Waste Disposal: Motion.

Wednesday, 14 November 1990

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 126 No. 10

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[1400]Mr. Foley: Information on Denis Foley  Zoom on Denis Foley  I move:

That Seanad Éireann calls on the Government, as a matter of urgency, to review the legislation relating to the generation and disposal of waste with particular emphasis on the implementation of regulations which would enable local authorities to enact by-laws which would define whether waste would be disposed of or recycled.

These days just about everybody has heard the word “recycling”. Nature has been recycling all along. Everywhere the process continues. Should we humans think the way we live is exempt from these laws of nature? The creation of waste and its disposal are part of the same cycle. Things we throw out do not just disappear. Last year we, households and industries, threw away over one million tonnes of refuse. Waste management entails erasing the legacy handed down to us by several generations who were ignorant of or unconcerned about even ordinary public hygiene. We need a policy consisting of minimisation of waste at the production stage as well as the use and disposal stages. It has become apparent the world cannot afford the throw away society. As landfill sites fill up, the rubbish will have to be transported over greater distances, so costs will rise. Pollution problems at dumps, including gas produced when the rubbish rots, force local authorities to set up expensive monitoring programmes.

Some kinds of waste are extremely dangerous. It can in fact pose a real public health hazard. They do not always come from industrial plants. Products such as car batteries, solvents, even oven and drain cleaners, farm chemicals etc. should be treated with great care. A special hazardous waste site is needed to dispose of this waste. The main problem caused by this waste is contamination of ground water.

The burning of rubbish, incineration on a large or small scale, should be avoided. Pollutants are released into the atmosphere, such as highly toxic gas and [1401] fumes. Income from reclaimed materials can help pay for the safe disposal of the unavoidable non-recycled waste.

Page 44 of the EC document The European Community and the Environment states:

It has become apparent that this generation must recognise and face up to the responsibility that all of us share in order to pass on to our children a world fit to live in and fit to enjoy. We must take measures now to safeguard natural resources since they provided the very soil in which the routes of future growth take root. There is not a choice between environmental protection and economic growth. They are inter-independent.

The Department of the Environment through several circulars in the past few years has urged local authorities to promote and assist recycling in the context of their waste collection and disposal services and by other supportive measures. As stated in the February 1989 circular, the most important support service which a local authority might give to a local recycling organisation would be a depot or collection point facility. The Minister requests each local authority to take positive steps to develop a recycling mentality in their area and is very appreciative of measures taken by the Kerry recycling group. I know this from correspondence I have seen from the Department.

Recycling has benefits for both the environment and the economy. It saves energy and raw materials. It reduces import bills, the amount of land needed for waste disposal sites and waste disposal costs. Many industrial processes are capable of utilising reclaimed materials. The Irish glass industry uses 25 per cent cullet as raw material, but could use far greater amounts if there were adequate recovery channels. The paper industry uses reclaimed paper on a major scale, though most of this is imported. A great deal of the waste packaging which ends up as litter on our roads, open countryside and even waterways, and which has serious consequences for our tourist industry, contains valuable raw materials. Four [1402] point six million drink cans were consumed in Kerry last year. To date, the Kerry recycling group are achieving high levels of recovery, but there is much room for improvement. The spin-off in jobs from recycling operations could be significant. By its nature recycling is labour-intensive and any increase in recycling levels will increase the potential for long term employment.

There is a specific need for information to be made available to the public to explain the necessity for and encourage participation in collection of recyclables and the purchase of recycled products, thereby ensuring a market for the materials collected.

The throwaway mentality is today a part of the modern lifestyle of Irish people. With increased economic activity the amount and variety of wastes we dispose of, both in our daily lives and from industrial activity, is ever-increasing. Do bear in mind that these dumped materials contain large quantities of useful, reusable resources. To throw away materials as simply “rubbish” is in actual fact too great a waste. Recycling provides an available alternative and accessible raw material; reduces imports of primary raw materials and finished products; provides an efficient service to waste generators with cost-effective clearance; protects our environment from salvageable waste which otherwise would go to landfill or incineration; saves energy, creates employment and contributes to the preservation of our environment for the present and future generations; conserves our resources and reduces pollution and litter; creates porfitable industries; provide funds for charities; engenders a sense of community pride and imbues each individual with an increased sense of self worth, because each person's contribution counts.

Waste minimisation consists of: (1) source reduction and (2) recycling. From an environmental perspective source reduction is usually preferable. In terms of emphasis I would recommend a waste management strategy which places source reduction first, recycling second, [1403] energy from waste third and landfill as a last resort.

If one looks to the recently issued EC Green Paper on Urban Environment, one sees therein a strong concern that recycling benefits are not overlooked. The Commission's waste management sets two priorities, prevention and recycling. The Green Paper makes the vital point that effective environmental management requires (1) issue integration and (2) procedural integration.

Between policy making, problem analysis and impact assessment, planning, financing and implementation, all sectors of our Government and all sectors of our society are affected by the situation. Coordination is vital on the ground in community collection efforts straight through to Government Departments, especially the Department of Industry and Commerce, Environment, Finance, Education etc.

According to the paper, “The weakness of our present (EC) environmental legislation policies is such that economic growth is likely to lead to increases in pollution and pressure on the environment. At the heart of the conflict, however, is the fact that the market economy currently does not internalise the environmental costs. It does, however, have the potential to do so”. As the paper states, the consumer and producer choices can be guided through economic and fiscal measures which rely on market forces. This policy, it says “has considerable potential as a means of contributing towards compatibility environment and economic growth”.

I believe that there is a definite need for Ireland to involve itself in research — I congratulate the Department of the Environment on the work they have done to date — demonstration schemes and vocational training and technical training for aspects of recycling. The EC has a funding project for the exchange of information between countries. Germany and the UK, for example, could be very useful contacts for increasing and exchanging expertise. The Community is also considering the creation of a new [1404] financial facility to support environmental actions in urban areas and they state there is scope also for assistance for a range of initiatives at the local and regional level.

