Thursday, 7 March 2002
Dáil Eireann Debate
Ms Clune: I would like to add my voice to the concern expressed for the 375 people who have been told they will lose their jobs following the closure of the Ardagh glass plant. They are not just statistics, each of them has a life with commitments, mortgages and families. The shock of the news broken last week should not be underestimated. This is a blow to the pride and well-being of all of these people.
The issue also has serious implications for the recycling industry. At present, the Ardagh glass bottle plant processes 30,000 tonnes of glass, the equivalent of 90 million bottles and jars, collected from recycling centres across the State by Rehab. Should the processing plant be closed, Rehab has expressed serious concerns about the future viability of glass recycling. The organisation has publicly stated its desire to see some form of Government intervention to ensure this form of recycling continues.
Bottles are brought to Ballymun, where they are processed according to colour. The lids and labels are removed, the bottles are crushed and then passed on to the glass plant in Ardagh that is now due to close. For every tonne of glass cullet added to the furnace in the glass plant in Ringsend, energy savings equivalent to 30 gallons of oil are made. That puts into perspective what recycling does for the environment and demonstrates its value.
We are aware of the success of glass collection systems. It is the easiest packaging product to recycle and reuse, although we still only recycle 30% of it. The Estimates for the Department of the Environment and Local Government for the coming year will provide an additional €29 million to develop civic amenity sites for recyclable products but the system becomes a joke if we cannot provide the facilities to deal with the product once it is collected. Recycling is not just about collecting a product, it is about providing the facilities to ensure it is reusable.
The threatened closure of the Ardagh plant, however, has serious repercussions for the recycling industry. Rehab has three options open to it now: it might not bother collecting the glass,  leaving it to be put into landfill, but no-one wants to take such a retrograde step; it could be shipped abroad but that cannot be done without a subsidy; or we can support the existing recycling industry.
The announcement of the closure of the Ardagh plant gives rise to a serious problem. Glass products are easy to recycle but we will not be able to continue in future and this speaks volumes about our attitude to recycling our waste. This is a crisis and unless there is intervention, glass recycling will cease and there will be repercussions for other materials that can be recycled.
Dr. Moffatt: I thank Deputy Clune for raising this issue on the Adjournment. The announced closure of the Ardagh Irish Glass plant in Ringsend with the loss of 375 jobs is a major blow to the Ringsend area of Dublin, the workers involved and their families as well as to the recycling sector in Ireland. I understand the decision to close the plant was based on commercial considerations. All are agreed that higher and sustained levels of recycling are crucial to dealing with the increased level of waste which this country is producing.
Glass recycling has been one of our relative success stories in recent years and many people have embraced the discipline of bringing their empty bottles to local bring banks. Most of the glass collected in the State has been recycled by Irish Glass – an estimated 37,000 tonnes last year. Our recycling rate is just over 30% of glass arising in Ireland but this is still at the lower end of the European recycling rates. The announced closure will make it more difficult to find markets for the existing tonnage of glass collected here and will be an added challenge in increasing our recycling rates to European norms.
However, the Department of the Environment and Local Government has been in touch with Repak to discuss the issue. The Repak company was set up in 1997 as a producer responsibility scheme, charged with meeting industry's recycling targets for packaging, including the recycling of glass. To that effect, Repak subsidises the collection and pre-processing of glass and it will have an important role in assisting in finding alternative markets for the glass collected in Ireland.
Short-term solutions to the problems created by the closure of Irish glass include the export of glass for reprocessing abroad and the diversion of some glass to a glass manufacturing facility in Northern Ireland. Decisions on these issues are primarily a matter for the glass merchants and the company involved. However, I understand a number of glass merchants have tendered to supply the plant in Northern Ireland with glass. The Department will continue to monitor developments in that regard.
In the longer term the Department will work with relevant key interests to facilitate greater use of glass in the construction sector. Last year, a pilot road construction project on the N2 in  County Monaghan took 350,000 tonnes of green glass as an element of the bituminous mix. This was a useful experiment but it only absorbed a small fraction of the available glass. More extensive use should improve the economic viability of this alternative. The Department will work with the NRA and the construction sector to all suitable specifications to allow for a more widespread use of glass in both road construction and construction generally.
There are also a number of innovative ways in which glass can be recycled, for example, industrial abrasives, glass wool and fibreglass etc., construction aggregates – for roads and other purposes – as an insulation material, filtration systems, landscape applications, coloured glass stones, ceramic glazes and so on. Part of this challenge is to find new markets for recycled material and the Minister's policy statement on preventing and recycling waste, which will be published next Tuesday, will address the measures necessary to develop innovative markets for recyclable materials generally.
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