The topical issue of dumping at sea indicates the change in attitude of the general public to the environment. Irish authorities have already raised this issue at the appropriate international fora. We will continue to press, alongside many of our European partners, for a halt to this marine dumping proposal, pending a review at the Joint Oslo Paris Commission meeting next week of the rules governing the disposal of redundant offshore installations. I intend personally to raise this issue at a formal meeting of EU Environment Ministers to be held on Thursday and Friday this week in Luxembourg.
EU legislation and policies now represent a major input to the approach to waste management in all member states. Both hazardous and non-hazardous wastes are controlled under the important Framework Directive on Waste which was updated in 1991. There are European Union legislative provisions also in relation to waste movement and export, packaging waste recycling, waste incineration and, prospectively, landfill of waste.
The European Union involvement in waste issues is driven by the need to maintain a level playing field for industry and business, based on high environmental standards. It is motivated also by the transboundary nature of many waste issues and by the need to ensure an integrated and adequate network of waste management facilities across the Union. Few countries are completely self-sufficient in this regard: it can be necessary to rely on facilities located elsewhere in the European Union both for specialised waste disposal and for recycling purposes.
EU waste policy is based on a well known hierachy of principles: these give priority first to the prevention and minimisation of waste, then to their reuse and recovery and finally to the environmentally sound disposal of wastes which cannot otherwise be dealt with.
Ireland too is experiencing many changes of attitude and practice in relation to waste management. The public have become rightly more sensitive to the environmental hazards of waste disposal. This is leading to increased public support for waste prevention and recycling, as well as insistence on higher standards for waste disposal.
Major changes on the ground are visible compared to only four or five years ago. Nearly 400 collection points for recyclable materials have been established around the country. New landfills have been provided which embody sophisticated leachate and gas control systems. The price of waste disposal is rising substantially as a result of these higher standards. This is economically onerous but environmentally progressive in so far as it makes recycling a more viable economic option. There is a growing involvement of the private sector in Irish waste operations.
There is also in place a Government approved national recycling strategy. An industry task force is responding to this strategy and has recently extended its work by the engagement of international consultants who will help to complete the report. I regard the work of the industry task force as important and urgent and I look forward to receiving its proposals soon.
A range of other measures and instruments is being developed to promote a more sustained and sustainable approach to waste management in Ireland. These include application of integrated pollution control licensing under the Environmental Protection Agency Act, 1992 for certain waste activities; development by the agency of criteria and procedures for the selection, management, operation and termination of landfill sites by local authorities; provision of EU co-financing — under the Operational Programme for Environmental Services 1994-99 — of some £30 million to assist better waste planning and the provision of waste recovery and hazardous waste management facilities; studies now in progress by the Economic and Social Research Institute on the economic elements of a strategy for optimal solid waste management in Ireland and for the use of economic instruments for environmental purposes, and a major project on waste statistics now being initiated by the Environmental Protection Agency.
All these responses show that many changes have already taken place in Ireland to adapt to the more progressive and sustainable approaches to waste management which are increasingly being pursued in the developed world.
The Waste Bill is a new and major contribution to this process. It is a framework proposal which will provide the necessary enabling and regulatory powers to apply and adapt policy measures in the face of changing environmental, economic, technical and administrative conditions. Fundamental principles are clearly established in the Bill. Many of the specific measures and obligations provided for, with many detailed technical standards and administrative procedures, will remain to be applied by way of secondary legislation which will follow as a matter of priority after the Bill is enacted.
The main objectives of the Waste Bill are to provide for a more effective organisation of public authority functions in relation to waste management, involving new or redefined roles for the Minister for the Environment, the Environmental Protection Agency and local authorities; enabling measures, designed to improve our performance in relation to the prevention, minimisation and recovery of wastes; and a comprehensive statutory framework for the application of higher environmental standards, in response to European Union and national waste management requirements.
I would like first to give a brief outline of the structure of the Bill and then to describe some of its more important features. I will be glad to respond at the conclusion of Second Stage to all points Deputies may raise. A detailed explanatory and financial memorandum on the Waste Bill has already been circulated, with a more general policy statement and guide to the Bill.
The Bill is structured in seven parts. Part I contains standard provisions dealing with such matters as interpretation, regulations, offences, penalties and other general matters. There are also provisions regarding information, monitoring and inspection, and the powers of authorised officers. Part II deals with waste management planning. It provides for the making of a national hazardous waste management plan by the Environmental Protection Agency and for improved and systematic arrangements for local authority waste management plans. Part III provides a framework for wide-ranging measures in support of waste prevention, minimisation and recovery. Part IV provides for basic obligations on all holders of waste, including householders, to prevent environmental pollution, and for the control of waste collection and movement internally and internationally.
Part V provides for the establishment of an integrated licensing system to be operated by the agency in respect of most waste recovery and disposal activities and for alternative controls in respect of other lower risk activities. Part VI contains provisions allowing various measures to be taken to prevent or mitigate environmental pollution caused by waste, similar to equivalent provisions under air and water legislation currently in place. Part VII contains miscellaneous provisions, and deals in particular with policy directions in relation to waste licensing and the movement of waste, the authorisation of waste disposal under other enactments, and powers to give effect to further EU obligations on waste.
