Ireland moves to tackle waste crisis

The Irish environment minister, Noel Dempsey, has announced new measures he hopes will tackle the nation’s continuing inability to cope with a huge increase in waste which has matched its impressive economical growth.

Speaking at the annual National Waste Conference, held on 25 September in the town of Dundalk, Dempsey announced that the fast-developing nation had “moved in recent months from a potential crisis caused by the non-adoption of key regional waste plans (see related story and related story) to a new situation of opportunity created by the final adoption of those plans.” The government had achieved this by stripping locally-elected representatives of the final power of approval of waste management plans, after many had criticised government strategy as “unrealistic”.

The minister said that to make the plans work he was asking local authorities to prioritise elements dealing with segregated collection services, waste minimisation, local waste recycling infrastructure and public education and awareness, and advised that “a clear programme of action should now be put in place to fast-track implementation of these important elements”.

As part of its plans, the government is to introduce a levy on plastic shopping bags from 2002, at a rate of IR£0.15 (£0.12) per bag, which Dempsey predicts will greatly reduce the nation’s current consumption of 1.2 billion plastic bags per year and “create an opportunity to make shopping a more sustainable activity in the future”.

The government also announced a forthcoming strategy for waste prevention and recovery and a new capital grants scheme, amounting to some IR£100 million (£79 million) to support substantial investment in waste recovery infrastructure under the regional plans, with new support available through public/private partnerships.

A new “Environment Fund” will also shortly come into operation, financed by the plastic bag levy and a forthcoming landfill levy which will help finance a wide range of waste management and other environmental initiatives at national and local levels. This will have a strong emphasis on initiatives such as waste reduction programmes, research and development projects, equipping and operation of re-use and recycling activities, environmental partnership projects and environmental awareness, education and training.

In his speech, Dempsey emphasised the importance of raising public awareness and gaining its support, adding that local people simply need some encouragement to visit their local “bring” bank or civic amenity site. The minister said that it is a “little-known fact” that 1,000 such places exist. He warned, however, that the governmental strategy is a long-term one as problems “are not eliminated simply by the adoption of waste management plans” and “full implementation of the local and regional plans will take time”.

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