Irish Examiner Editorial - 05/01/06
Reliance on landfill for the disposal of waste is no longer a realistic option, as we have come a long way from the “throw it in a hole and forget about it” approach, according to Environment Minister Dick Roche.
He contends that we have been adopting a new approach that meets the highest European standards.
Prior to the 1990s, the concept of municipal waste recycling was virtually non-existent in this country. However, by 1998, it had grown to 9% of all municipal waste, and it more than tripled over the following five years.
There is no doubt that the best way of tackling the waste issue is to prevent waste in the first place, and to reuse and recycle as much as possible of the waste that remains.
Once this has been achieved, Mr Roche contends that the remainder should be incinerated to generate energy in the form of electricity, or heating.
In Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark, they have reduced dependency on landfill to around 10%, which compares with 78% in this country. Was this strictly the result of incineration, or have we still got a long way to go before turning to incineration?
It is simplistic to suggest that opponents of incineration are calling for landfill as the only solution to the waste problem, as it is for proponents of incineration to suggest that it would be a panacea to eliminate the need for landfill. Incineration produces toxic emissions that ultimately lead to a deterioration of the environment.
Those countries that Mr Roche lauded for their use of incinerators have the highest levels of dioxins and the most polluted air, according to his critics.
We must be careful not to go blindly down the road of incineration, because we are not sure of the real implications. Instead, we should keep an open mind and consider all options.
This country has actually taken the lead in some areas. The plastic bag levy was first introduced here, and its widespread acceptance has attracted considerable international attention, as has the environmental success of the smoking ban.
From the early rumbling of revolt among both smokers and publicans, the ban has since been broadly welcomed, with strong approval coming even from smokers.
This could blaze a trail. Spain is the latest country to introduce a smoking ban, and a number of other countries are seriously considering following suit.
More than a quarter of a century ago, this country took a lead in banning the advertising of tobacco. As a result, we should not necessarily feel a need to follow the lead of any other country.
We have shown that we can lead in such environmental matters and we should have the confidence to consider carefully the broader ramifications of waste disposal, so that the practices that we implement are in the best interest of the Irish people.
We should consider this not just from an economic standpoint, but more importantly from a health perspective, in the full knowledge that the most healthy practices will ultimately be the most environmentally friendly.
Harbour Alliance for a Safe Environment