This is Part 3 of the input into the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment’s Waste Advisory Group consultation process on the circular economy by Feasta member Féidhlim Harty.
Following are my responses to the questions raised by the department for consideration as part of the third meeting:
In principle, would you support the introduction of a DRS as part of Ireland’s approach to meeting our targets under the SUP Directive?
In principle, yes I think that a DRS would certainly help to recoup plastic and aluminium for increased recycling of general waste – however it is very important that we move steadily away from plastic and aluminium entirely, and reintroduce the infrastructure for reusable glass bottles and jars. The carbon footprint of plastic (made increasingly from fracked gas) and aluminium (high embedded energy material) make these unsuitable as compared with reusable glass containers. Thus in a time when the IPCC has said we need urgent and unprecedented changes if we are to meet our climate targets (targets which are very important if we are to survive as a society into the next century) then we need to make changes across the board, including minimising the inherent energy involved in our packaging infrastructure.
If so, do you have a preference for a voluntary or statutory DRS?
Statutory measures are essential now. The time for voluntary participation has come and gone and the consequences of not reducing plastic in the environment and carbon footprint in packaging generally are too serious to let lie any longer.
Can the targets set by the EU be achieved without the introduction of a DRS – are there alternatives to DRS to achieve the targets?
Yes, there are alternatives – I am in favour of an immediate phase out of aluminium cans and plastic bottles from the supply chain, and the introduction of glass bottle/jar deposit and returns. This will require different infrastructure from automated plastic and aluminium return machines, so it may be best to return to a crated storage infrastructure as was in place only a generation ago.
Research suggests significant up-front capital cost for the introduction of a DRS. How should this be funded?
For plastic/aluminium DRS, the investment should come from the primary producers of either the packaging or the beverages within them. Coca cola bottles accounted for 43% of global plastic bottle litter in one survey, and should pay a proportionate cost of any DRS designed to reduce such pollution.
For glass bottle infrastructure, similarly the cost of the packaging and washing infrastructure should be paid for by the main producers. It would be helpful if the government were to fund a centralised national washing facility for receipt, washing, verification and redistribution of a standardised bottle style in a number of specific sizes; and similarly with jars. However the cost of this facility can be paid off over a number of years by the producers who use the bottles/jars. Any imported containers would need to pay a levy to cover the cost of separate management to ensure that the domestic glass washing market is protected from non-glass container imports, which would seriously undermine the environmental focus of the process. Ideally this would all be initiated at EU level, with washing facilities in each country or region and minimum movement of empties to minimise carbon footprint on transport.
Imagine having a washable container infrastructure in Ireland with zero waste and minimal energy inputs. Breakages can be recycled, but having fully washable containers will revolutionise our carbon and resource footprints and put us at the forefront of environmental policy at EU and global level. We were world leaders with the plastic carrier bag tax and can be again by heavily taxing non-glass containers and using the revenue to pay for the transition to reusable glass.
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