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An Taisce National Spring Clean Launch

Loughnaneane Park, Roscommon

It is a real pleasure to launch the 19th An Taisce National Spring Clean here in my home county. Thanks to Michael John O’Mahony and An Taisce for your invitation.

National Spring Clean is a hugely significant initiative in this country and one we are very proud of as a nation. As Minister for Environment I am pleased to say that this year’s allocation from my Department to An Taisce for Spring Clean Week was increased by €57,000 from the previous year bringing the total allocation to €225,000. I know thousands of events are planned so this allocation will go a long way to support these.

It is clear from the number of Spring Clean Events last year - 5,476 and 329 of these were in the Roscommon-Galway region alone - that as a nation we take our environment and our responsibilities in protecting it and enhancing it seriously.

Volunteers across the country collected a whopping 2,768 tonnes of litter and more than 35% of this was recycled. I’m told there’ll be even more events taking place this year.

I have enormous admiration for the work of communities and local groups across the country who take pride in their surroundings and take action to make them cleaner for the enjoyment of all of us.

As we are here in my home county I am proud to say that Roscommon was in the running for first place in the recent Irish Business Against Litter survey rankings. This great achievement is due to the civic pride and the hard work of the people and businesses in our county here.

As you may have heard recentlyI announced a crackdown on illegal dumping through more community funding and the use of smart technology including drones to catch those responsible. We have to be one step ahead and technology and greater community funding and engagement will give us an edge in combatting this scourge.

My message is clear, if you dump waste illegally and blight our countryside and roads with filth you will be caught and prosecuted.

No doubt many of you taking part in the National Spring Clean notice that the things you pick out of ditches and drains are often made with scarce and valuable resources. Plastic bottles, bags and coffee cups are all derived from fossil fuels. Their production and distribution contributes to greenhouse gases. 
Their reckless discarding pollutes our waterways and green spaces. As a society we discard an incredible 80% of what we produce after one use.

The concept of a “Circular Economy” is finally gaining traction around the world and here in Ireland. It is possible for societies to prosper if we move away from the traditional model of ‘take-make-dispose’ and instead embrace waste as a resource; a resource to be reused, re-made and re-imagined.

It is a huge conundrum of our times that deprivation exists alongside wasteful practices in society and what we do about it. Older generations laid much store by the adage ‘Waste Not, Want Not’. They understood the seasonal and cyclical nature of abundance and need. 

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. It is easy to preach to people that our way of life is unsustainable. It is harder to convince them that it is possible to continue to live well but within the limits of our environment.

Repak and its members have turned Ireland from being one of Europe’s poorest performers to one of the best countries for packaging recycling in Europe.

The most recent statistics published by the EPA show that Ireland has met and exceeded the overall packaging waste recovery rate and the recycling rate targets since they came into force. This reflects a remarkable turnaround in our environmental behavior and shows what we can do in this country when we put our minds to it.

And there are other success stories. Last year I called on the Irish public to help us achieve the 45% European collection target for waste batteries.

And once again the public responded using the battery collection network in their schools, workplaces, shops and civic amenity centres to recycle over 1,100 tonnes of waste portable batteries - the equivalent of 44 million AA Batteries - well exceeding this collection target.

We are a country playing catch-up on our obligations in relation to climate change however. This obligation is as much an opportunity as an obligation. In any event it is a moral necessity and a vital national interest.

Ireland relies on high emissions and imported fossil fuels to meet over 88% of our energy needs. This costs around €4.6 billion. That’s a cost we cannot afford in cash, and which our planet cannot afford at all. The word ‘global’ in global warming, accurately summarises the incontrovertible science underlying that imminent threat. It is also in its vastness, potentially daunting, even discouraging. How can any one country, especially a small one, make a difference? How can any one of us meaningfully contribute?
The people that volunteer for the National Spring Clean events are an example of all that is best in our society, an example of how we all can make a tangible difference in our communities.

Earlier this month I announced the National Dialogue on Climate Action. As well as creating awareness around the need for climate action, I want to make sure our plans for climate action are accessible to all, that everyone is on board and that people can feed into and influence the thinking behind the policy options we choose now and into the future.

The Dialogue will very much have a local and regional structure to it. I’m particularly keen to make sure that we have a strong and ongoing connection to young people who I see as our transition generation.

Only last week I announced a National Climate Change Action and Awareness Programme in schools across the country. This programme, as is the case with our event here today, will be run by An Taisce through their Green Schools Programme – and I would like to thank An Taisce for their help in making both these initiatives a reality.

Before I close, I would like to say I am delighted to have had the opportunity to address you today. It is an initiative very close to my heart. I would like to extend my appreciation to you and all the volunteers that give of their time and commend your efforts in fighting litter in Ireland.

Your hard work is reflected in the cleaner environment we all live in and is demonstrated by the improved survey results of recent years.

Go raibh maith agaibh go léir.

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