Irish Times - 13/01/06
Madam, - Environment Minister Dick Roche is this week claiming much credit for Ireland's recycling achievements, highlighted in the EPA's National Waste Report for 2004. However, examination of the data presented in the report shows that very little credit is due to the Minister and his predecessors.
The private waste industry, in co-operation with the industry body Repak, has achieved recycling rates of 50.8 per cent for commercial waste and 56.4 per cent for packaging waste. In addition, the private waste industry, in co-operation with the National Council for Construction and Demolition Waste, has achieved a recovery rate of 85.2 per cent for construction and demolition waste.
It is clear from these statistics that the waste industry is successfully recycling enormous quantities of waste and is leading the charge to fulfil our national obligations as set by the EU. This has been achieved without grant assistance from the current Government, despite previous promises to provide such assistance.
In the past four years, the Government has given approximately €100 million to local authorities in recycling grants, yet the national recycling rate for household waste is just 17 per cent. The EPA, in suggesting that this is figure is 19.5 per cent, has chosen to ignore the 227,374 tonnes of uncollected household waste. It is assumed by all parties that the missing waste is disposed of illegally by householders or rogue collectors.
The introduction of "pay-by-use" collection systems in the past year should see much improved household recycling figures in the 2005 data and the Minister and his staff can legitimately claim credit for introducing that policy. They now need to apply regulatory pressure to ensure that all householders have their waste collected in this "polluter-pays" manner. A side-effect of this policy is that the quantity of uncollected waste appears to be increasing as some householders develop their own solutions to waste management, usually involving an old barrel and some paraffin. Enforcement of the law in this regard is crucial to protect our air quality.
The EPA report highlights the country's poor position in relation to the diversion of biodegradable waste from landfill and rightly points out that our EU obligations for 2006 will not be met. In fact, in 2004 Ireland landfilled twice the quantity of biodegradable waste that we will be allowed to landfill in 2009.
This is an area where the waste industry has been frustrated by the constant refusal by local authorities to grant planning permissions for composting plants. I can think of four such refusals off-hand. Many county development plans lack provisions to allow development of such facilities.
The imminent National Strategy on Biodegradable Waste that the Minister claims will deal with our shortcomings in this area may well turn out to be a national strategy on incineration. The EU waste hierarchy places composting ahead of incineration and it would be wrong of the Irish authorities to focus on burning organic waste when it can be recycled as a soil conditioner through the composting process.
The waste industry is willing and able to collect and treat biodegradable waste without financial assistance from the Minister and will be ready to do so when the barriers to the provision of composting infrastructure are lifted by the authorities.
There is a lot done, but more to do. Mr Roche can keep taking the plaudits; we'll just get on with the recycling. - Yours, etc,
Harbour Alliance for a Safe Environment