The short answer to the Deputy's question is "no", as I do not propose to introduce legislation on the lines suggested in the question. Incineration with energy recovery forms an important part of a modern, integrated and sustainable approach to waste management consistent with the internationally accepted waste hierarchy. Its role is fully recognised within the European Union environmental framework which, moreover, regulates waste incineration in accordance with strict environmental standards. This approach is the world's gold standard.
The Scandinavian countries, Germany and the Netherlands, which are often cited as adhering to the highest environmental standards and providing a model of best practice, use incineration with energy recovery as a key part of their approach to solid waste treatment. They combine this with extremely high levels of waste recycling to minimise the amount of residual waste landfilled. They also count combined heat and power — CHP — as a form of recovery because energy is recovered. This is a model which Ireland should also move towards, attaining the highest possible levels of recycling, incinerating non-recyclable waste with energy recovery in the form of electricity, district heating or both and landfilling only a small proportion of inert waste.
Ireland has significantly increased its recycling levels in recent years. While municipal waste recycling has increased from only 9% in 1998 to a current level of 34%, this alone does not prevent a growing volume of waste going to landfill because the general level of waste is increasing. It is evident that if we are to make further progress in diverting waste away from landfills, we need to focus more on waste minimisation and reduction as well as energy recovery through incineration.
At a minimum, waste to energy plants are subject to stringent emission limits provided for in the EU incineration directive. The certification issued recently by the Environmental Protection Agency imposes even more stringent requirements.
It is worth recalling that, although Ireland has no municipal waste incinerators, ten industrial incinerators are currently licensed by the Environmental Protection Agency. If these were closed down by a ban, significant job losses would follow and foreign direct investment would be adversely affected, outcomes Deputy Morgan and his party would not welcome. The nine such incinerators which operated in 2000 when the agency carried out its inventory of dioxin emissions were estimated to contribute a tiny fraction of such emissions nationally. A 2010 projection, which assumed the operation of a number of large scale municipal waste incinerators, suggested they would account for less than 2% of dioxin emissions to air.
I am confident there are no grounds to impose a blanket ban on incineration. I am also satisfied that incineration with energy recovery operating to modern standards and using best available technology has an important role to play within an integrated waste management approach.