Ireland maps out massive investment to meet EU environmental standards

Ireland's far-reaching policies to enhance environmental protection and improve waste management provided the stimulus to a successful event held at the RDS venue in Dublin at the end of November with the joint Irish Recycling & Waste Management (IRWM) and Irish Water Waste & Environment (IWWE) exhibitions opened by Environment Minister Dan Wallace who set out the policy aims

Dan Wallace, Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government, opening the Dublin event, said: "These exhibitions present an ideal opportunity for all major stakeholders to discuss, and exchange ideas on, the enormous challenges we face in relation to water and waste management."

Government policy on waste is committed to a dramatic reduction in disposal of waste to landfill, in favour of an approach which promotes waste minimisation and delivers ambitious recycling targets.

"This is an exciting time in waste management in Ireland," Mr Wallace said. "We have come through a protracted planning period since the enactment of the Waste Management Act in 1996 and the publication of our national waste management policy in the 1988 statement - Changing Our Ways. The local and regional waste management plans have now been adopted; these plans now require early and intensive implementation.

"Waste management in Ireland is changing from a low tech sector to a high tech one. Reuse and recycling, in particular, is being promoted. Support for the waste management sector will be provided from a capital grants scheme under the National Development Plan, to be announced shortly. The Environment Fund, which will be financed from the plastic bag levy and the levy on landfill, will also provide support."

In conclusion the Minister said: "When it comes to protecting and enhancing the environment, it's not solely about Government and what it will do. Rather, it's about all of us - Government, social partners, NGOs and individual citizens. In our different roles and capacities we must all make the right decisions and take the right actions."

Debating the issues
The challenges facing waste management in Ireland generated a lively debate at the Talkback event held during the Irish Recycling & Waste Management 2001 Exhibition.

An expert panel, chaired by broadcaster, John Bowman, discussed the view expressed by visitors to this well attended public forum that Ireland was facing a crisis in waste management. The platform speakers were Anne Butler, Director of the Environmental Protection Agency; Mary Kelly, Assistant Director, IBEC; Cllr Deirdre de Burca, Wicklow County Council, Green Party; Marian Byron, Technical Director, Irish Pharmaceutical & Chemical Manufacturers Federation; and Hugh Scanlan, Environmental Correspondent, Irish Farmers Journal.

There was general agreement that education is the key to changing public attitudes to waste reduction and recycling. Mary Kelly said there was a problem in the lack of information and a need to provide people with information on, and discussion of, waste issues. She added that local authorities and the EPA were trying to help with the problem.

The IBEC Assistant Director said: "Some part of the solution is that householders have to pay for part of waste services."
The case for providing an economic incentive to achieve a change of public attitudes on the waste front, was reinforced by Hugh Scanlan's view was that farmers would not do anything until they had to put their hand in their pocket.

The EPA Director, Anne Butler, pointed out that enforcement of landfill licences, for example, would cost more money and that economics were going to be a "huge part of the solution."

However a questioner from the audience took issue with the approach that focussed on money and cost in dealing with waste, saying, "people do respond if they are given the means."

A question on the likelihood of Ireland - where an estimated 90% of waste still goes to landfill - hitting its very tough targets for waste reduction and recycling under EU Directives, saw Marian Byron emphasising the role of a National Integrated Waste Plan in the face of the closure of landfill sites. She said that infrastructure could only be planned when it was known what waste there was and what could be diverted.

Declaring "We are in the middle of a waste crisis," Deirdre de Burca looked for options in waste minimisation, citing innovative solutions such as New Zealand's pursuit of a "zero waste" strategy.

She rejected the views of some politicians who dismissed the idea as "pie in the sky", arguing that, by reducing waste, it could be limited to a residual, non-toxic form.

The Green Party Councillor also pointed out that Ireland had a "very green image" and that the country could promote organic food.

Incineration controversy
Turning to a more controversial issue she said: "Incineration is the wrong route for this country."

Anne Butler said that practices had been very poor historically, but emphasised "modern incineration is not the same."

Mary Kelly whilst pointing to the success of REPAC, said that it was not going to be easy to meet very ambitious recycling targets. She added that it was not a debate between "burn and bury." Almost every country had incineration where the technology had advanced over the past 20 years. Responding to a question from the floor, Mary Kelly's said that it was "very difficult to get a rational debate on incineration."

Deirdre de Burca declared: "We are not going to have a debate. We will find incinerators are going to be built." She cited the cost of incinerators and the "huge waste stream" needed to make the plants viable.

Hugh Scanlan questioned the decision making process on waste policy in Ireland. "We won't meet our targets unless we make decisions. There seems to be a lack of political will to make these decisions."

He added that decisions needed to be taken on the basis of scientific fact, not on the basis of emotion or political considerations. "We have a crisis now. There is no easy way," he said.

The urgency of the waste management problems facing Ireland was a consistent theme fuelling the Talkback debate. The "double whammy" of the closure of landfill sites and the level of landfill levy - with a possible starting rate of £15 per tonne (19 euros) and rising by a potential 5 euros a year to a maximum of around 50 euros - raised the question of just where commercial waste in particular could go, and the spectre of illegal flytipping spreading on a wide scale across the country.


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