As already stated, there is need for co-operation at all levels, central government with local authorities, with industry, with State agencies, with community organisations, with schools, with voluntary groups, with the media, etc. Consider ship dumping at sea. Much damage has been caused to wildlife. It may be possible to restrict port admission only to ships who save and sort their rubbish.

Waste management involves the handling of industrial waste, toxic waste, sewage, packaging, medical waste, construction and demolition debris and household waste. Within the heading of household waste exists materials and cardboard, newspapers and mixed waste, papers, magazines, notepads etc. Glass colours need to be separated for optimum recycling. Aluminium cans, steel cans, plastics, many different types, textiles, possibly batteries, come under household waste. Up to three-quarters of the average output could be recycled.

To set a fairly realistic target of recycling, approximately 30 per cent of the recycable content of domestic waste is conceivable, given adequate organisation and effort. There are also many other recycable materials with their specific individual factors, such as vegetable oil, vehicle oil, textiles, batteries, scrap cars and safe industrial waste used to supply a resource warehouse for craft uses for schools etc. With a sample listing of the wide range and scope of the topic of recycling, it is quite apparent that a forum is essential in order to bring together the many varied participating areas and individual topics to discuss and investigate appropriate courses of action. There is also a need for a recycling assistance programme, a recycling advisory agency and a solid waste information clearing house. Business and industry needs its own guidelines and assistance. Consumers need an advice assistance source provision of a waste exchange service which could aid waste reduction [1405] countrywide. Every county council should be involved. There are different requirements for urban and rural areas.

Within the context of a coherent comprehensive recycling plan there is need to consider: local authority rebates for tonnage removed from waste stream; provision of CFC recycling at dump sites; education in school curriculum, newsletter, leaflets, videos, awards and anything that would highlight the situation. There should also be the question of tax incentives, separate hazardous household waste dump sites, recycable labelling, possible deposit systems, reverse vending, fund research into recycable products — for example, insulation board from paper — recycling methods for materials etc.

I would like to refer in particular to the Kerry recycling group who have done tremendous work over the last 18 months to two years. They have got excellent assistance from the Department of the Environment through Kerry County Council and Tralee UDC. They find, however, that it is impossible for them to carry on because at the outset they were doing it on a voluntary basis and then they found that they lost their employment assistance and they are now being subsidised through their community welfare officer, which I think is wrong.

With specific regard to the collection of household recycalbles, there are various systems: sited banks or drop-off depots; mobile banks half way between a permanent bank and door to door; kerbside collection, all materials mixed in one box or certain materials in certain bins. Accurate data are needed on types and amounts and seasonal variations of materials. An EC directive on all packaging materials will soon be circulated and will include recycling targets. The general trend, which would work effectively, would be central government and private sector finance and transport. Local authorities would provide sites and major retailers would do main promotion efforts. Community business and the voluntary sector would handle local ground collection work.

[1406] Domestic and industrial waste recycling has hidden benefits that, if properly figured into the costs, makes recycling an attractive activity on social grounds as well as economic grounds.

I would like to refer to the work being done by Kerry Recycling Co-op. I would hope to see this extended throughout the country and that the Kerry initiative would be used as a pilot scheme. They see their project as one of great potential benefit for rural Ireland as a whole and they feel it would be ideal to properly fund their project to serve as a pilot project, as I have already referred to. With adequate political interest this could become a reality. The public interest and support exists. The EC mandate exists. To quote the EC document The European Community and the Environment 3/1987, page 44: It has become apparent that this generation must recognise and face up to the responsibility that all of us share in order to pass on to our children a world fit to live in and fit to enjoy. We must take measures now to safeguard natural resources.”

I believe the time is opportune to take practical steps to reduce waste and to increase the promotion of recycling nationally. In order to significantly reduce the volume of waste we produce the Government Departments of the Environment, Trade and Industry, Education, Tourism and Finance should: (1) develop a coherent national policy with a co-ordinated campaign by industry and local authorities; (2) appoint an official with overall responsibility for recycling in all Government Departments with a specific budget; (3) set targets for local authorities to undertake recycling schemes; (4) encourage consumers to recycle; (5) promote the use of a waste exchange; (6) support research into uses for reclaimed materials; (7) create a climate for recycling by taxing primary resource use and rebate use of recycled materials, using its purchasing power to create a market for recycled paper into all Government Departments; encourage design of products that can be recycled and tighten planning controls for waste disposal sites. The need is for [1407] waste minimalisation, regulation and recycling.

There should be special funds made available for the various recycling groups. While they are subsidised to an extent by FÁS schemes, it is very important that they would be assisted by way of capital outlay. The generation of waste is an integral part of daily life. However, waste disposal is a major problem currently being experienced by the local authorities. These problems include, inter alia, (a) public objections to having waste disposal facilities in their neighbourhood; (b) the low priority given to waste disposal over the years and (c) lack of finance available to the local authorities for a service. I believe this is something that has to be considered.

The time is overdue when by-laws should be introduced at local level. This would allow local authorities to make by-laws to permit them to classify wastes as recyclable and non-recyclable. It would allow local authorities to charge for the provision of waste disposal facilities and allow them to charge different rates for recyclable and non-recyclable waste. It would allow them to return a certain proportion or all of the revenue generated from the disposal of recyclable waste into the recycling industry, and allow local authorities to refuse to accept recyclable wastes if in their opinion the waste should not be disposed of.

There are other speakers and I do not wish to delay. I know the Minister is very interested in this and I want to congratulate him for coming in here for this very important motion. I have no doubt that he will make sure in due course that the various recycling groups will be sufficiently funded so they can continue.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Seán Doherty  Zoom on Seán Doherty  Is the motion being seconded?

Mr. E. Ryan: Information on Eoin Ryan  Zoom on Eoin Ryan  I would like to second the motion now.

