Denis Naughten T.D.
Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment
Irish Waste Management Conference
28 November 2017
As delivered by Assistant Secretary Matt Collins on behalf of Minister Naughten who was detained in Dáil Éireann.
As you are at the forefront of waste management in Ireland, you are playing a key part in the step change that is happening in our society.
The need to be smart with the resources we use is becoming more and more understood across the wider economy.
My involvement with the waste sector has at times been challenging - as many of you well know - but at all times rewarding and interesting. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you personally and the organisations that you represent who have worked closely with me, and my officials, since I became Minister 18 months ago.
I am proud to say that the achievements that we have made together, in a short space of time, are significant but there is no room for complacency.
The Department that I lead is essentially about efficiency.
It has to be. We must reconfigure our economic model from one based on consumption to one based on efficiency.
In 2010, there were 25 active landfills in Ireland; now there are just 5.
It's about using the natural resources that we have in a sustainable manner to drive change, transform rural Ireland, support employment and protect our people and our planet for future generations.
The failure to recognise waste as a resource comes at an economic cost, a social cost and an economic opportunity-cost.
But we also need to change the perception of the sector as a problem utility. On waste we need to move on from dumping, to enable people take action to avoid, to reduce and to reuse. Waste efficiency is effective climate action. It's economically smarter and its social solidarity.
Many of the means of change are already in people's hands.
More than half of the paper produced today globally is used for wrapping and packaging and as a society we discard an incredible 80% of what we produce after a single use.
Waste policy must become a model of resource efficiency – we have to use less to live better. It is a huge conundrum of our times that deprivation exists alongside wasteful practices in society. 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.
If it were easier to take phones apart, the cost of recycling mobile phones could be halved. If 95% of mobile phones were collected for recycling, €1 billion could be saved on material costs.
As a result of our throwaway culture, it would not surprise me to see applications from mining companies to reopen landfills to recover valuable natural resources that were thrown away.
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.
Many of the means of change are already in people's hands.
I think it is fair to say that until recently few of us have fully appreciated the scale and the impact of the food waste problem.
In Ireland, we are generating two tonnes of food waste every minute while one person in eight goes hungry. The carbon footprint of wasted food is estimated at 3.3 gigatonnes globally.
If food waste were a country, it would rank behind only the US and China for greenhouse gas emissions.
But to make change we must start with the here and now. It is a very human response to look at a problem and conclude that the solution lies elsewhere.
If only farmers wouldn't grow too much of the wrong thing; if only supermarkets wouldn't super-discount vegetables. The reality is that we all play a role. We must all be part of the solution.
An average family in Ireland throws away €700 worth of food waste every year. That's because we plan little, think less and simply buy too much. This year I established Ireland's first ever Action Group on Wasted Food in the Retail Sector, which includes the leading supermarket chains.
Supermarkets have made themselves indispensable in our modern busy lives. They do it very well but their influence - their purchasing power and their marketing power - brings responsibility too.
Corporate Social Responsibility must be meaningful and not just a governance tick-box. As minister, I am looking for actions that deliver real efficiency, and sustainability.
In this regard I want to acknowledge the important work being done in the area of food donation.
On its own, food donation is not the answer to food waste, however it is a valuable tool in dealing with unsold food. Many shops and charities have been working quietly in this area for decades.
Organic bins roll out
So much of what we do impacts on peoples' lives. When we come together at an event like this here today we need to use this opportunity to take stock of what we have accomplished and plan for the future.
The use of the organic bin is key to combating food waste.
We have introduced two sets of regulations - commercial and household.
These regulations are designed to promote the segregation and recovery of food waste in line with national policy and EU Directives.
Industry has a responsibility in driving the successful roll-out of brown bins to every single community with a population greater than 500 people.
I have always believed that the vast majority of people want to 'do the right thing' when it comes to managing their waste. This fact is borne out by findings of independent research I asked my Department to commission.
Its findings show that Irish people are environmentally conscientious but they need our support to do more and be better at it.
82% of respondents believe in the values of reducing, re-using and recycling. However, many are uncertain about waste separation and in particular what type of waste goes into which bin.
The market research showed that only 51% of respondents have an organic bin and of those who have it, only 19% use it.
Research conducted in Sligo as part of a national pilot project has highlighted key educational and collection tools that could dramatically improve the presentation and quality of the organic waste presented by households. Central to this approach is:
• the provision of a kitchen caddy and compostable bags to all households; and clear information.
