Mr Gormley said yesterday he believed waste contractors should have to pay levies to use incinerators in the same way that they currently pay for landfill. He also said he was considering preventing local authorities from making so-called “put or pay” deals guaranteeing to supply incineration firms with public waste or pay them cash compensation if waste flows fall below the required level.
The minister and Green Party leader told an environmental conference that if incinerators were built, they would put back efforts to find alternative ways of tackling the country’s waste problem by 25 years. “The waste hierarchy is sacrosanct,” he said. “Reduce, reuse and recycle come first — incineration and landfill are at the very bottom.”
Mr Gormley made his comments as An Bord Pleanála prepares to rule on a divisive incinerator proposal at Ringsend, in his own Dublin South East constituency, and as the courts prepare to consider a legal challenge to the Indaver incinerator project intended for Ringaskiddy in Cork.
He denied, however, that he was attempting to influence the progress of these and other proposals coming down the line: “I am not interfering. This is part of the Programme for Government and it was agreed by all parties. I am precluded from commenting on any application but I have to plan for the future.”
The minister said he would be considering MBT (mechanical biological treatment) as an alternative to incineration in a major review of waste policy which he said would begin before the end of the year and would be completed next year.
Managing director of Indaver Ireland, John Ahern, said he welcomed the review as he was confident incineration would be found to be a better option than MBT: “With MBT, about 70% of what goes into it, comes back out so you still need incineration to deal with the residual waste.”
He said that MBT could not be used on hazardous waste so it was not a viable alternative to the Ringaskiddy incinerator: “If, as the minister says, the review will be considering all the scientific evidence, we’ll be ok because the science backs incineration over MBT.”
Mr Gormley announced several other measures as part of a strengthened environmental policy. He said an advisory Climate Change Commission would be set up comprising experts from the fields of economics, science and the environment, with discussions to begin on the membership this week.
He said his department was also pursuing several pilot projects for harvesting rainwater for drinking supplies and he was keen to boost the NGO sector by including representatives from environmental groups as social partners.