11th July 2017, Dáil Éireann
Check Against Delivery
I would like to thank Deputies Ryan and Howlin for bringing forward this important PrivateMembers Bill.
The principal aim behind the Bill before us tonight is one that I know we all agree with inside this House - namely to reduce the amount of plastic waste in our environment, particularly in our rivers, lakes and oceans. One million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute and this number is set to increase so there is no-one here, including myself, that doesn't accept the facts around plastic waste and its detrimental effect on our environment. The reckless discarding of plastic waste isenvironmental sabotage, nothing less.
To be sustainable, waste must be avoided, but when unavoidable it should be seen as a resource to be reused. It is about the sustainability of our economy and the survival of our planet.
The reduction of waste has been a key issue for me since I became Minister. We mustmove-on from dumping, to enable people take action to avoid, to reduce and to reuse. Waste efficiency, is effective climate action and It's economically smarter.
As a society we discard an incredible 80% of what we produce after a single use. It gravely concerns me that 2 million disposable coffee cupsa day are going to our landfills. Because of these concerns I have personally had discussions with both Insomnia and Supermacs on this very issue and indeed last October for 'Re-Use' month colleagues may remember that I supplied each member of the Oireachtas with a 'Keep Cup'.
An average family throws away €700 euro in food waste every year and it was for this reason that I established last March the first ever Action Group on Wasted Food in the Retail Sector chaired by retail expert Eamon Quinn.
This Group includes theleading supermarket chainsand as well as looking at ways to combat food waste at retail level it is also looking at ways to tackle the overuse of packaging in supermarkets.
On the issue of microbeads, the Green Party first raised this in the House last November but two months prior to that I led a discussion at an OECD meeting on the need for Ireland and the EU to ban the use of micro-plastics in cosmetics and cleaning agents.
I have examined with interest the proposals brought forward to the House this evening which can be summarised into two issues. The Deputies areproposing the introduction of a deposit and return scheme for drinks containers and a ban on non-compostable tableware and cups.
There are elements of the Bill that are problematic to the Government.
There is a lack of clarityaround the costs associated with the introduction of a deposit and return schemeand this concerns me.
I heard Deputy Howlin earlierspeaking on another policy issue where he was calling foran evidence based approach. I fully agree with him on the need to do that.
On this Bill, he quoted a statistic where deposit and return systems have been introduced internationally. He said the recycling rate can be up at 90%.
What he didn't mention is that this is only correct where there is no existing infrastructure. The 5 EU Countries who have deposit and return systems have had them for some time and didn't have an alternative existing infrastructure. This is not the situation here in Ireland.
Deputy Ryan, when introducing the Bill, suggested the Scheme would cost €276 million. A study investigating the possible introduction in the UK puts a figure of €790 million per year.
These are enormous amounts. I believe that before we spend even a fraction of this on its introduction, we need to ascertain what the benefits would be. I am watching with interest a proposal in Scotland to introduce a scheme there. It is of particular interest, given that Scotland currently operates a Producer Responsibility Initiative as we do here in Ireland.
A feasibility study identified - based on practice overseas, previous relevant studies, and stakeholder consultations - how a Deposit and Return system could work in Scotland. The projected costsare worth listing for the House:
· One-off set up costs = £15m sterling
· Machine take back (p.a.) = £29m
· Manual take back (p.a.) = £8m
· Logistics (p.a.) = £20m
· Counting centres (p.a.) = £3m
· Administration (p.a.) = £3m
That is £78 million pounds sterling – over €88 million euro at a minimum.
Without a complete understanding of the cost implications on the taxpayer, on employers, on retailers and on customers it would be financially reckless of me to proceed with its introduction here without proper scrutiny. I will not create another PPARS or another Evoting machine fiasco.
Our national approach to date for dealing with waste packaging has been based around the Extended Producer Responsibility principle – EPR. EPR seeks to ensure that the producer of a product bears a significant portion of the cost of dealing with the waste disposal of the product they supply. In Ireland this has been done very effectively through a producer funded compliance scheme, operated by Repak.
Similar schemes operate in other waste streams such as batteries, waste electronic and electrical goods, farm plastics and the latest which, I launched earlier this year to deal with end-of-life vehicles.
In a review of all these schemes in 2014, it was concluded that Ireland has achieved great success in recent years in recovering and recycling packaging waste.
Recycling of drinks containers in Ireland is already one of the highest in Europe. Glass is at 86% which means only 14% of glass is not recycled. Over 84% of plastic – or 237,000 tonnes was recycled and recovered in 2015.
So based on Eamon Ryan's costs and Brendan Howlin's recycling rates we will spend €276 million to collect an additional 4 out of 100 glass bottles and 6 out of every 100 plastics. I could find a better use for that money.
I am open to examine any proposal which would assist us in our efforts to reduce waste and avoid littering and dumping which I said I regard as environmental treason. Littering is a crime. It is doubly so because the scarce resources committed to combatting it are resources needed elsewhere.
I have made €9m available this year to local authorities to deal with waste enforcement and an additional €1.3m to fund my anti-dumping initiativeusing smart technology and covert surveillance such as CCTV and aerial imagery from drones and satellites. I repeat my encouragement to local authorities and communities across the country to avail of the Scheme.
In a modern society, where everything is available, all year round and at every price point, new insight is required as to how we can live within the capacity of our planet in terms of the materials we consume and the waste we must manage. I am open to any suggestion that is workable and practical. We have a number of different initiatives coming forward for consideration in this area including the current proposal from Fíanna Fáil SenatorCatherine Ardagh dealing with litter - the intention of which I support.
I believe the best way to deal with these proposals is to look at them in a holistic way rather than the scattergun approach we currently have.
That is why I think the proper place to examine all theseissues including the proposals brought forward in this Bill tonight is the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action & Environment.
The "International Review of Waste Management Policy", published in 2009, was a major review of waste management policy in Ireland. This report was commissioned by the then Minister for the Environment and Green Party Leader John Gormley. It reported on a deposit refund scheme and I quote that "the evidence is not sufficiently strong to support a recommendation of this nature, principally because the information regarding implementation costs is not such that the costs can be said to unequivocally justify the benefits".
As minister, I am looking for actions that deliver real efficiency, and sustainability.
The Committee can hear the views of stakeholders, subject the proposals to proper scrutiny and examine whether there is merit in spending substantial exchequer money on the introduction of a deposit and return scheme. It should also look at the introduction oflegislation that may be in breach of the single market. I have a concern that any outright ban on a product might lead to a breach of the free movement provisions of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. I want to be sure that Ireland wouldnot be in breach of Article 18 of the Packaging Directive which states that:
"Member States shall not impede the placing on the market of their territory of packaging which satisfies the provisions of this Directive".
Plastic cups, glasses and plates fall under the definition of packaging for the purposes of this Directive.
I trust that the House agrees that moving these proposals to the Joint Committee gives all stakeholders an opportunity to voice their proposals and concerns.