The Waste Management Bill, 1995, was originally published in May 1995, together with a general policy statement and guide to the Bill. Presentation of the Bill fulfilled a specific programme inA Government of Renewal to bring forward framework legislation on the issue of waste. The Bill has received detailed consideration by Dáil Éireann including extensive consultation with interested parties by the Dáil Select Committee on Finance and General Affairs. The Bill was passed by the Dáil on 15 December 1995 with the revised short title the “Waste Management Bill, 1995”, which more accurately reflects its broad scope.
In the course of the debates in Dáil Éireann, I tried to be positive and receptive to the various amendments put forward. The Bill as presented to this House incorporates a significant number of amendments which I accepted, or initiated myself, in the Dáil. I want to signify to the House that I am willing to adopt a similar approach here.
The essential purposes of the measures which are provided for in the Bill are: to prevent and reduce waste production; to encourage and assist the recycling and recovery of waste and to apply strict control on the collection, movement and disposal of waste to reduce the risk to, and the impact on, the environment from these activities.
The Waste Management Bill now before this House will provide a comprehensive and yet flexible framework for legislative support for these policies well into the next century. I look forward to a positive and constructive debate here.
In recent decades we have witnessed a profound change in our attitudes to the environment. Economic growth and development remain important goals, but we now appreciate more fully that proper care must be taken of our environmental resources on which economic activity and, indeed, human survival ultimately are based. Sustainable development requires that, in pursuing economic development to meet the needs of the present generation, we do not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their needs in turn. Environmental protection and economic development must be mutually consistent and supportive. However, it can be difficult to give practical expression to this simple concept. This is particularly true in relation to waste management.
AGENDA 21, the most important product of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, stated that—
human health and environmental quality are being continually degraded by the increasing amount of waste being produced, despite increasing efforts to prevent waste accumulation and to promote recycling.
The statistics underlying these comments are convincing. The OECD area, comprising the world's most developed countries, generated some 9 billion tonnes of waste in 1990, including more than 300 million tonnes of hazardous waste. The European Union Fifth Environment Action Programme notes, as a disquieting trend, that despite increased efforts at waste prevention and recycling, waste production in the Community increased by 13 per cent between 1987 and 1992.
In Ireland we now generate annually an estimated 9 million tonnes of municipal and industrial waste in addition to even larger quantities of agricultural and other wastes. Municipal waste from the domestic and commercial sectors amounts to some 1.7 million tonnes and there are substantial costs associated with the safe management of these wastes. In 1994, expenditure on waste management by local authorities alone exceeded £65 million.
This pattern of waste generation is creating demands which are beyond the carrying capacity of the environment to sustain. However, waste is one of the most complex and problematic areas of present day environmental management. Waste issues are inextricably linked with consumption, lifestyle, economic activity and industrial policy. The solution requires acceptance of the principle of shared responsibility for the environment by everyone in the community. It will also require radical changes to current waste management practices and adjustments for all of us in our lifestyles.
European Union legislation and policy now represents a major input to the approach to waste management in all European member states. Almost all waste comes within the scope of the important Framework Directive on Waste which was updated in 1991. There are several EU directives in relation to specific aspects of waste, such as incineration, waste oils, batteries, PCBs, packaging, imports and exports of waste. Draft directives are also under consideration in relation to landfill of waste and end-of-life vehicles.
The European Union involvement in waste issues is driven by the need to provide a high level of protection for the environment and also to maintain a level playing field for industry and business. It is motivated by the transboundary nature of many waste issues and by the need to ensure an integrated and adequate network of waste management facilities right across the European Union. Few countries are completely self-sufficient in this regard: it can be necessary to rely on specialised facilities located elsewhere in the EU for disposal and recycling of certain wastes.
EU waste policy is based on a well known hierarchy of principles: these give first preference to 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 reaction to waste management. The public has become rightly more sensitive to the environmental aspects of waste management and disposal. This is leading to increased public support for waste prevention and recycling in addition to insistence on higher standards of waste disposal.
