Speech by Denis Naughten, T.D.
Minister for Communications, Climate Action & Environment,
Intercontinental Hotel, Dublin
Thursday 26th October 2017.
Good evening ladies and gentlemen.
Thank you Tony Keohane, Chairman of Repak and the Board for your invitation to me to be here again this year and I think you will all join me in congratulating Repak as you celebrate 20 years in business.
Those 20 years have seen significant change in packaging recycling in this country and you have helped drive much of that change, along with your members and the organisations here tonight. In 1997 we were at a very low base, now we are one of the leading recycling nations in Europe. Let's take last year's figures as an example of this change. A total of 594,000 tonnes of packaging waste was sent for recycling. If you take an average African elephant weighs 6 tonnes - that's the equivalent in weight of 100,000 African elephants in packaging waste so the change is immense.
Your initiative in hosting these awards and the support of your sponsors is recognised by me as Minister and by this Government.
By honouring those organisations and leaders that go over and above their regulatory obligations to strive for excellence in the management of waste and recycling, 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. This has been reflected in the breadth and number of companies, organisations and individuals vying to be recognised for their efforts here this evening and rightly so.
Our environment is complex and it is fragile. To survive in the twenty first century we must move-on from the model we have inherited from the industrial revolution. The challenge is not just to change what we do; it is to reimagine how we think. We must reconfigure our economic model from one based on consumption to one based on efficiency.
It is the efficiency of our economy that will determine the sustainability of our production and of our planet. Every one of us, in every community across the country, in every country across the world, has a role to play. No one can be done without.
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.
New ambitious targets for the recycling of packaging waste is proposed for 2025 and 2030 under the European Commission's Circular Economy Package which I will address in more detail later. It's a challenge we will have to face if we are to continue to lead the way in Europe as we are doing.
Turning to producer responsibility issues, as you know we have a number of well-established Producer Responsibility compliance schemes in Ireland, operating across farm plastics, waste electrical and electronic equipment and batteries.
A compliance scheme approach is regarded as an integral part of the Producer Responsibility architecture both here and across Europe. Repak and all the schemes are fine examples of how effective this approach can be.
But we can and we must do more. For this reason I have extended the remit of the Irish Farm Film Producers Group (IFFPG) to include netting and I have approved two new compliance schemes. One for the end-of-life vehicles sector (ELVES) and for the tyre sector through REPAK.
I have also approved the Producer Register Limited as the registration and reporting body for tyre producers. I understand that new membership interest has been strong since the new structures came into effect on October 1st.
I intend to engage with my Northern Ireland colleagues, should an executive be formed, to have an All-Island approach to tyre recycling.
My commitment to enforcement is absolute. I have demonstrated this through increased investment. More resources for the Environmental Protection Agency and the harmonisation of waste enforcement regionally by the 31 local authorities are key measures. I have also doubled the allocation this year to tackle the scourge of illegal dumping.
Through the use of overt and covert surveillance equipment and drones we are making the risk of detection high enough to deter those prepared to commit waste crimes. A clear signal has been sent that they will be pursued. That their operations will be shut down. That they will be held to account in the highest courts of this land. That they will be prosecuted.
At community level this year we saw a range of clean-up and restorative projects funded by my Department.
People and communities joined by pride in their place and respect for their environment coming together to reclaim their streets, woodlands, bridges and parks.
And the light piercing the shadow that dumpers attempt to cast across our country can be seen in the nature of some of these Projects. From the Girley Bog Loop in Meath, to the Suck Valley in Roscommon to the Short Mountain in Kerry. In Budget 2018 I ensured that community groups and local associations won't be found wanting next year for more essential clean-up projects and anti-dumping initiatives.
I want to commend here tonight waste enforcement officers across the country. Those who commit waste crimes in all forms particularly illegal dumpers are committing economic and environmental treason. Their actions are criminal - a fact borne out by the threats and intimidation experienced by enforcement officers that confront them.
You do a very difficult job in challenging situations and it is important that your efforts are recognised. It is therefore entirely appropriate that the powers, skill sets and enforcement expertise of all State Agencies are brought to bear in assisting you to confront this criminality.
Multi-agency operations involving the Gardai, Revenue and the Department of Social Protection and others have been successful this year with several important environmental and criminal outcomes secured. Waste enforcement officers are spearheading these operations.
Not only are these operations putting a stop to waste crime. The seizure of over €1m worth of stolen goods and illegal drugs with a number of arrests have been secured while several employment law breaches have also been uncovered by these teams this year.
These efforts will be continued next year as we focus on emerging and strategically important waste enforcement issues. The National Waste Enforcement Steering Committee met this week to review the progress made to date and to determine the national waste enforcement priorities for 2018. These priorities will be communicated to all local authorities and pursued vigorously. They include:
- Illegal Dumping including Construction and Demolition Waste;
- Household & Commercial Waste Management;
- Waste Tyres
- Unauthorised Sites
- End of Life Vehicle Pilot Compliance Project
Today more than half of the paper produced globally is used for wrapping and packaging and as a society we discard an incredible 80% of what we produce after a single use.