Mr. Naughten: Information on Liam Anthony Naughten  Zoom on Liam Anthony Naughten  I note the motion before the House: “That Seanad Éireann calls on the Government as a matter of urgency to review the legislation relating [1408] to the generation and disposal of waste with particular emphasis on the implementation of regulations which would enable local authorities to enact a by-law which would define whether waste would be disposed of or recycled.” As the motion stands, I do not think anybody would disagree with the principle of it. However, I listened very carefully to Senator Foley, who obviously has put quite a lot of thought into this and has obviously had first hand experience of it. He did refer to experience in Kerry. I also note, of course, one major defect with the resolution as it stands. That is, of course, that it again places another burden on local authorities without providing additional finance. Unfortunately, in the past successive Governments have imposed new legislation on local authorities without additional finance to back it up: for example, the Derelict Sites Bill, which went through this House very recently and under which there are certain responsibilities on local authorities to carry out certain works. We had the Water Pollution Bill, which went through some years ago. I am not disputing the merits of the Bill, but what I am saying is that the local authorities should not have to provide the funding to monitor those schemes without getting compensation from central Government or from the Department of the Environment.

As every Member of this House knows, unfortunately the amount of money from central Government is reducing as a percentage vis-a-vis inflation each year. That is a fact of life. Again, of course, we had the Abattoirs Bill which is another major problem for local authorities and again another major cost. I noted that Senator Foley, in some of the points he made towards the end of his contribution, emphasised the need for an officer in each county to monitor this. Again, we are talking about additional cost there. I have no doubt that, if more legislation is imposed on local authorities without funding, local authorities will not be able to carry the burden and funding must come if additional legislation is [1409] imposed on local authorities. That is one difficulty I see with this motion.

The principle of the motion, of course, is a good one: that we should if at all possible recycle. If we only take into consideration the cost of maintaining our dumps and of providing new dumps, it is very expensive for every local authority. If we could cut down by 50 per cent the amount of materials going into those official dumps — I am talking about official as distinct from the unofficial ones — it would be a major saving for local authorities. Senator Foley put his finger on the problem when he said that they had this scheme going in Kerry but they were not able to profit and that was the major difficulty with it. Unfortunately, if you try to recycle it will have to be a subsidised industry — that is a fact of life — and I would go fully along with any Member in this House who would suggest that bottles, cans, any of those things, should be recycled; but unless it is an economic proposition nobody is going to do it. You are left with a situation where that industry will have to be subsidised.

I have no doubt about the potential of job creation in it and that it certainly would prevent imports if we had an adequate recycling industry here either in the line of bottles, cans, batteries, or old cars — how often do we see them dumped in our bogs and not gathered up? Again they could be recycled and utilised. I believe there is scope there for Senator Foley's proposals, but my difficulty with it is that it will need funding and with the mean attitude of the Department of the Environment at the present time I just cannot see that additional funding coming through unless we are able to link into something like social employment schemes or the same avenue that money comes through for those schemes.

I think there is a certain merit in what Senator Foley suggested about trying a pilot scheme in a particular region and I do not see any difficulty with it. It is something that is well worth trying. There is certain merit in it because we have, as citizens of this country, an obligation to ensure a healthy and clean society and to eliminate pollution as far as [1410] possible from whatever source it comes. Senator Foley referred to a wide range of elements of pollution. I noted he did not refer to the MMDS system, which is certainly causing major problems in parts of the west of Ireland. The Minister and, I am sure, Senator Finneran will be aware that there is major concern with regard to health hazards and health risks as a result of that system.

With regard to the whole area of pollution, we have of course major problems right throughout our country with group water schemes which have been polluted. A very high percentage of them, I understand in some counties, have been polluted over the last number of months. Again, that would come from another form or probably the failure of a proper form of waste disposal probably of farm waste, more likely than anything else, and again it is a huge problem. We have those problems and we as a community are going to have to deal with them. Some 20 or 25 years ago the amount of domestic waste was far smaller in a household because you had not the plastic bottles, you had returnable bottles, you had not the cans that so much stuff comes in today and a lot of the containers then available could be disposed of by way of burning. That is not the situation today with very many of the containers that come with goods today. They have to be disposed of.

Senator Foley said that people should have to pay for waste disposal. As far as I know, in most counties they are paying — perhaps not here in Dublin, but outside it they are certainly paying for waste disposal and in some areas they are paying quite a considerable amount. I can see great difficulty in trying to distinguish between refuse that cannot be recycled and refuse that has to be disposed of. Overall, there is a certain merit in the proposal put forward by Senator Foley that, despite that, the pilot scheme should be tried out — I cannot see huge costs involved — to see if it could eliminate and reduce the amount of waste being disposed of, and on the other hand recycle a product which would prevent [1411] imports and maybe create employment in doing that.

I have absolutely no doubt, like Senator Foley, that there will have to be Government subsidy in it but I am not so sure, that there is a spirit for that in the Government. We look forward to the Minister's reply to see if he is prepared to entertain a pilot scheme. The idea of a pilot scheme is a good one and should be examined. Under the social employment scheme maybe something worth while could be put together in a pilot project, see how it works for 12 months and reevaluate the situation then. Anything that reduces the amount of waste disposal, the cost of maintaining dumps and the provision of dumps by the local authorities is to be welcomed and is a worthy proposition.

My only difficulty with it is that I see it requiring another piece of legislation to be operated by the local authorities. Unless local authorities get additional funding from the Department of the Environment to try to cover the cost of implementing the new regulations that have been imposed on them over the last ten years — I mentioned just three Bills that have come down to the local authorities to deal with additional funding — they will not be able to operate without it. Apart from that there is quite a lot of merit in the proposal.

