Irish Waste Advisory Group update, 30 June 2021

As the FEASTA representative on the Waste Advisory Group to the Irish Department of the Environment, I’ve been part of a consultation process over the past year exploring ways to bring the Circular Economy into a more central part of policy in Ireland.

Input from the Department at the meeting suggests that a lot is being done at present to move this forward. There has been a Circular Economy division established in the Department, to help with the process. A circular economy strategy document was released for consultation by the Department and received over 50 responses. The consultation process closed in early June and collation of the responses is in progress. It is expected that the document will be published in September, at the same time as the launch of the EPA Circular Economy Programme.

There has also been a launch of a Circular Economy Innovation Grant Scheme, which received over 70 applicants for the €250k fund. The areas include, inter alia, food waste, C&D waste, textiles etc. At the same time, the Circular Economy Bill is also in the drafting process at present.

A new Litter Infrastructure Support Grant Scheme will provide €4m for bin infrastructure and €1 for anti-litter awareness initiatives. My own reaction to this is that while reduction of litter in the countryside is a pretty obvious desire, funding more end-of-pipe solutions can only ever have modest impacts for as long as the flow of plastics into the marketplace (as both products and packaging) continues unhindered. I would like to see greater emphasis on reduction of plastic production at source, and a shift in pricing to include for full cover of clean-up costs within the prices of plastics; not dissimilar to the plastic bag tax.

I mentioned that while personal responsibility is undoubtedly important, it has taken on a place in the discussions that tends to shift the emphasis for measures and changes away from plastic production at source, and onto what people do with that plastic. Whether plastics end up as lister or waste still does not address the toxic load, oil/gas use and carbon footprint associated with production. Such a discussion is a distraction from the real work of capping production at source. The “Crying Indian” anti-litter ad campaign from the 1970s was funded by major plastics producers who at the same time were blocking legislation in the Senate for tighter controls on plastic production at source.

The Department responded by saying that the approach of addressing littering was being accompanied by policy changes to reduce the introduction of plastics into the marketplace; most notably in terms of single use plastics. The Single Use Plastic directive is due to be transposed on July 3rd of this year, and changes should become apparent in due course as the legislation begins to take effect. While I’m impatient for change on a much deeper and broader level, it is heartening to see the beginning of limits to production on the near horizon.

Overall there appears to be a lot of things happening in this area at government level; a welcome relief from the single-issue conversations since March 2020.

Féidhlim Harty is the FEASTA representative and one of 5 Environmental Pillar representatives at the DECC WAG process. His input into the 2020 Irish Circular Economy Waste Advisory Group process can be found here.

Featured image by Ishan @seefromthesky on Unsplash.

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