The First and Second Schedules specify, respectively, categories of waste and hazardous waste. The Third and Fourth Schedules specify, respectively, waste recovery and disposal activities which are licensable. The Fifth Schedule deals with repeals and revocations.
The scope of the Bill as defined in Part I is very broad. The Bill relates to all types of waste apart from the specific wastes and waste activities excluded by section 3, which are already covered by other legislation. These exclusions relate principally to sewage and sewage effluent, radioactive wastes and dumping at sea, all of which are controlled under other statutory codes.
I should make it clear that the Bill will not extend either to the reform and updating of the law on litter, which is now contained in the Litter Act, 1982. I am committed to this as a separate legislative proposal which I hope to publish later this year. Litter is different from the generality of waste; for example, it is difficult to ascribe ownership to it and it does not present the characteristics of toxicity associated with the solid wastes which the present Bill will control. It is dealt with separately from solid waste in a number of legislative systems, including that of the United Kingdom.
Part II of the Bill provides for a more rigorous waste planning system involving, for the first time, a formal procedure for public consultation and input. The present position is that the major local authorities are required to prepare waste management plans, in respect of both non-hazardous and "special" wastes. The Bill provides that the Environmental Protection Agency will be required to prepare a national hazardous waste management plan. Other public authorities having a function in relation to hazardous waste will be required to have due regard to provisions contained in the national plan; the agency will be empowered to issue specific recommendations to individual local authorities arising from the plan.
The major local authorities will continue to prepare detailed waste management plans, either individually or jointly, to be reviewed every five years. These plans will deal primarily with non-hazardous wastes. A formal procedure for public consultation is being introduced.
The Bill specifies certain matters to be dealt with in waste and hazardous waste management plans. In particular, all waste management plans will be required to focus closely on the scope for waste prevention and waste recovery, including recycling. The Minister will have power to specify in detail the form and content of local authority plans, to require local authorities to coordinate their plans or to make joint plans, and to require that a local authority plan be varied. These proposals are intended significantly to strengthen the function of planning for waste management.
Section 28 in particular deals with waste prevention and represents the very significant new "front end" approach to secure the avoidance of waste. It provides for support programmes in respect of research or development projects and for the imposition of a range of possible regulatory measures. These may include requirements on service, commercial or industrial activity to carry out waste audits and waste reduction programmes, and stringent controls upon the import, production or use of problematic substances or products. They may also include the publication of reports by businesses as to the steps they have taken to comply with these requirements.
Section 29 provides for a range of measures to promote the recovery of waste. For example, the Minister for the Environment will be empowered to introduce mandatory deposit and refund schemes, take-back requirements to be operated by producers or consumers and charges by retailers for items of packaging. Section 29 also provides for a scheme of recycling credits to be operated by local authorities.
An exemption from some of the mandatory provisions of section 29 may be given to companies which participate in voluntary recycling schemes which have been approved by the Minister. This combination of mandatory take-back obligations which are held in reserve and voluntary industry led arrangements is already operating successfully in a number of EU countries.
I expect public authorities to lead by example in pursuing sustainable activity and demonstrating best environmental management practice, through good housekeeping and environmentally-sensitive procurement policies. Sections 30 and 31 make appropriate provision in this regard. Among other things, they require the Minister for the Environment to promulgate a comprehensive programme for the prevention, minimisation and recovery of waste by public authorities in carrying out their operations.
Part IV relates to the holding, collection and movement of waste. This Part contains some of the basic statutory provisions for environmental protection against irresponsible handling or disposal of waste. Section 32 expressly prohibits any person from holding, recovering or disposing of waste in a manner which may cause environmental pollution. It prohibits a person holding waste from handing the waste over to a person who is not properly authorised to deal with waste.
Part IV also clarifies and expands the role of local authorities in relation to waste collection. In general, local authorities will be required to ensure that there is an adequate household waste collection service within their functional areas and, if necessary, to provide, or arrange for the provision of, necessary services. Local authorities will be empowered to provide collection services for non-household wastes at their discretion.
Waste collection services are increasingly being provided by commercial operators. In order to ensure that these operations are carried out in an environmentally sound manner, the Bill provides that commercial collectors of waste will require a permit from the relevant local authority.
Local authorities will also be empowered to make by-laws controlling the presentation of waste for collection within their areas. For example, by-laws could be used to regulate the time and manner for leaving out waste for collection, to reduce litter and to facilitate the segregation and separate collection of recyclable wastes. The Bill confers wide powers on the Environmental Protection Agency and major local authorities to control the movement of individual waste consignments, both within the country and internationally.
Part V of the Bill relates to the provision and licensing of waste recovery and disposal facilities. The major local authorities will have a statutory duty to ensure there are adequate facilities for the recovery or disposal of domestic wastes arising in their areas and will be empowered to provide any other infrastructure considered necessary for good waste management.