Miss Keogh: Information on Helen Catherine Anne Keogh  Zoom on Helen Catherine Anne Keogh  I support this motion but I do not believe it goes far enough. If you read the wording carefully you will see that there is an assumption built into it that waste is inevitable, that it is inescapably there but, like the weather, waste is not inevitable on the scale it is currently at. A national policy which focuses only on disposal or recycling would be deeply flawed from the word go. A huge amount of so called inevitable waste is preventable at source whether we talk about domestic, farming or industrial waste, but we are not doing it.

Why is that? For starters we are packaging addicts. The more elaborate the box the larger the container, the more [1412] likely we are to be attracted to the product. Now we are coming up to the time here which generates more domestic waste based mainly on packaging, than at any other time of the year. The old notion of Christmas as a children's festival is very pleasing but Christmas in the 1990s is a packaging festival. The amount of cardboard, plastic stiroform, paper, which will be carted away by our local authorities to add to our already chock-a-block landfill sites is enormous.

This Coalition Government have made enormous strides in ensuring that the polluter pays but we need to go further. We need to take that principle, the polluter must pay, and bring it down to what is small and local. The fast food store in the neighbourhood that sends out stiroform burger boxes and coffee cups to be strewn all over the pavement is an indirect polluter. The larger franchises like MacDonalds and the Seven Elevens should be taking more public responsibility for the waste which is implicit in their operation. I do not just mean substituting papier-maché containers for the stiroform, although that is very well worth doing. I mean doing clean ups several times a day or night in the area surrounding their branch so that packaging discarded by their customers is not allowed to destroy the local environment. We should be talking about waste management, not just waste disposal.

Supermarkets have already given a lead in making recycled paper bags available but they should be leaning on manufacturers who use excessive or inappropriate packaging. Householders should be helped to segregate their rubbish into recyclable paper, plastic, glass and cans and given information on garden use of left-over organic materials. The end result could be that the sheer amount of domestic waste going to our landfills could be greatly reduced. If this country addressed the management of waste in a coherant way, then we would also be encouraging householders not to waste energy. The more fossil fuel we burn, whether or not it is smokeless, the more damage we do to the world's climate.

We have inefficient heating equipment [1413] and insufficiently insulated homes. If we got our act together on this one we could not just do the world a good turn, we could help our family budgets too. This brings me to the question of industrial waste. The need to reduce industrial waste tends to be met with the argument that yes, it is a good idea but it would cost too much from the industrial point of view, which is a load of nonsense. It is misleading and self-serving nonsense. If they do not produce as much waste industries can obviously avoid all the costs and risks of storing it, treating it, transporting it and disposing of it. If they do not produce as much waste industries can obviously save taxpayers the costs of the local authorities doing all of those things.

I would not say that is pie in the sky and it is not green idealism without a practical base. On the contrary there are examples all over the world to show that coherent waste management by industry not only does not bankrupt industry but quite often saves industry money. I will give a few examples. The Three M Company in the US launched a programme throughout their operations in 1975 called Pollution Prevention Pays. The Three M company claim to have halved their generation of wastes and saved about £200 million in the process.

In Sweden you will find a pharmaceutical company called Astra by means of improved implant recycling and substitution of water for solvents managed to cut toxic wastes by half. The Dupont plant in Venezuela put in new solvent recovery systems which eliminated the disposal of solvent wastes and saved them about £150,000 each year. A metal company in New Jersey put in a treatment plant that cut water use by 96 per cent, save themselves $53,000 a year and paid back the investment in three years. The lesson from those is absolutely clear. Reducing waste at source can contribute to the bottom line of the company which does it while greatly improving the overall environment.

Why are we not showing a lead in this? I cannot understand it. Here we are sitting pretty in this green and pleasant isle having missed out, thanks be to God, on [1414] the worst of the industrial revolution. We have modern plants, modern technologies, we are conscious that the success of our food exports depends absolutely on the pristine cleanliness of Ireland the exporting country. Whilst Japan is recycling more than half the waste it generates, whilst France is promising to cut its waste production by two thirds over the next ten years we are not even being dragged kicking and screaming into good waste management; we are being dragged silently and grudgingly. Very few industries are standing up and announcing that they are putting in waste management programmes which will reduce the waste they create. The environment action plan developed by the Department of the Environment and announced almost a year ago specifically said:

Each local authority will be directed to prepare a recycling scheme for its area by the end of June 1990 identifying recycling possibilities and setting out how it will facilitate and promote such activity.

Where are the plans, have they been produced? If they are good why are the local authorities not crowing about them, using them as a way to educate industry in their area and using them as a way to educate children? As part of that environment action plan, which was greatly informed by the Progressive Democrats thinking, the Industrial Development Authority were instructed to undertake feasibility studies into the possibility of establishing new industries based on recycling of paper, plastics, etc., and to promote and support commercial waste recycling projects.

I very much hope that we will hear from the Industrial Development Authority quickly and regularly on their progress in this area. The Progressive Democrats have always stood for tax reform, but not just tax reform in the sense of removing the disincentive of individuals being overtaxed, but tax reform as a method of achieving national objectives. The environment action programme promised a study of how the tax [1415] system might be adapted to encourage waste recycling on a commercial basis. This is an important promise. Too often our tax system is used punitively, uncreatively. This is an opportunity to use it productively, positively and creatively.

I trust that the study is now complete and that we can look forward to seeing the end result figure prominently in the next budget and if there are tax incentives for becoming environmentally friendly then, perhaps, industry will begin to look at their concerns in a slightly wider way. Every corporate brochure or annual report of every manufacturing company in this country should include a clear detailing of that company's waste management plan. It should indicate how waste is being reduced by conscious action. It should indicate how employees are encouraged to participate by the placement of recycling bins in canteen and other areas. It can be done. West Germany's polluter tax is regarded internationally as a very good way of stimulating industry to control pollution, which is often the same thing as waste at source.

