Government bottles it and so Waste Reduction Bill languishes

What is Environment Minister Denis Naughten’s problem with deposit-refunds on bottles, cans and plastic bottles, and a ban on cups and tableware that can’t be composted or used again?

Government bottles it and so Waste Reduction Bill languishes

A cost analysis of the Waste Reduction Bill (2017) still hasn’t been issued. Without that analysis, the bill can’t proceed to committee stage, and without going to committee stage, it can never be refined by the political process, let alone become law.

Meanwhile, we are crunching along on bottles and cans every time we go to the local park, the local river bank, the local beach.

Oh, sorry, we’re not.

According to research commissioned by Repak (which is mandated by the Government to

promote recycling in industry and retail and to support domestic recycling), in response to the Waste Reduction Bill:

“The empirical evidence shows that the incidence of beverage containers in litter is very low. The extent of littering has declined in recent years and Ireland already has a range of measures in place to tackle litter.”

So those 670 cans and bottles the Donnybrook Scouts in leafy Dublin 4 collected in a couple of hours, between two bridges over the River Dodder last year, were a figment of our imagination.

And the Tallaght Community Council’s calculation that 95% of what they picked up during their clean-up of the Whitestown Stream area of Tallaght’s Sean Walsh Park was pure fantasy.

I don’t think so. Anyone can see the profusion of bottles and cans, which are the result of industrial-scale drinking in our parks and beauty spots.

Repak has estimated that bottles and cans account for only 5% our litter, but that statistic shows no sensitivity to the manner in which bottles and cans are discarded: All over the most lovely places.

This week’s national litter statistics show cigarette butts still accounting for the greatest proportion of litter, but followed closely by bottles and caps, glass and cans, at 17%, with food-related items next, at 9%.

The Waste Reduction Bill would massively reduce litter. And litter costs the taxpayer massively in terms of cleaning, amenity value, antisocial behaviour, and tourism revenue.

Scotland’s research, prior to their planned deposit system, showed it paying for itself within two years because of the reduction in litter, 17% of which they reckon to be bottles and cans.

They too have a beautiful country and, sadly, they too have an outdoor drinking culture.

A deposit system paid on bottles and cans wouldn’t sort the drinking, but it would sort the litter.

The people who drink outdoors would be less likely to throw the containers away if they knew they would soon be picked up by children, unemployed and homeless people, students, and community groups working for charity.

This is what happens in countries where a deposit system applies. It is reckoned that all beer containers in Ontario, Canada, are recycled, while in Iceland, 90% of cans and 87% of plastic bottles are recycled, and in Finland, 94% of cans and 92% of plastic bottles are recycled.

The latest Repak report represents deposit-charging countries as a delinquent minority, but nine EEA countries do, as do 11 US states. Deposit-chargers include Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Maine, Vermont, and California.

Repak make much of the fact that only four of the 10 European countries with the highest recycling rates charge deposits, but we can’t weigh this issue by tonnage alone. Drinks container deposits work because they stop this litter by empowering citizens.

In the most recent research they presented to the Government to dissuade them from charging deposits, they relied on one of the consultants who authored their report on the same issue for the minister for the environment in 2009, though this is presented as wholly new research.

Repak have been beating the same drum for a decade now. They are worried that the introduction of a deposit system would increase costs for producers and they warn that this increase might be passed onto the consumer.

It is true that, under current regulation, producers pay about 0.2c of the cost of recycling an item, whereas the European norm is more like 1c.

Repak says that for every €1 they spent in 2016, 57c went towards household recycling and only 20c towards co-ordinating the system. The 20-year-old Repak system is making a valuable contribution towards recycling.

However, it is not part of an integrated, national waste management strategy which would seriously tackle waste at source.

When you see Repak trumpeting how much more packaging waste per person is being recycled in Ireland than in Europe, as an average, you have to ask is that because we are consuming more?

We know we produce more plastic per person than any other country. When you hear Repak rejoicing that we have only two landfill sites left in Ireland, you think of the lands of poorly buried waste shown on Monday’s Ireland’s Wild Waste programme on RTÉ.

Oxigen Environmental, in Co Dublin, where I have smugly brought Green Party election posters to be recycled for a friend, were fined a mere €2,500 for burying waste, including asbestos, which produced a toxic leachate beside the lovely River Barrow.

KWD, near glorious Killarney, was taking in far for waste than it is licensed for. In Donegal, there is a moon landscape of waste near Moville and Bridgend. Greyhound have been fined again and again, at an average of €2,500.

The lack of a robust regulatory framework — the lack of anyone who cares enough — is blamed throughout. However, the underlying problem is the use of a simple business model to deal with an environmental problem which affects our whole society.

When waste is a product, the more we have the better it is.

The most worrying aspect of Repak’s opposition to deposits on drinks containers is their concern that they would lessen the flow of high-value, easily recycled items from the kerbside collections they manage and “reduce the economies of scale”.

The fundamental problem with the business model behind Indaver’s incinerator in Ringaskiddy, too, is the incentivisation of waste production.

By contrast, when waste management itself is a product, dumping is an attractive option for unscrupulous businesses.

The fact that Repak can’t see the ruination of our beauty spots with bottles and cans, and that they complain that reverse vending machines in shops and bring centres would impact their “economies of scale”, shows how a simple business model fails when applied to a nationwide environmental challenge.

If Minister Naughten got the finger out and progressed the Waste Reduction Bill, it would a real sign that the State cares enough to tame Ireland’s wild waste.

The Waste Reduction Bill would massively reduce litter. And litter costs the taxpayer massively

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