A major organisational reform proposed in the Bill is that the Environmental Protection Agency will be made responsible for the licensing of all significant waste recovery and disposal activities. The present position is that the 34 major local authorities — county councils and county borough corporations — are responsible for the planning, organisation, authorisation and supervision of waste operations in their areas. The larger local authorities are therefore in the position of being both "gamekeeper and poacher" in relation to waste disposal. This does not foster public confidence in local authority landfills, some of which are known to be operating below acceptable standards. It is more appropriate that waste disposal and recovery operations be licensed by a competent third party. The Environmental Protection Agency is the appropriate body, having the necessary expertise, to fulfil this important regulatory role.
Before granting a waste licence, the agency must be satisfied, among other things, that the best available technology not entailing excessive costs will be used to prevent, limit or reduce emissions from the activity concerned, that such emissions will comply with any relevant environmental standards and that the activity will not cause environmental pollution.
The Bill sets out the criteria to be considered by the agency in determining BATNEEC for a particular activity. New facilities will generally be required to meet state of the art environmental standards. In the case of established activities, such as existing landfills, additional criteria will apply. Among these are the nature and age of a facility, its likely remaining operational lifespan and the cost of improvements in relation to the economic situation of the activity in question. In other words, somewhat less stringent standards may be applied to existing landfill operations for which there is a definite programme of closure. The Environmental Protection Agency may also impose conditions regarding adequate financial provision for closure and aftercare of a facility.
The agency will continue to operate the integrated pollution control licensing system established under the 1992 Act, where applicable, to control waste disposal activities. Those activities which are already licensable under the 1992 Act — which include virtually all waste incineration — will not require a licence under the Waste Bill.
The Bill's provisions for public consultation and the making of objections in relation to licensing decisions are similar to those applying in relation to licences granted by the agency under the 1992 Act and reflect the need for meaningful public participation while also facilitating the speedy processing of licence applications.
The recovery of sludges and natural non-hazardous agricultural wastes will not need a waste licence. The Minister for the Environment will also have power under section 39 to exempt other specified waste activities from waste licensing, so long as other appropriate controls are applied. For all of these wastes, the Bill provides for the possibility of alternative regulatory controls to be implemented by local authorities.
I am satisfied that the licensing regime provided for under this Bill will be rigorous and effective and will enable us fully to apply existing and prospective EU standards and requirements in relation to waste recovery and disposal in a manner which also engenders public confidence. This I regard as very important.
While compliance with waste licence conditions will be a matter for the agency, local authorities will be responsible for the day-to-day supervision of waste activities generally within their functional areas. Offences under the Bill will carry maximum penalties of fines up to £1,500 and or imprisonment for six months on summary conviction and of fines up to £10 million and or imprisonment for ten years on conviction on indictment. These penalties reflect the potential threat posed by improper waste management and are of an appropriate magnitude to act as a deterrent to any would-be polluter.
Part VI of the Bill contains a range of provisions for various purposes. I refer in particular to section 64, which relates to the provision of information in relation to the mass balance of substances used, consumed and released into the environment by particular processes. The "mass balance" approach provided for in this section will ensure that a comprehensive range of information may be obtained to facilitate the preparation of a national toxic emissions inventory by the Environmental Protection Agency, promised under the Programme for Government. This is intended to improve the quantity and quality of information available to the public and to facilitate and encourage the progressive reduction of certain hazardous wastes.
A requirement on companies to report on their waste production for the purposes of a toxic release inventory has been shown in the United States and some other countries to be a most effective means to promote waste reduction. It has gained widespread support, including support from companies many of which were initially surprised at the magnitude of their releases to the environment and the potential for cost savings by reducing waste at source. Voluntary programmes, jointly established by government and industry, for the phasing out of problematic chemicals are now operating very successfully in some countries. There is a significant body of international opinion that reductions of toxic waste at source can best be achieved through a combination of legislative requirements to secure good quality data on problematic substances and voluntary measures targeted at these substances and wastes.
The Waste Bill will have economic and financial implications for industrial, commercial, agricultural and consumer interests, as well as public authorities.
Increased costs will arise as a consequence of more stringent regulatory standards for waste treatment and disposal as well as recycling obligations.
The Bill will therefore impact financially on all of us whether as taxpayers or consumers. This is necessary so as to bring fuller pricing transparency to the impact of various consumer goods on the environment. There is now widespread acceptance that the "throwaway society" is not sustainable. I am confident that Irish householders, consumers and businesses will accept their responsibilities in this regard.
We need a major conversion of public attitudes and behaviour to the need for waste prevention. We need also a significant increase in recycling performance, accompanied and supported by an expansion and improvement of waste management facilities. Finally, there is scope for significant development of the private waste sector and for a more systematic application of the principles of shared responsibility, producer responsibility and the polluter-pays.
This Bill is comprehensive and in many respects radical legislation which will support all of these objectives. I heartily commend it to the House.