THIS week’s story, that it is necessary to put cameras on waste collection trucks to identify those who abuse the free waste recycling scheme by smuggling black-bin rubbish into green bins, says a lot about Ireland and not too much of it is admirable. It does though touch on a common theme.
It says a lot about our casual dishonesty and our attitude towards waste disposal and the environment. It also says that despite great advances in waste management and reduction there remains a rump who think the waste they generate is not their responsibility. That this issue came to the fore when 160 containers of Irish waste destined for China — yes, that China on the other side of the world — were turned back at Rotterdam because they were contaminated suggests a practice that might not be, by any criteria, a solution. If, say, 10 containers were blocked, the issue could be set aside but that 160 containers were rejected shows a deep cultural malaise.
This manifests itself in opposition to nearly any effort to process the waste we, as individuals or industry, generate. Next month, 20 years after it was proposed and a decade after it was approved by planning authorities, the Poolbeg incinerator in Dublin will start burning waste. An incinerator first proposed for Cork Harbour in 2001 is still in the planning process. The promoters await a ruling on a third planning application. Irrespective of your position on incinerators these timescales hardly represent a commitment to safe, clean or viable waste management.
Things are different in Sweden. For the last number of years, Sweden has imported rubbish to keep recycling plants going. Less than 1% of Swedish household waste has gone to landfill since 2011. The idea of contaminated waste — dirty nappies in the green bin — is all but unknown. Swedish incinerators power 250,000 homes and heat another 950,000. We still send around 40% of municipal waste to landfill. How reassuring it would be if we could power or heat some of the tens of thousands of houses needed over the next decade in this sensible, practical way.
A sizeable proportion of our waste does not even get that far. The problem of fly tipping is so great in Kerry, and in every other county, that Kerry County Council has been encouraged to take tougher action against offenders after the ineffectiveness of sanctions was highlighted. The council received 634 reports of illegal dumping last year but this led to only 17 prosecutions and nine convictions. Only 19 of the 66 litter fines issued (28.8%) were paid.
The December fish kill in north Cork, blamed on a deliberate discharge of raw slurry into the Owentaraglin was another example of this illegal indifference. Tragically, any comment on water protection must be framed by our reluctance to accept worthwhile outcomes invariably have a price.
The vast majority of people — and industries — have shown habits can be changed to protect the environment. It is therefore time to strengthen the penalties which can be imposed on polluters. After all, this minority are destroying the environment we all depend on and work so hard — but not hard enough — to protect.
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