Major changes on the ground are visible compared to recent years. More than 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 the implementation of higher standards. These higher costs in themselves provide an incentive to prevent and recycle waste. There is a growing involvement of the private sector in Irish waste operations.
The national strategy, "Recycling for Ireland", has placed the promotion of recycling high on the Government's agenda. The focus of this strategy is on the commercial and domestic waste streams. It sets an overall target of diverting 20 per cent of this waste from landfill to recycling within five years, compared to the current diversion rate of only 8 per cent. In line with the concept of producer responsibility, an industry task force was formed to respond to this strategy and to develop a mechanism whereby industry can deliver on the national recycling targets set by the Government. The result was the launch last week of the REPAK initiative which commits Irish business and industry to a proactive and organised role in promoting recycling of packing wastes.
A range of other measures and instruments is being developed to promote a more sustainable approach to waste management in Ireland. These include the 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, closure and aftercare of landfill sites by local authorities; provision of EU co-financing, under the operational programme for environmental services 1994-99 of approximately £30 million to assist better waste planning and the provision of waste recovery and hazardous waste management facilities; a study by the Economic and Social Research Institute on economic elements of a strategy for optimal solid waste management in Ireland and for the use of economic instruments for environmental purposes, which was published in November 1995 and a major project on waste statistics which is being carried out by the Environmental Protection Agency.
All these responses show that many changes have already taken place in Ireland in favour of more progressive and sustainable approaches to waste management. The Waste Management 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. With the enactment of the Bill, Ireland's framework of environmental legislation will be substantially complete.
Fundamental principles are clearly established in the Bill. Many of the specific measures and obligations for which provision is made, together 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 Bill are 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; a range of measures which can be applied as necessary to improve our performance in relation to prevention, minimisation and recovery of wastes and a comprehensive statutory framework for the applications of higher environmental standards in response to EU and national waste management requirements. I will first outline the Bill's structure and then describe some of its more important features. I will be glad to respond at the conclusion of Second Stage to any points or queries Senators raise.
The Bill is broadly 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 and 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 the movement of waste internally and internationally. Part V provides for the establishment of an integrated licensing system to be operated by the Environmental Protection Agency in respect of major 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 pollution legislation. Part VII contains miscellaneous provisions and deals in particular with policy directions in relation to waste planning, 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 categories of waste and hazardous waste. The Third and Fourth Schedules specify waste recovery and disposal activities which are licensable, while 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 other than the specific wastes and waste activities excluded by section 3, which are already covered by existing legislation. These exclusions relate principally to sewage and sewage effluent, radioactive wastes and dumping at sea, all of which are controlled under statutory codes already in force.
The Bill does not extend to the reform and updating of the law on litter, which is at present contained in the Litter Act, 1982. I am committed to this as a separate legislative proposal which I hope to publish within a matter of months. I will return to the House with my proposals on litter in 1996. Litter is different from a generality of waste — for example, it is difficult to ascribe ownership to it and it does not present the characteristics of toxicity associated with solid wastes which the Bill will control. It is generally dealt with separately from solid waste. However, it is my intention on Committee Stage to bring forward amendments to the Waste Management Bill to replace and incorporate in waste legislation certain provisions of the Litter Act dealing with abandoned vehicles. This issue is important enough to bring to the House immediately rather than wait for the litter Bill which will follow later this year.
Part II 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 county councils and county borough corporations 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 this plan.
County councils and county borough corporations 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 to provide for public input before the preparation of a plan commences and again when a draft plan is available.
The Bill specifies certain matters to be dealt with in waste and hazardous waste management plans. Specifically, 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 co-ordinate their plans or to make joint plans, and to require that a local authority plan may be varied. These proposals are intended to significantly strengthen the function of planning for waste management.
Part III of the Bill contains various innovative provisions aimed at minimising the production of waste and maximising the recovery of such waste as cannot be avoided. Section 28 especially deals with waste prevention and represents the significant "front-end" approach to secure the avoidance of waste. For the first time, there will be a general obligation on persons engaged in any agricultural, commercial or industrial activity to have regard to the need to minimise waste.