There is a strong case for more prominent consciousness-raising labels on packaging, a strong case for companies which use recycled cardboard to say so very assertively, a strong case for companies, which make containers with a shelf life of hundreds of years, to give a warning on that package as to proper disposal. We put warnings on cigarette packets, we do not put warnings on plastics which, if shoved into a domestic fire, emit fumes which are suspected of having enormous negative health implications.

The pharmaceutical industry voluntarily includes in its advertising on radio a line to the effect that the product should only be used as directed. There is a case for manufacturers of other products to add a line about the disposal of the waste the product carries with it in the form of packaging.

Rereading the wording of this motion suggests one other matter to me. Our dumps are problem areas. Nobody wants a dump near them. There is a fear of [1416] disease, there is a fear that chemicals are leaching into the ground water near dumps and there is a fear of items ending up in dumps which should not end up in dumps. We can think of how the ESB, one of our most publicly responsible State-sponsored bodies can fail to dispose of asbestos properly when that asbestos is waste from a decommissioned plant, there is justification for the fear that less responsible entities may be doing much worse, only we do not know about it.

Our dumps are assets waiting to be exploited. The only people right now who do serious exploitation, serious recycling of materials in our dumps are the travelling people who scavenge reusable items, very intelligently, on dumps around the country. The settled community do not seek to turn dumps into an asset. We should be trying to organaise proper segregation of rubbish in every county in this country to facilitate recycling. Recycling, if necessary, implants right beside the land fills.

We should be trying to educate individuals and groups generating waste to think in terms of recycling. Just this week a scheme was announced in Britain designed to gather up and recycle huge amounts of the plastic sheeting used in farming. We should be trying to use the methane generated by landfill waste for fuel. Less than a week ago a British TV programme showed where methane gas from a landfill site was being used to power part of a factory.

We should be getting started on a positive management of waste from start to finish, not just looking at how we should cope with unnecessary waste after it has been generated. Above all, we should be looking at this whole area in an imaginative, positive, comprehensive way, not in a patchy ad hoc-ery way, not as something which matters only when the waste is toxic waste, not as something to be solved by policing but as something to be solved by educating and incentivising first and foremost and policing only when those methods fail. We need to do it quickly.

Mrs. Hederman: Information on Carmencita Hederman  Zoom on Carmencita Hederman  I welcome this debate [1417] because I believe that it is a topic that has not received nearly enough serious consideration. I am delighted that we have the Minister here with us this evening and that we will be able to hear from him at the end of the debate what he has in mind for improving the situation. There is a great need for improvement. I compliment the Minister on his efforts. Having said that, I do not think that they go nearly far enough or that they are nearly enthusiastic enough. I do not think there is sufficient commitment to the whole idea.

I do not believe that it is exclusively a question of money. I believe it is very easy to throw that around as an excuse. It is continually said the problem is that local authorities have no money and therefore they can do nothing. I do not take that view and I do not wish to indulge in any party political speech which would be, I feel, unhelpful and unproductive. I believe that resources are required and I believe some money is required. I am not saying it can be done without any money but I believe there are other things which are far more important, that is, an educational programme to alert people to what the issues are involved in all this.

I believe there is a great deal that can be done by the Department of the Environment and by the local authorities in highlighting this. I always believe that in a local authority — there are 52 members on my local authority — every member could be used as a PR person to go out and sell whatever has to be sold in the way of a new idea. There are four or five local representatives in each area and if they were getting from the Department of the Environment, perhaps to the managment and it was coming through to the local authority members, we in turn could go out and talk about these things in our communities, in our residents' associations and so on. Sadly, of course, the situation is far from that in local authorities.

If I may be allowed to deviate from the point for a moment, I wish to draw attention to what I believe is at the heart of all this. I know the Minister will get up now, and I am quite sure he will wring [1418] his hands in despair and say that he tried to do this with the local authorities. I see that the Minister said that the Department of the Environment have told the local authorities that the time is long overdue for an emphatic new thrust to increase the recovery potential for waste materials, glass, paper, cans and plastics. I am sure the Minister will say that the local authorities are not responding adequately.

I am not singling out the Minister because he is not that long in the Department. I am 16 years in a local authority and I have seen a good few Ministers come and go and we go on forever in the corporation. The situation is that the Minister's Department treat local authorities, in my opinion, disgracefully. They treat them abominably, they treat them like schoolchildren, and because they are treated like schoolchildren they behave like schoolchildren. If the Department of the Environment gave local authorities responsibility, if they let them off the lead a little bit about a whole range of things, then when they want them to respond to something like this they would find the local authority members ready do it.

I will give the Minister one example because I feel certain he does not believe what I am saying. I hope the Minister will forgive me if I said this to him before but it describes the situation to me so vividly and so accurately that I feel nothing else need be said after that. My local authority on one occasion, long before my colleague Senator Olga Bennett was there, introduced a no smoking arrangement in our council chamber. We may have been ahead of our time ten or 12 years ago and it was decided unanimously there would be no smoking. The following month a member lit a cigarette and it was brought to the attention of the Lord Mayor and to the Town Clerk who was requested to ask the member to put out the cigarette. We were told that it had not become law, it had not had the imprimatur of the Department of Local Government. We cannot even change our standing orders in Dublin City Council and bring in a no [1419] smoking regulation until a Minister says “you can do that, that is all right”.

That is the attitude of the Minister's Department over successive years. I beg him to understand that he of course, is excluded from these remarks. They refer to previous Ministers but, above all, they refer to the officials in the Department who treat our local authorities with contempt. They do not reply to serious issues which we bring to their attention. When they do not reply and they do not take it seriously, then local authorities start sending in things to the Department because they know that they pay no attention to them anyway and it is good for the politics, it is good locally because you get your name in the paper. You know perfectly well that the Department will not do anything about it so it does not really matter.

