the enactment of the Bill. This multi-annual scheme directly supports the growth of the circular economy in Ireland and provides examples of best practice to inspire others.

In 2021, ten projects were awarded some €490,000 in funding under the scheme. Applications for funding under the scheme in 2022 will be opening later in the year.

Photo of Róisín GarveyRóisín Garvey (Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

This is great. We have seen this work in other jurisdictions for many years. It is brilliant and I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Smyth for his work, as well as the work of the Green Party in government, in bringing this forward.

When we think in future of single-use plastics, we will ask, "What were we thinking of? What madness." I remember eight years ago I started a social enterprise campaign called Love Your Cup, in which every single business in Ennistymon and many of them in Ennis gave back 30 cent if people brought their own cup. We have therefore been leading the way in Clare. It was a great initiative because it reduced waste. I know that from talking to Tidy Towns groups, who could see the difference it made. We have a free refill station in Ennis and Ennistymon where people can refill their plastic bottles. There is lots of work being done in little spots, but it is to be hoped that seeing it coming across on a national level, where it will be rolled out everywhere, will bring us to a place where we do not take for granted this use of plastics. People do not know that plastic comes from fossil fuels. They also sometimes do not realise that when something ends up in a landfill or on the ground, it often ends up as microbeads and plastics in our oceans. We all know the damage that is doing to our oceans. This is a serious matter, and I welcome the hard work that the Minister of State, Deputy Smyth, has put in to making this happen. I look forward to it being rolled out throughout the country.

Photo of Ossian SmythOssian Smyth (Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank the Senator for her praise but, in fact, most of the work on this was done by my Department before my appointment. I have to give the staff full credit for that.

I want to collect as little money from this levy as possible. I want people to use reusable cups. I want it to be a habit and a new culture and I want to make that as easy as possible. I want to give people the choice and a way out of using a new coffee cup every day and throwing it away. With that in mind, I expect that, in the same way we banned ten single-use plastic products last July, including plastic forks, knives and straws, I expect we will ban coffee cups altogether within about four years. This is an interim measure leading to the end of that.

Where people have a coffee in a café or on its terrace, we will legislate so that hot drinks can only be served in a reusable cup on the premises. This is because sometimes people are given a cardboard cup in a café even though they are sitting in the café. That will be another change as well. The whole focus is not about raising revenue, taxation or getting a levy. It is about changing our economy to a more circular economy.