Ireland faces waste management crisis

Ireland is facing a crisis in its waste management system, with businesses in some areas having no method of waste disposal, says a leading industry body.

The Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC), which represents 7,000 companies from all sectors of economic and commercial activity, says that Ireland is grinding to a halt because of ‘nimbyism’, with essential services such as new waste management facilities being blocked and delayed as soon as a potential site for a project is identified.

It has become virtually impossible to site any type of waste management facility, says the IBEC, including bottle banks, landfill and thermal treatment plants, resulting in many landfill sites facing closure without an alternative being proposed. In Galway, for example, businesses have had no access to waste disposal facilities in the region from 1 February 2001, and in Louth, councillors are facing a heated debate on whether they can even agree a plan for the region.

The IBEC argues that with the technology available today, incineration is a safe and effective option for treating waste, without which the country will be unable to meet its international obligations on refuse. The solution also requires clear objective leadership, says the IBEC, with a central national waste authority needed in order to bring coherence to a national waste strategy – which would include prevention and recycling.

There is no validity in the argument that thermal treatment reduces the amount of waste recycled, says the IBEC, citing Denmark and the Netherlands as examples of countries that utilise high levels of thermal treatment for waste at the same time as having high recycling rates. This is a situation which Ireland cannot even aspire to at the moment, says the IBEC.

The Environment Ministry agrees that there is significant opposition to landfill and incineration facilities in Ireland, and notes that those objecting acknowledge that even with recycling and waste reduction, an amount of residual waste will still need to be disposed of. The Ministry requires local authorities to provide facilities for the safe disposal of waste, which are licensed by the Environmental Protection Agency. “It is a matter for each local authority, and it is a matter of speculation whether the Minister will intervene,” an Environment Ministry spokesman told edie.

Noel Dempsey, Minister for the Environment, recently announced European Commission funding of £855 million IEP (£682 million) over the period 2000 to 2006 for the Economic and Social Infrastructure Operational Programme. Of the grant, £71 million IEP (£57 million) will go to improving waste water facilities, £43 million IEP (£34 million) is designated for the promotion of energy conservation and efficiency and the greater use of renewable energies, and £210 million IEP (£168 million) will go to public transport.

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