I believe that the problems of the environment, which I know are dear to the Minister's heart, and I compliment the Minister for what he has done with regard to the smog and these other things — will not be solved until he solves the fundamental problem of the attitudes in local authorities and that he encourages them to be responsible and allow them to make mistakes. The Minister's Department makes mistakes from time to time. If local authorities are allowed the freedom to do what they are going to do in the field of recycling or whatever else it may be, of course they will make mistakes but is it any worse than the mistakes that are made down in the Custom House?

The Minister and his predecessors, I am sure, came up through a local authority — I thank the Minister for nodding his head — and know from the bottom up what the situation is like and no doubt when the Minister was in a local authority he felt as frustrated as I do in my local authority, yet when he gets to the top and he is in a position to do something about it nothing is done. We have had no changes. In all the time that I have been in the corporation, the situation has only deteriorated. It has been exacerbated because of the whole funding question.

[1420] The whole area of local government is crying out for reform and that is absolutely germane to all of these things. The solutions to the environment are not macro solutions. They will not happen by the Department bringing in some plan like the wonderful glitzy, glittery plan the Minister brought in. I have not got it here with me unfortunately. It was beautifully produced and there was tremendous PR put into it. It was on a glossy, wonderful paper which somebody told me is the most environmentally unfriendly paper. It was tremendous for the image of the Department and for the Minister's image. I hope the Minister will deliver on it but it does not really do very much because it remains a marvellous document we all look at and admire and we respond to the sentiments in it and say “would it not be lovely”.

The solutions to the environment and ecological problems will not be macro solutions. They will be made up of a whole plethora of mini solutions. It will be individuals, local groups, the Irish Housewives' Association, the Irish Countrywomen's Association, a whole range of people at different levels who want to do something. While this motion to a certain extent inspired me I am a little confused as to what exactly is meant by it, but I believe people are interested in recycling and are concerned about the environment. That was manifested when the Green Party TD was elected. I hope there will be many more of them elected. I do not think the Minister should show his opposition to that. If he was genuine about concern for the environment he would want lots of local Greens elected to every local authority in the country. It might mean there would be fewer Fianna Fáil councillors there, but it would mean that the solutions the Minister is looking for would be much more likely to come about. If he was more interested in solutions to these problems than in party politics we would probably have a better result.

The fundamental problem comes back to us. We must have local authorities controlled by parties because they in turn elect the Seanad and they in turn control [1421] the nominations for the Presidency. They control everything so we cannot have more Greens and there is wincing when I say we should have them and have more people who are interested in the environment on the local authorities, but that is the way to get solutions to these problems.

The Minister will have to forgive me if I seem to be slightly going over the top. I so genuinely believe that that I feel other things I may say are fairly peripheral and inconsequential. The fundamental way solutions will be found is by encouraging responsibility amongst the local authorities and encouraging responsibility at the lowest level. It is a question of small being beautiful. In relation to the whole area that we are discussing here this evening I am absolutely convinced that that is the way forward. We need to develop people's individual responsibility. The role the Department can play and are starting to play is in alerting people to what the issues are in the whole area of recycling and bringing attention to the extraordinary amount of litter we create.

I am talking here about domestic waste, I know less about commercial waste and other toxic waste. It is not that I am unconcerned about them but I feel I know more about domestic waste as somebody who runs a house and somebody who has been in a local authority. Each year two million tonnes of rubbish are accumulated in this country. That is approximately half a tonne per person. It is like trying to cope with the water situation here in the city. We are appealing to each individual to economise. If each individual economises a little the situation will be greatly improved.

The waste problem is exactly the same. It is terrifying to think of each individual producing half a tonne of waste. I know the improvement that can be brought about. I once did a mini experiment at home. I have a fairly large house and a fairly large household. I used to have three dustbins going out every Monday morning pretty well packed. I started composting my domestic waste — every banana skin, every apple skin, potato [1422] core, everything. Nothing was thrown out, all the waste from inside the hoover etc. went into the compost heap. Now I compost regularly and my garden is the better for it.

I then started bringing my paper to a place for recycling. I brought my bottles to a bottle depot. I got Dublin Corporation to institute a little bottle bank in Rathmines long before the rehabilitation people were on the scene. We got a little pilot scheme going there. I was able, by my own efforts, to reduce my bins from three down to one. If I was able to do what I am telling you about with my paper and my glass others could do it. I used to squeeze down tins because I was not able to bring cans to the places you can bring them to now. I was able to go from three bins down to one bin. I was able to reduce waste by a third. Senator Foley spoke about reducing it by 30 per cent. The Greenpeace people would tell you that 80 per cent of domestic waste could be recycled, 80 per cent less going into the tiphead. Sixty per cent is probably a reasonable figure and is generally accepted. We have one of the poorest records in Europe. Ireland is at the bottom of the recycling league. I am glad to see the Minister nodding his head. It is most helpful because I do not have to travel that point any longer as I know that the Minister accepts that. The Department have given modest grants. In 1989 they gave £250,000 and that is up to £500,000 now.

The Minister should look at the benefits and the economies that are made — they were refered to already by a previous speaker — in the reduced cost of running these massive tipheads. Senator Helen Keogh said nobody nowadays wants to live beside a tiphead. One of the most consistent points of agro in our council is the Dunsink tiphead. Never a month goes by without an argy-bargy at the council meeting. Which of us wants to live beside a tiphead, which of us should be asked to live beside a tiphead or on the road to or from a tiphead? In Dublin we have run out of opportunities for landfill. We are doing relatively little about it.

I now cannot find anywhere to bring [1423] my paper. It is piling up and I dread to think of the consequences of a fire. I believe there is somewhere in Marrowbone Lane but it is very far away. I would never be accused of being a lazy, indolent person. I cannot face into trying to take the paper out of my house. For recycling to be successful it must be collected on the doorstep. It is not really fair in this day and age to expect — I do not consider myself elderly, I consider myself young — elderly people to bring piles of paper to a particular place.

