Wednesday, 29 October 2008
Seanad Eireann Debate
Senator Paudie Coffey: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran. However, I am disappointed that the Minister, Deputy Gormley, is not present to respond to this issue, although I understand he is probably on other business.
I raise the issue of the continued viability of waste recycling facilities with particular reference to the facility operated by Waterford County Council in Dungarvan. This facility has been in existence for almost five years and processes more than 13,000 tonnes of recyclable material per annum. The sold material produces an annual income of €550,000 which is reinvested in waste recycling services in Waterford. The facility processes recycled waste not only from the Waterford city and county council areas but also from the south Tipperary and Wexford local authority areas as well as other private waste streams.
I understand the destination markets for the high-quality product from this facility have dried up and that the brokers who were dealing with the local authority in identifying markets are no longer coming up with the goods. Produce was formerly sent to countries such as Indonesia and China. I am interested to discover the reasons these markets have folded. This problem is arising for private as well as public facilities and could put national recycling initiatives in jeopardy.
The Dungarvan facility cost more than €5 million to build and involved major investment by the local authority. Waterford County Council has received national awards for its initiative in establishing and operating this facility. The viability of the facility is now in doubt, which will have a knock-on effect on recycling services in all the local authority areas to which I referred. The income must be available to ensure recycling and collection routes remain viable. In the short term, because the destination markets no longer exist, much of this material must be stored by Waterford County Council, representing an added burden and overhead which will put the facility itself and the recycling routes in jeopardy.
I am interested to hear the views of the Minister, Deputy Gormley, on this issue and what he and his Department will do to assist local authorities in this regard. What is a regional issue could quickly become a national issue which may undo all the good work carried out by local authorities to develop recycling services and facilities. As a member of the Green Party, I am sure this is at the heart of the Minister’s policy and interests. I hope he can ease the concerns in Waterford and nationally that recycling services will receive the resources and support they require to remain viable.
Deputy Michael Finneran: I thank Senator Coffey for raising this issue on the Adjournment. Representatives from the waste industry met my Department on Friday, 24 October 2008 to discuss industry concerns regarding the sudden drop in international demand for recycled materials. Their principal issue of concern was the need to increase rapidly the storage capacity of existing permitted and licensed facilities. My Department had also been in contact with Repak and the Environmental Protection Agency in advance of last Friday’s meeting in regard to this issue. Consequently, a number of options were put forward to industry at the meeting on Friday. The Minister, Deputy Gormley, is aware of the difficulties raised by Waterford County Council as he has only this morning received a letter from the Waterford County Manager outlining the current position regarding the Materials Recycling Facility, MRF, in Dungarvan. A letter of reply will issue directly to the Waterford County Manager as a matter of urgency.
The options currently being proposed are as follows: licensees can ask the EPA to amend their current licence to allow them to stockpile if they have a suitable location on an existing licensed waste facility; waste operators can find a warehouse where they can store dry recyclables — a certificate of registration, available from local authorities allows for 1,000 tonnes of material to be stored; waste operators can find a warehouse where they can store dry recyclables but a waste permit from the local authorities allows storage of up to 50,000 tonnes; waste operators can find a warehouse where they can store dry recyclables but a licence from the EPA will allow waste operators to store any amount they want; co-incineration abroad would allow the material to be classified as recovery; a facility in Ireland with an existing Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control licence could seek an amendment of their licence to deal with this material.
These options were also communicated by the EPA to the representatives from the waste industry last Friday. A circular letter has also issued to each local authority from my Department outlining the issues and the possible options and stressing the need for local authorities to give priority to any applications received. The Minister understands that the waste industry representatives were satisfied that the gravity of the situation was appreciated by the Department, the EPA and the local authorities.
The Government’s policy statement, Preventing and Recycling Waste — Delivering Change,identified a lack of sustainable and economically attractive markets and outlets for recyclable materials as one of the main barriers to an improved and sustainable national recycling performance. The significant cost and effort associated with the segregation, collection, sorting, pre-treatment and reprocessing of recyclable materials demands that markets be developed to realise the full resource value of all recyclable materials that are reclaimed. To address these issues the Minister is providing funding to implement the recommendations set out in the Market Development Programme for Waste Resources 2007. The market development programme is primarily focussed on promoting sustainable demand for recovered materials, supporting the achievement of economies of scale in the production of products made from recycled materials and in identifying the need for additional recycling infrastructure to reduce Ireland’s reliance on overseas markets as well as identifying new applications and markets for recyclable material and secondary recycled products.
The €13 million multi-annual programme is based on a combination of research and development, commercial trials, development of technical standards and the production of various marketing and education and awareness materials. My Department has responded swiftly to the issues raised and will continue to work closely with all the relevant stakeholders to deal with the changing situation.
Senator Paudie Coffey: I thank the Minister of State for his response. There is confirmation tonight that waste management in this country is a serious matter. I am glad the Minister and his Department are giving the matter the attention it deserves. We do not want a national waste management crisis at this time.
I do not think that stockpiling of the waste produced by facilities such as the one in Dungarvan is a sustainable answer or solution in the short term. It is questionable whether incineration in other lands will be, as stated by the Minister, marked as recovery. This flies in the face of the theory and principle of recycling and re-use. The facility concerned is producing high quality recycled paper and plastics. This issue must be addressed.
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