The section provides for support programmes in respect of research and 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, requirements on the producers to carry out life cycle assessments of the environmental impacts of their products 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 plans they have and the steps they have taken to comply with all these regulations.
Section 29 provides for a range of measures to promote the recovery of waste, including important reserve powers for the Minister for the Environment. For example, the Minister 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 products or packaging. Section 29 also provides for a scheme of recycling credits to be operated by local authorities.
These powers would enable the Government and relevant environmental authorities to secure our national waste recycling objectives using a traditional command and control approach. However, the Government has decided not to adopt this approach in the first instance. Instead, industry is being entrusted with responsibility to meet specific objectives on a voluntary basis.
Senators will be aware of the new organisation, launched last week, REPAK, which will be run and financed by industry to co-ordinate and finance the collection and recycling of packaging waste. Such voluntary, industry led recycling schemes have already achieved good results in other EU and OECD countries, and this voluntary arrangement between Government and industry may be the forerunner of other co-operative measures for the benefit of the environment.
I have already indicated that I am prepared to deploy all appropriate powers that will be available to me under the Bill in order to support the operation of voluntary schemes. I will not accept a situation where an unfair burden is carried by progressive businesses which participate voluntarily and responsibly in arrangements such as REPAK. There will be no free rides for those companies who choose to be environmentally less sensitive.
Fears were expressed in the other House on my approach on this issue, where I would, in the first instance, seek voluntary compliance. The initial response from IBEC and the launch of REPAK has given me great heart and underscores the correctness of the approach to harness voluntary goodwill and support in the first instance. However, ultimately, I am seeking from the House a range of specific powers in the Bill to ensure that the targets are reached, if not by voluntary measures, then by enacting the statutory provision I am seeking.
I expect public authorities to lead by example in relation to 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, transporting 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 such 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 area 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 own 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 bye-laws controlling the presentation of waste for collection within their areas. Bye-laws could be used, for example, to regulate the time and manner for leaving out waste for collection. We all see people leaving out plastic bags for collection days in advance. They will have the power to make bye-laws to reduce litter and to facilitate the segregation and separation of recyclable wastes. The Bill provides wide powers for the Environmental Protection Agency and major local authorities to control the movement of individual waste consignments 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 that 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 facilities. The present position is that county councils and county borough corporations are responsible for the planning, organisation, authorisation and supervision of waste operations in their functional areas. These local authorities are, therefore, in the invidious position of being both poacher and gamekeeper in relation to waste disposal. This situation 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 — BATNEEC — will be used to prevent, limit or reduce emissions from the activities concerned, that such emissions will comply with any relevant environmental standards and that the activity will not cause environmental pollution. The enforcement of waste licence conditions will be a matter for the agency.
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, will not require a licence under this legislation.
The Bill's provisions for public consultation and the making of objections in relation to licensing decisions are similar to those applying at present 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 have power under section 39 to exempt other specified waste activities from waste licensing and to apply other appropriate controls. For all 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 to fully apply existing and prospective EU standards and requirements in relation to waste recovery and disposal in a manner which also engenders public confidence.
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 would be polluters.
Part VI of the Bill contains a range of provisions for various purposes. I refer in particular to section 64 which covers 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 which is provided for in this section will ensure that a comprehensive range of information may be obtained to facilitate the preparation of a national toxics emissions inventory by the Environmental Protection Agency. 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. There is a commitment in this regard inA Government of Renewal.
A requirement on companies to report on their waste production for the purposes of a toxics release inventory has been shown in the United States and some other countries as a most effective means to promote waste reduction. It has gained widespread support, including support from the companies, many of which were initially surprised at the magnitude of their releases into the environment and the potential for cost savings by reducing waste at source. I had interesting discussions with major companies on this matter and I detected a strong willingness to become involved in the analysis of their waste production at source. 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 Management 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 which we will impose. 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 throw away 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 towards the need for waste prevention. We need also a significant increase in recycling performance, accompanies and supported by an expansion in 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 that the polluter pays. The Waste Management Bill is comprehensive and in many respects radical legislation which I believe will support all the objectives I have outlined.
I commend the Bill to the House.