I am firmly of the view that the full potential yield from household food waste will only be realised once the organic bin becomes universally available. We need to change the perception that the organic bin is optional. This can only be done by normalising its use and availability.
No-one should be prevented from access that will benefit the environment and their household finances. I am committed to making the regulatory changes required in order to provide an organic bin service to all communities in Ireland irrespective of their Eircode address.
Phasing out Flat Fees
The study I mentioned earlier showed that 82% of respondents believe that the values of reducing, re-using and recycling are important. I am encouraged by the findings of this research.
I am also confident that this and further market research will identify and help address important questions in relation to waste collection services in Ireland.
As a Government, we must continue to encourage and support people to 'do the right thing'. This is why 'All in flat rate fees' for residual household waste collection are being phased out over the coming months.
It is worth noting that the measure to phase out flat fees is not 'new' for about half of kerbside household waste customers, who are already on an incentivized usage pricing plan which contains a per lift or weight related fee. This approach gives the market the flexibility to offer a suite of pricing options to further promote the prevention and segregation of household waste.
However, any period of transition or change can cause uncertainty and concern. When introducing this measure, the Government gave a commitment to carefully monitor the sector.
Household Waste Collection Price Monitoring Group
A Household Waste Collection Price Monitoring Group was established.
It has already begun the process of tracking collection prices across the country during the transition period as flat fees are phased out.
The work of this Group, in conjunction with a study being undertaken by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission on the operation of the market, will provide an evidence base regarding any potential future monitoring or additional regulation of the waste market. To date there has been very little changes in the pricing structure according to the Pricing Group.
What goes into what bin?
One of the issues which emerged from the market research I mentioned earlier was the public confusion around which material goes in which bin. Just one contaminated item can ruin all our good recycling efforts!
The Regional Waste Management Offices, Repak and the waste industry have worked together to address this issue and I am delighted to announce today that, for the first time ever, we have a single, national list of items that can be placed in the recycle bin, regardless of whether your home is in Letterkenny or Listowel, Roscommon or Rathmines.
Removing confusion will undoubtedly play a huge role in improving the quality of the material which goes in the recycle bin. This will help to ensure that this material is actually recycled, as opposed to being contaminated accidentally by the householder and sent for recovery or to landfill.
This definitive list can and will be used by all stakeholders as a platform for education and communication to further improve recycling in our respective communities and I would urge you all to check out the list at www.reyclinglistireland.ie
Spreading the word
Affecting behavioural change, such as changing waste recycling habits, is challenging. Many in the field recommend that face to face engagement and interaction is the best method to change behaviour. With this in mind, I am delighted to mention an exciting new initiative which will complement the introduction of our new recycling list.
Over the next year, under the 'Recycling Ambassador Programme', which I am officially launching tomorrow morning, 650 local workshops are planned to be held involving community groups, sporting associations and people in the workplace.
The intention is to directly engage with 15,000 citizens on how to recycle correctly and for those ambassadors to spread the word to family, friends and colleagues. The fact that this project is supported by the waste industry is to be welcomed and will undoubtedly contribute to its success.
Education and Awareness
This year there has been a significant focus on supporting the householder to 'do the right thing' to manage their waste.
Mywaste.ie is another initiative which is being developed. It will be a live web based information portal and a 'one stop shop' to answer all waste related queries that homeowners may have.
Users will be able to locate waste services in their area, information on private waste collectors, Civic Amenity Centres & bring banks within a 10km radius, compliance schemes, and social enterprise recycling initiatives.
This site will be live in the coming months.
I was pleased to announce recently that I secured €1.6 million to continue to fund a number of waste campaign initiatives as part of Budget 2018 to help people 'do the right thing' next year. A lot of this funding will go towards combatting illegal dumping in our communities which is environmental and economic treason.
Covert surveillance, smart technology, aerial imagery from drones and satellites as well as the installation of CCTV cameras and better enforcement and prosecution actions are part of the new crackdown.
Climate Change is the defining challenge of our time and it is during our time that the obligation exists for all of us to take action.
We need to act now and we need to think long term, while the waste sector directly produces just about 2% of Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions. There is scope to reduce those emissions by almost one-third through a range of measures including waste prevention, increased reuse, recycling and recovery through energy from waste.
We are leveraging our own finite resources through partnerships across the sectors we lead.
In the work we must do, we will only succeed if we can be influencers, partners and accelerators of change.