The only way recycling can be done is the way it is done in Germany, Sweden and Denmark where the paper, bottles and glass are collected regularly. I know there is a lot of goodwill out there, I know that the young find it. You go around to schools and environmental weeks and they are always into projects about recycling and so on. That is a resource which the Minister could tap. I know that housewives would be prepared to help as would organisations such as the Irish Housewives' Association, from whom I first learned about recycling 15 years ago.

At the annual general meeting of the Irish Countrywomen's Association this year a woman made in an eloquent speech in which she suggested that once a month every housewife in Ireland, after completing her shopping, should, as a protest, leave behind in the shop or supermarket all the superfluous packaging to which Senator Helen Keogh referred. We could suggest that once a month they might dump it at the Minister's Department and let him see what is involved. I do not mean that as a protest but to let the Minister see what we are talking about, and the excessive packaging there is in the hope that he might prevail upon the packaging companies not to curtail production.

Mr. Finneran: Information on Michael Finneran  Zoom on Michael Finneran  I have already seconded the motion. I welcome the Minister to the Chamber. We are delighted to have him here on such an important topic. The reason the motion was put down was that Fianna Fáil Senators were conscious of [1424] the need for environmental protection. That is why the debate is taking place.

The Minister, Deputy Flynn, has an excellent record in the area of environmental protection. We can all be castigated for what was not done or should be done but not long ago we had the Water Pollution Bill and recently we had the Air Pollution Bill. The ten year programme for the environment, which was castigated to some extent by Senator Hederman, identifies activities that need to be carried out over the next ten years to protect and enhance our environment.

I compliment the Minister on that because, obviously, there was a conscious decision by him to embark on such a programme. Put the paper work together and present it to the Irish people. It is a blueprint for him and his successors and indeed, for all who wish to be part and parcel of that development.

I was very conscious of the Minister's involvement as the Green President during his term as President of the Council of Ministers when this country held the Presidency of the EC. That was brought home clearly to me as a member of the Consultative Council for the European Commission. I had firsthand experience of the involvement of the Minister in his capacity as President of the Council of Ministers. He was well thought of during that period. It is acknowledged by people in the Commission that it was a very successful period for him. In the ENVIREG Programme he put forward views that were of benefit financially to this country. Part of our ten year programme is tied up in the ENVIREG Programme which some people thought would be a whole Mediterranean set-up. However, thanks to our Minister and his staff, that was not the case. This country is availing of, and will avail of benefits from that European Commission programme.

We are conscious of the environment and the need to protect it and that is why the motion is being debated. We want to impress on the Minister the need to consider further measures. One of the measures we consider opportune is recycling. Other Senators mentioned recycling [1425] pilot programmes and development in different parts of the country but there does not seem to be any great cohesion or liaison in this area even though the Department of the Environment provided grants in the region of £500,000 this year. There is an opportunity there.

Senator Naughten said that this could prove to be a burden on the local authorities. I take his point that it is possible that legislation introduced over the years may have proved to be somewhat of a burden in so far as what may have started off relatively cheap, with the employment of one officer or agent, progressed to become a charge on the rate support grant. County councillors and corporation members are conscious of that and I do not doubt that the Department are conscious of it also. This new proposal does not have the same danger of imposing a charge on local authorities or a charge at a later stage because a recycling programme can be a recycling industry. It represents an economic proposition for job creation. It could be profit making if it is handled properly.

I am more concerned about indiscriminate, illegal dumping, dumping that defaces our countryside, interferes with the quality of our waterways and rivers. This is where I see one of the big dangers. It is a blot on all our copies that our neighbour will go to the nearest by-road, bog road, lane or stream and empty sacks of domestic waste without being conscious of the damage he or she is doing to the countryside. It is not somebody else's property. A map may show that the registered owner is A, B or C but it is everybody's countryside too. The countryside belongs to all of us.

Public awareness is important. This problem was not addressed properly at local authority level. In some counties there are litter wardens but there is something offensive about the term “litter warden”. It implants in the mind the image of somebody who will give a ticket or impose a fine. We have never been great to respond to that type of approach. I would prefer to have people employed by local authorities as environmental advisory officers and the public perception [1426] of them as such would be educational. They could go to our schools and expound on the care we should take in regard to the disposal of waste and generate on awareness of our own countryside. We should educate people to perceive them in that way rather than as trying to catch somebody throwing an empty cigarette box on the ground and as sticking a £20 or £500 fine on them. That type of perception of a person does not enhance their standing. The educational side of it is more important. Perhaps local authorities should consider removing the tag of litter warden and replacing it with the title “environmental advisory officer”.

There is great concern about this problem and that can be seen in the many Tidy Towns committees all over the country. They play an important role in the maintenance and development of the countryside. They put in an extraordinary amount of voluntary effort. They are conscious of the general appearance of their villages and towns and there is a competitiveness among different communities which, in itself, enhances these areas. They liaise with local authorities and that is important. It is important that local authorities have Tidy Towns awards. It gives recognition to people for their work. It establishes in the public mind that people who are conscious of the area are known to have done something and that local authorities at a particular time, following marks being given out, award prizes and acknowledge the involvement of local communities.

Another area that has already been mentioned by some Senators is that of industrial and toxic waste. It is difficult to identify and quantify what amount of moneys or resources industries are putting into the disposal of their waste. They would like us to believe, of course, that they are conscious of industrial waste and are attempting to put a certain amount of resources into it but I do not think they are winning the public relations battle on that.

As a local authority member I believe — I am sure other local authority members and Members of this House [1427] would agree — industrialists will only put in as much as they have to. They will try to get away with as much as they can and they are not environmentally conscious to the extent that they would put the protection of the countryside, the waterways and our seas ahead of making a “buck” for their own company. That is a perception that people on the ground have vis-a-vis industrialists. That may not altogether be the case but I am open to contradiction on that. However, it is my perception of industrialists, and I know it to be the perception of other people. There is need for education on that side of it too but we also need a facility. We do not have at the moment a recognised facility for dealing with toxic waste. That is something that has to be dealt with. People are concerned about whether such development would be near where they live and I appreciate that. However such a facility must be considered and, hopefully, it will be taken on board.