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.
We are generating two tonnes of food waste every minute yet one person in eight goes hungry in Ireland. It is a conundrum when deprivation exists beside waste. We must learn again our parent's advice of 'Waste Not, Want Not'.
My Department has sponsored tonight's award in the Food Waste category again this year – this is for a very good reason.
Much talk on climate change has focused on energy generation, on how we choose to travel and how we heat our homes. However, what we throw away has enormous climate impact.
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. Like climate action, action on food waste is needed right across our society. 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. A significant part of total food wastage occurs with us, consumers.
Factors that contribute include confusion over sell-by and best-before dates. Reduced, or better, food packaging also has a role.
Excessive, unsustainably sourced packing forms part of the environmental cost of food. The appearance of fruit and vegetables is known to influence consumer buying.
Last March I established Ireland's first ever Action Group on Wasted Food in the Retail Sector, which includes most of the 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 look for actions that deliver real efficiency and sustainability.
The UN Sustainable Development Goals sets us all the challenge of cutting food waste by 50% before 2030. I believe that Ireland can be a pioneer in the management of food waste. We can set the standard and lead the way for other countries in terms of meeting our EU targets for food waste; prevention and the treatment of food waste.
At community level, I have increased funding for the EPA's 'Stop Food Waste' programme and in business, Green Programmes target a different sector including Green Healthcare and Smart Farming. All programmes include a food waste theme.
And as construction continues at fast pace across cities and town lands next year the movement and disposal of Construction and Demolition Waste will be a National Waste Priority as I referenced earlier.
Research and Incentivisation
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 the findings of independent research I asked my Department to commission.
Its findings show that the 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 with only 9% rating them as unimportant.
However, many are uncertain about waste separation and in particular what type of waste goes into which bin.
As a Government, we must continue to encourage and support people to 'do the right thing'.
This is why we announced a new way to incentivise people to reduce waste and recycle more and for households to pay for the waste that they generate.
'All in flat rate fees' for residual household waste collection are being phased out in the coming year.
This approach gives the market the flexibility to offer a suite of pricing options to promote prevention and segregation of household waste.
Taking individual responsibility and our responsibility as a State into consideration, this new incentivised pricing structure is the right thing to do.
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 incentivised usage pricing plan which contains a per lift or weight related fee. However, I accept any period of change can cause uncertainty and concern.
When introducing this measure, the Government gave a commitment to consumers to carefully watch the sector.
Household Waste Collection Price Monitoring Group
That is why the Government established a Household Waste Collection Price Monitoring Group. This unit, which includes analysts from the CSO, is tracking rates across the country as flat fees are phased out.
Reports based on the information collected will be published. The data will be monitored and analysed to provide evidence that will form the basis for future monitoring or potential additional regulation of the waste market. The first comparison report is expected shortly.
Education and Awareness
One of the issues which emerged from the market research I mentioned earlier is the confusion around waste material that goes in to each bin.
With up to 36% contamination rates this is a real problem. I believe there is a need for a standardisation of materials agreed with operators to eliminate this confusion. Work is underway and progressing well on this issue.
Waste education and awareness is critical to change and I introduced specific exchequer funding for this in 2017 and 2018.
We need to find new ways to engage with people who are so obviously open and willing to behave in a responsible way in relation to managing their domestic waste.
The use of the brown bin is key to this and to combating food waste. We're rolling out brown bins to every single community across the country with a population greater than 500 people. This will be extended to every household in the country eventually.
Over the next year, under the 'Recycling Ambassador Programme', 650 local workshops are planned to be held involving community groups, sporting associations and employees in the workplace.
The intention is to directly engage with at least 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 welcome and will undoubtedly contribute to its success.
The official launch of the Programme will coincide with the European Week for Waste Reduction in November.
The European Commission's Circular Economy Package, when agreed, is likely to demand considerable change in our waste prevention and recycling performance. Reuse, extended producer responsibility, more and better recycling and diversion from landfill will be the instruments of change.
The end result is going to be challenging for Ireland to deliver, but we have already come a very long way in transforming our waste performance in recent years. I would like to congratulate everyone in this room tonight for their role in this transformation and for setting the standards for everyone to follow in protecting and promoting our environment.
Just before I conclude I want to leave you with a challenge.
As a sector, it will be necessary for you to respond to and meet the expectations of society. Increasingly, consumers no longer want to bring waste food, unrecyclable products or waste packaging into their homes.
As producers, retailers and waste managers, your challenge is to meet and exceed those expectations through innovation. As a sector you have the knowledge and experience to be real game changers.
Unless we can bring people with us, then we're not going to be able to meet the challenges that we have today.
Our challenge isn't defined by the false difference between Pittsburgh and Paris. It's a real challenge in every parish and every townland across the country face, not in competition with, but in solidarity with the world.