Recycling Policy

Thu, Apr 21, 2022

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Neasa questioning the Government in relation to recycling policies, how to enable the food sector to end their use of single-use plastic, and whether the Circular Economy Bill can be strengthened further.


Neasa Hourigan TD: I would like to ask the Minister his views on how quickly the food sector will be enabled to remove single-use plastics and if the circular economy Bill can be strengthened further in relation to different types and uses of plastics.

Minister of State, Ossian Smyth: I thank Deputy Hourigan for her question. The policy document, A Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy, which was published in 2020 commits to substantially reducing waste from packaging and single-use plastic items over its five-year lifetime. Steps include a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles and aluminium cans; the introduction of a levy on disposable coffee cups and other measures to encourage the use of reusable cups before an eventual ban on disposable cups altogether; supports to increase the use of recycled materials in packaging; and measures to significantly reduce single-use plastic items such as non-medical wet wipes, hotel toiletries and packaged condiments. This builds on the measures already taken since the transposition of the EU’s single-use plastics directive in July last year. The Circular Economy, Waste Management (Amendment) and Minerals Development (Amendment) Bill 2022 includes powers to introduce new environmental levies on single-use items. These 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 objectives. The various levies will be introduced incrementally, with the initial focus on the introduction of levies on disposable hot drinks cups this year. The objective of the new levies is not to raise revenue. Indeed, the aim of introducing them is to encourage the use of reusable alternatives in order that the consumer never incurs the levy in the first place. To support this development and to further reduce any costs associated with the levy on consumers and businesses, I intend to specifically target a portion of the income from the new environmental levies towards projects and schemes that will increase the availability of reusable products and packaging.

Neasa Hourigan TD: I thank the Minister for his response. Single-use plastics represent one of our biggest environmental challenges and their rapid increase in production has overwhelmed our world’s ability to recognise the problem. The price we now pay for whatever small convenience single-use plastics provided to us by the food sector has led to a throwaway culture where we now see plastic everywhere, on our streets and in our rivers and seas. Single-use plastics account for nearly half of all the plastic we produce every year and many of these items originate in our coffee shops and convenience stores. They include water bottles, straws, cups and utensils which have a lifespan of just hours, or even minutes, but they continue to exist for hundreds of years afterwards. Much of this is unnecessary and there already are better alternatives available at a similar cost. This does not just affect urban areas like my own. Anyone who walks even the smallest rural boreen will see ditches full of plastic waste around the country. I very much appreciate how A Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy represents a step change in our approach to waste in Ireland and moving to minimise the amount of waste generated but the food sector in particular and plastic producers themselves must be held responsible for the products and packaging they create. Recycling alone will never solve this problem and the sector must undergo a fundamental shift in how it brings its products to people.

Minister of State, Ossian Smyth: Last July, with the single-use plastics directive, ten of the most common single-use plastic items that wash up on beaches, including plastic knives, forks, plates and earbuds, were banned. That was done on an EU-wide basis. I went into a shop a week later to make sure they were not on the shelves and they were not, so these things actually work. The deposit return scheme focuses on one particular type of plastic, namely, polyethylene terephthalate, known as PET, which is the clear plastic used for bottles but it can be expanded to other types. When we get this working for PET and aluminium, I will certainly be looking at other types of plastics including high density polyethylene, HDPE, for example, which is used to make milk cartons. Better than recycling is avoiding the use of these materials altogether. In some major supermarkets it is now possible to refill bottles with orange juice, for example, and some smaller producers have no packaging whatsoever. There are some specialist shops that allow customers to bring their own packaging to be refilled and I would like to see that becoming the norm in supermarkets too. Yesterday I was invited to visit a café on Pearse Street called Bread, which has eliminated the use of disposable cups already, off its own bat. The café is making money out of it because it makes sense for businesses not to be paying for waste to be removed.

Neasa Hourigan TD: As an inner city representative, I would like to touch on a related but very important topic, which is the privatisation of waste collection services. It simply has not worked and I would like to see the re-municipalisation of waste collection services. In my constituency of Dublin Central, this would mean bringing waste collection back under the control of Dublin City Council, with the aim of providing a much-improved service. I am thinking in particular about terraced housing and streets that are quite constrained and the possible use of collective waste services. I am regularly contacted by constituents about this issue and particularly about problems they are having with private waste collection services. These problems include service providers not collecting waste when they should, collecting late at night or not at all, as well as the inadequate plastic bags that the companies provide, which are left outside people’s homes for collection, being opened by wildlife, including gulls and foxes. The list of issues goes on and on and we need to fundamentally rethink the consequences of the privatisation model for this important service. We need to begin to move towards publicly-provided waste collection services that deal with households in all situations.

Minister of State, Ossian Smyth: Regarding the privatisation of waste collection, that issue is being discussed actively in Dublin City Council. I am not entirely sure what is going on there but I know that councillors are coming to a view on it and I will be following that with interest. The CCTV measures that are included in the circular economy Bill will not just apply in rural beauty spots. They will also apply in inner city areas which have ongoing, severe problems with dumping, including the north inner city. There is a particular problem with waste management in apartment blocks. How doe we manage shared facilities and make sure people are sorting their waste properly? How do we manage waste collection for people who do not have driveways or who lived in terraced houses and must leave bags on the street, which are being ripped apart? We need to look at examples from other countries with similar topology and layout of architecture, learn from them and do it right.