I know the Minister, during my term as chairman of the general council of county councils, indicated that he had proposals on that and I have no doubt that the proposal put forward here this evening by my party will be considered on the basis that it is put forward with the good intention of protecting the environment for this generation and for generations to come and, indeed, protecting all our present assets. One of them mentioned by Senator Naughten was our group water scheme network which was put there at a large cost to the State, to the local authorities and, indeed, to the people themselves. It is important that that massive network be maintained right around the country, from north to south and east to west and maintained free of pollution.

I will abide by the time limit put on me. Senator Hederman said that if there were fewer Fianna Fáil councillors, obviously there would be more Greens. I will take that as a compliment, as obviously she associates Fianna Fáil policy with green policy.

Mrs. Bennett: Information on Olga Bennett  Zoom on Olga Bennett  The Government's [1428] environmental action programme, in one of its objectives, seeks to promote greater activity in the recycling of waste and initiatives were proposed to encourage this activity. They include the preparation by each local authority of recycling schemes for their area — and this has already been mentioned by a number of Senators — an increase in grant assistance to £500,000 for the promotion of recycling projects; the provision for the IDA; feasibility studies or possibilities for the establishment of new industries based on recycling of paper, plastics, etc., and support for commercial waste and recycling projects.

As a member of Dublin Corporation, we welcome these initiatives. Dublin Corporation monitor on an ongoing basis the opportunities that arise for recycling and we participate in a number of projects. I would like to mention a number of these projects because many Senators spoke earlier about tackling the problem at source and we have gone through all these points. We have started on Dublin Corporation — possibly as my colleague said, we are not doing enough, but we have made a big start — and we hope to extend it further with the closing of the tiphead in Dunsink next year. We will certainly have to look at how we will dispose of our household waste but at the moment, we have some good schemes in operation and I will mention a few of them. Abandoned cars are a problem in Dublin and the corporation provide a free service to the general public for the removal of unwanted or abandoned cars in the city. The cars are collected and brought to a crushing plant where the steel is sent for recycling to Irish Steel. The number of cars recycled in the last three years has been 2,800 in 1987, 2,240 in 1988, 2,345 in 1989, and it is expected that 2,500 cars will be recycled during 1990. The cost to the corporation of this service has been about £40,000 and hopefully, somebody will take it on as a concern. We are just testing out the viability of some of these things.

There is glass recycling in Dublin. A glass recycling centre operated by Rehab was opened in October 1987. In that year, [1429] 29 bottle bank sites were operational in the city. There are now a total of 47 bottle banks in operation and it is expected that an additional ten will be in use before the end of 1990. Rehab collected a total of 164 tonnes of glass in 1987, 935 tonnes in 1988, 1,750 tonnes in 1989 and they are targetted to collect almost 2,500 tonnes of glass in 1990. The glass is collected and recycled by Irish Glass. Dublin Corporation actively support and promote Rehab in this venture and in 1989 we provided them with grant assistance of £5,000 but at a recent meeting of the community on environment we had a look at their operation and it was decided to increase their grant to £10,000 in 1991. It was also recommended that a commitment be given to them that they get this grant on an annual basis for five years so that they can continue their programme.

Paper recycling was also mentioned here. Newspapers, magazines and cardboard are the main forms of waste paper used for recycling, but there is a serious over-supply of both newspapers and magazines which is normally collected by voluntary groups. The lack of a stable market and the uneconomic prices offered make this a very unattractive venture for those involved. Commercial operators collect and recycle approximately 700 tonnes of paper and board from the industry. The corporation have commenced a pilot project. They intend to closely monitor this project, evaluate its viability and quantify the amount of material that can be used for commercial recycling.

My colleague also mentioned aluminimum can recycling as part of our promotions. A co-operative in Tallaght, called Recoverable Resources were started by a group of unemployed people. The corporation gave a grant of £3,500 in 1988 to assist the co-operative in the purchase of plastic bags and tripods for use in school yards throughout the city for the collection of cans for recycling. In 1989 a grant of £3,000 was given to fund the construction of can bins for use in city areas with a capacity for 1,000 cans. The operation has proved highly successful. The target of collecting three million cans in 1989 was exceeded by 50 per cent.

[1430] They actually collected 4.5 million cans, 120 tonnes. Recoverable Resources Coop. are at present expanding their operations. Last year a competition involving 27 schools with 10,800 pupils resulted in the recovery of 1.2 million cans. This year's competition to date has involved 150 schools with about 65,000 pupils participating. In addition, the co-operative have purchased a second truck and now have one truck serving their collection points on the north side of the liffey and another serving their collection points on the south side. Their recovery target for 1990 is 7.5 million cans.

Used oil can be recycled. Dublin garages, for the most part, now collect waste oil and Dublin Corporation have helped to fund waste oil collection at their tip-heads on the outskirts of the city. This oil is recycled in the midlands.

An area worth looking at in which we are not deeply involved but which we are investigating extensively is plastic recycling. Some European countries, and the United States, have passed laws controlling the type of plastic packaging used. The Italians intend banning some forms of plastic packaging next year and the Danes are thinking of banning it totally. The amount of domestic plastic recycled in the EC, and in Ireland, at the moment is very small. It is not economically viable, apparently, to recycle the plastic found in our day to day rubbish although some companies in the UK, I understand, are recycling the plastic from industry and turning it into water tanks. The UK Government have called on all their local authorities to recycle half of all their recyclable waste by the end of the century. I would like to think that this will be achieved in Ireland, not only in Dublin, so that we can ensure our national environment is fully protected and enhanced for future generations. Our natural environment is the concern and heritage of all our citizens. We must act and co-operate to defend and improve it.

Debate adjourned.

Sitting suspended at 7.55 p.m. and resumed at 8 p.m.


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