"That Dáil Éireann:
acknowledges the gravity of the crisis caused for wildlife and for rivers, lakes and oceans by the quantities of plastics which are finding their way into the environment;
recognises that the production of each tonne of plastic causes the emission of six tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere;
notes the success of deposit and return schemes in other jurisdictions;
emphasises the importance of the 'polluter pays' principle and the transition to a circular economy;
calls on the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment to exercise his powers under the Waste Management Act 1996 to:
— establish a deposit and return scheme for closed drinks containers, subject to any appropriate exemptions;
— require those who produce or import such containers or put them on the market to cover the costs of operating the scheme in line with the established practice of producer responsibility;
— impose a general ban on single use plastic items such as plastic cutlery, straws, stirrers and other tableware, with appropriate exemptions for medical and other essential uses;
— impose a two-tier levy on disposable cups for beverages etc., of €0.15 for noncompostable coffee cups and €0.05 for compostable coffee cups; and
— devote the proceeds of this levy to public awareness and to the development of infrastructure for effective disposal of compostable coffee cups and other compostable materials; and
calls on the Government to:
— recognise the support which the Dáil and the Select Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment gave to the Waste Reduction Bill 2017; and
— approve the issuing of a money message for the Waste Reduction Bill 2017."
How did we get here? It is beyond frustrating that it has come to the point that Deputy Eamon Ryan and I have to bring the Waste Reduction Bill 2017 again before the Dáil. This Government has blocked and obstructed at every stage the opportunity for this Dáil and, in particular, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment to do their job, to deliver and to work with legislation that has passed Second Stage. The former Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, consistently refused to issue a money order for the Waste Reduction Bill 2017 because this Government does not want to act on climate change. My understanding is that the new Minister with that responsibility will maintain that refusal tonight and take the cynical step of kicking the can down the road with a national review.
This Government does not want to take action on plastic pollution. It does not want to take action on the health of our seas or our environment. It seems to have to be dragged kicking and screaming as slowly and reluctantly as possible into the tiniest amount of climate action it can possibly get away with. Children in primary and secondary schools up and down the country are doing more than the Government to protect our environment. So many people get it. It is a pity and a shame that the Government would not take its lead from the youth of our country who are demanding action on plastic waste. The Minister needs to sit up and take notice because he is way behind the curve on this.
We do not have much time to deal with these problems and challenges. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC's, report two weeks ago showed us that the clock is ticking on climate action. We have 12 years to make a difference. By the time the Government waits around and twiddles its thumbs with a review, as it did when my Green Party colleague, Senator Grace O'Sullivan, put forward a Bill to ban microbeads two years ago, which it is only getting around to introducing now, our precious marine environments will be even more beset with plastic. We will reach a point not that far into the future when we will have to change our phrases and idioms. It will be a case of "there is plenty more plastic in the sea" because plastic will outweigh fish.
We have seen time and again when the cameras are on Ministers that they say the right thing and run slick public relations campaigns but away from the bright lights, they do not care. In a keynote speech to the European Parliament and during his election campaign to become leader of Fine Gael, the Taoiseach made all the right noises and said all the right thing. He said climate action would be his main focus. Ireland would be a laggard no more, he proclaimed, but we are further behind than ever before. Similarly with this Bill the Government says the right things in Dáil debates. It briefs the media on the issue positively but when the substantive work needs to be done in the committee rooms, it is a different story. The Government shamefully uses administrative manoeuvres to block progress. The truth is it is more interesting in protecting itself and its electoral prospects than protecting our rivers, streams, seas and lakes.
This is an important Bill. It tackles the core of the plastic problem that plagues our country and our world - the trillions of disposable products that are used for just a few minutes but can pollute our environment for centuries. We can be in no doubt that plastic is wreaking havoc on our marine environment, killing dolphins, choking turtles and degrading our most precious habitats. It is vital that we act and just as vital that we take that action now. In Ireland, we produce 210,000 tonnes of plastic every year and according to the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, only 40% of plastic packaging is recycled. Ireland uses and disposes of 200 million coffee cups annually. The measures in this Bill are necessary and the Government knows that, so what exactly is it afraid of? Does it simply not get it or not want to get it? It is disgracefully nonchalant about one of the most critical challenges facing us. This is an opportunity to lead but the Government is content to wait until it is pushed when these measures become mandatory under EU rules.
The public knows these measures are necessary. We watched "Drowning in Plastic" on BBC and we watched "Blue Planet II" in horror. We read the story of the whale that died from eating more than 80 pieces of plastic rubbish. We have seen the photographs of a stork trapped in a plastic bag and of a turtle with a straw trapped in its nose. The Irish people know we need to take action for our future and our children's future. They believe we can still make a difference. They want to make a difference and we can have change.
The Waste Reduction Bill 2017 presents an opportunity to have a positive impact on tackling plastic waste but the Government has chosen cynical further delaying tactics like the national review it will shortly outline, further slowing down the process of change. That is not a surprise given its appalling track record on protecting our environment. Its national development plan was not even climate-proofed. The Minister's party, Fine Gael, recently had a green week not comprehending the irony of giving a single week in the year to being selectively green, where it tried to pass the blame and responsibility for its own policy failings to the people of Ireland, deflecting its own failures. The Taoiseach highlighted the benefits of switching to a reusable coffee cup while Government is blocking the Waste Reduction Bill 2018. The level of shallow doublespeak, contradictions and evasive inconsistencies beggars belief. All the facts and figures about plastic that I have just outlined, and that my colleague, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and Deputies around this House, will reference over the next two hours have been outlined in this House previously.
We held a Second Stage debate on this Bill facilitated by the Labour Party, and the Oireachtas committee has done detailed work on investigating and analysing the impact this Bill would have, recommending that it progress to the next Stage. Parties across the political spectrum and Independents, including Senators and Members of the European Parliament, have called for similar schemes and the Bill is supported by 60 Tidy Towns committees and the Friends of the Earth 'Sick of Plastic' campaign petition which has more than 15,000 signatures. However, the Government refuses to allow the Waste Reduction Bill 2017 to progress.
I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say. I wish him well in his new role but I am afraid it will likely disappoint anyone who cares about plastic waste. I believe Government intends to abstain on our motion and to initiate a review on the best way to tackle this issue. Is that not what Committee Stage is for? Is it not to tease through legislation forensically and tweak it to make it as fair and effective as possible? The best way to make progress on this issue is to listen to all the experts, activists, youth of our country, schoolchildren and legislators and respect the voice of the Dáil to issue the money order for the Waste Reduction Bill 2017 and let the members of the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment do their job.