Following is a summary of the input into the Irish Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment’s Waste Advisory Group consultation process on the circular economy by Feasta member Féidhlim Harty.
Ireland’s current waste policies are due for revision in mid 2020, and as such are currently being reviewed and updated into a new policy with a working title of “Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy”. This plan is to inform government policies in relation to waste prevention, waste management and hazardous waste. A Waste Advisory Group was set up to feed into the plan, chaired by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. As part of this process five representatives from the Irish Environmental Network were invited to participate. I was nominated as the representative from Feasta to attend and input into the 6-month consultation process (Jan-May 2020), along with the other Irish Environmental Network representatives: Sorcha Kavanagh from the Conscious Cup Campaign, Laura Niessen from the Rediscovery Centre, Mindy O’Brien from VOICE and Carrie-Ann Moran from NCBI. The advisory group also had representatives from the EPA, Local Authorities, trade unions, farmers groups and business sectors such as retail, manufacturing, waste management, hospitality and others.
The advisory group met for two discussion meetings in Dublin at the beginning of 2020, but the restrictions imposed in response to the Coronavirus meant that our meetings were moved to an online platform for the remaining 6 sessions. Each meeting had a set topic, covering the following areas:
1. Citizen engagement in the circular economy
2. Plastics and packaging waste
3. Deposit and return schemes
4. Market structure of the waste management industry
5. Food waste
7. Construction and demolition waste
8. Waste actions for a circular economy
The meeting format typically involved one or two speakers delivering a brief presentation on the topic under discussion, followed by contributions from participants. Discussions were often interesting, but I found it disturbing to see that a central theme was the importance of increasing Ireland’s recycling rates as a solution — without sufficient acknowledgement of the value of limiting the the generation of plastics etc. at the beginning of the supply chain. Also, I felt that there was insufficient realisation that we simply cannot build a circular economy on a foundation of fossil fuels. It’s a contradiction in terms to use non-renewable energy sources as the basis for a society which purports to be circular in its use of materials and resources.
That said, in general terms there seemed to be widespread acceptance in the Department and amongst participants of the importance of the circular economy and the ecological improvements that it promises. I also found it encouraging that a number of speakers mentioned the need to move away from the term waste and the wastefulness that it encourages and towards more careful management and rerouting of resources.
The time for meetings was generally quite brief so only a proportion of participants shared their perspective without really having the time and space to tease out the issues more thoroughly. Many of the discussions brought me into contact with opinions other than my own particular world-view. I’m sure it was probably good for me, even though seemingly business-as-usual attitudes are often a source of fear and sadness when viewed beside what we have to lose and have already lost in the world. It is possible that with more time and a greater number of face-to-face meetings we would have had more opportunity to get to understand more fully the different perspectives shared. This was highlighted for me when I followed-up on one seemingly divergent viewpoint in an email discussion and discovered a lot of common ground despite initial apparent differences.
What follows is a record of my contributions to the consultation process, with minor edits for clarity where necessary. The final document produced by the Department will be available in due course on their website.
Featured image: light experiment. Source: https://www.freeimages.com/photo/lighting-experiment-8-1469905
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