Business world calls for new approach to waste management in Ireland

The business community in Ireland is proposing the setting up of a National Waste Management Authority, as Dr Mary Kelly, Assistant Director - Enterprise, Environment and Industrial Policy with the Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC), explains in this special contribution to the LAWE Ireland Environmental Supplement.

Waste management continues to be a major headache in Ireland. Responding to concerns from its member companies, the Irish Business and Employers Confederation last year published a strategy paper The Need for a New Approach – Waste Management in the 21st Century, calling for the establishment of a national waste management authority to bring co-ordination and a sense of urgency to the issue of waste management.

IBEC expressed serious concerns that a crisis in waste management in Ireland is inevitable unless a number of actions are taken as a matter of priority. While regional waste management strategies and plans have been developed involving 29 local authorities in eight regional groupings, there is little evidence of their being implemented in the short term. There is no national waste management strategy and no central body charged with the implementation of such a strategy. There is no legal obligation on local authorities to provide for the disposal of commercial and industrial waste, and with increasing shortages of space in landfill sites, local authorities are beginning to turn away waste from these sectors. Unless action is taken in the short term, IBEC predicted that waste from the business and commercial sectors will become a major problem. Transition to more modern waste management practices is essential for Ireland. How that transition is handled in the short to medium term will be critical.

Hazardous wastes

Currently, there is virtually no hazardous waste infrastructure in Ireland. A small number of companies have provided their own hazardous waste incineration on site, but this is only cost effective for large producers of hazardous waste. There is also private sector provision for a small number of particular waste streams, such as waste oils and fluorescent lamps. A significant quantity of hazardous waste is exported for treatment.

While the proposed National Hazardous Waste Management Plan was welcomed for tackling the issue of hazardous waste in a clear and coherent manner, there is no clear implementing body to ensure that the plan is carried through. In the absence of such a body, IBEC felt that targets are very unlikely to be met. This is a further argument in favour of establishing a national authority.

In this context, this paper set out IBEC’s priorities in establishing a modern and efficient waste management infrastructure in Ireland, which will cater for both business and households.

In addressing these priorities, IBEC came to the firm conclusion that planning and implementation of this process needs to be managed by an Agency with one single focus – the management and disposal of waste. Such a body would provide a much needed focus on the issues, from prevention to disposal, recycling and development of end markets, and provision of infrastructure. Much good work has been done in developing regional waste strategies and plans, but implementation remains a major problem. In the Confederation’s view, one central agency, working closely with local authorities could make a significant impact in a short time.

An integrated waste management infrastructure must be put in place. This includes a network of recycling and recovery facilities, incineration and other thermal treatment technologies and landfill facilities, both for hazardous and non-hazardous materials. Decisions on the choice and siting of necessary infrastructure must be taken on a rational basis. The current situation cannot be allowed to continue.

The strategy paper sets out a number of actions which central government, local authorities and the business community itself should undertake, and commits IBEC to playing its part in raising awareness amongst its members regarding best practice in waste management.

Current situation

IBEC’s strategy paper was published almost a year ago. Since then little, if any, progress has been made on implementation of strategies or plans. Regional waste management plans are still held up awaiting adoption by the elected members of a few local authorities. The apparent inability of these few authorities to adopt plans and the effective veto on moving forward which this implies, has led the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to publish a Bill, which, when enacted, will transfer the powers for making waste management plans from elected representatives to the executive of the Local Authority, in this case the County Managers.

IBEC welcomes the Minister’s determination to see that the planning phase is brought to a close in the near future, but still has serious concerns regarding implementation of plans.

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