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Seanad Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 14 Jun 2022

Vol. 286 No. 2

Circular Economy, Waste Management (Amendment) and Minerals Development (Amendment) Bill 2022: Second Stage

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I wish Senators a good afternoon. Today's throwaway take-make-waste culture is neither economically or environmentally sustainable. A circular economy would produce less waste and retain more value in our economy for longer.

What does the circular economy mean in practice? It is easy to say we want a less wasteful economy but what steps do we need to take to make the transition from a wasteful linear economy to a circular economy a reality? Those next steps are the substance of this Bill, which provides a legislative framework within which we can make that transition. Firstly, the Bill provides the legislative basis to place the circular economy strategy, circular economy programme and the national food waste prevention roadmap on a statutory footing. This will ensure the transition to the circular economy remains a national policy priority. Under this Bill, the Minister with responsibility for the environment will have the power to introduce new environmental levies on a range of single-use packaging and on food containers. The initial focus here will be on the introduction of a levy on disposable hot drink cups later this year. The precise details of that levy will be set out in secondary legislation. All the proceeds from these new environmental levies will be ring-fenced in a circular economy fund for projects relating to environmental and climate action objectives.

The objective of the new levies is not to raise revenue but to encourage the use of reusable alternatives so that the consumer never incurs the levy in the first place. This use of economic instruments to incentivise sustainable behaviour works because we have seen it work with the plastic bag and landfill levies.

Since inception in 2001, the environment fund has provided ring-fenced funding to a range of environmental initiatives. The Bill replaces the environment fund with a new circular economy fund, which will continue to support those environmental initiatives but with a greater focus on promoting the circular economy.

Last January, we had a very thorough debate in this House on the use of CCTV and other technologies by local authorities for waste enforcement. That debate was taken in the context of a Bill, sponsored by Senator Malcolm Byrne, entitled the Local Government (Surveillance powers in Relation to Certain Offences) Bill, and followed a similar Bill from Senator Wall. I thank Senators Byrne and Wall for their long-standing commitment to seeking progress on this issue. This Bill provides for the use of recording technologies for waste enforcement purposes in a way that is fully in compliance with national and EU data protection law.

Littering and illegal dumping are issues that cause huge upset for rural and urban communities. They spoil local beauty spots and undermine the work of Tidy Towns committees, and other volunteer groups, all around the country. Therefore, this Bill provides for the general data protection regulation, GDPR-compliant use of CCTV and other recording devices for the purpose of waste and litter enforcement. In terms of data privacy, I am satisfied the approach provided for in the Bill ensures that the processing of personal data may be carried out by local authorities tasked with enforcing litter and waste laws in an appropriate, necessary and proportionate manner.

Further provisions in the Bill will help drive better segregation of waste in the commercial sector, where the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, statistics indicate that 70% of the material that is placed in the general waste bin should be in recycling or organic bins. Providing for better segregation of commercial waste should ultimately save businesses money through lower collection costs.

The Bill also provides for the introduction of a new waste recovery levy. This will apply to waste sent for recovery, whether that is for incineration or landfill backfilling here in Ireland or waste that is exported for those purposes. The new landfill recovery levy will complement the existing landfill levy and will further incentive recycling or re-use over other disposal methods. In common with the landfill levy, revenue from the waste recovery levy will be ring-fenced in the new circular economy fund.

End of waste and by-product applications are EPA regulatory processes that provide a means whereby material, which would otherwise be disposed of as waste, can be safely reused in the form of secondary raw materials. The Bill provides for streamlining these processes which will help drive higher quality applications, and tailor the level of regulatory scrutiny applied to applications relative to their environmental risk.

Finally, the Bill will end the issuing of new licences for the exploration and mining of coal, lignite and oil shale. This will consolidate our policy of reducing our reliance on fossil fuel.

I want to acknowledge the widespread constructive engagement with this Bill so far. I do not think that it is wrong to say that there is general cross-party support for the Bill's objectives. The Bill's pre-legislative scrutiny process was comprehensive and informative. I thank the Senators who were involved in that process for their contributions.

I introduced amendments to the Bill on Dáil Committee Stage. Those amendments provided for additional fixed penalty notices and for the establishment of a GDPR-compliant register of households that do not have a waste collection service. Deputies from all sides of the House tabled some very constructive Committee Stage amendments and I was able to take on board a significant number of them as Government amendments on Report Stage. The amendments we accepted included the following: an expanded definition of circular economy, and provision for increased reporting and consultation requirements regarding the circular economy strategy; an amendment that added the definition of single-use packaging and expanded that to not just be for food and drink but for all packaging; we accepted an amendment that introduced a requirement to set out targets in the circular economy strategy for specified sectors; and annual reviews of the circular economy strategy and the food waste roadmap were also provided for, together with a requirement to publish a report on reducing single-use packaging for fruit and vegetables within 12 months.

I intend to bring a number of essential amendments on Committee Stage in this House to address some urgent matters concerning energy capacity. First, I intend to amend the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992 to allow the EPA to consider applications for integrated pollution control and industrial emissions licences that are subject to the provisions of section 181 of the Planning Act 2000.

In addition, I will introduce an amendment to the Electricity Regulation Act 1999 for the purpose of transposing the requirement in Article 59.1(b) of the internal market in electricity directive 2019 to allow the Commission for Regulation of Utilities to ensure compliance by market participants with their obligations under the directive.

The Bill provides a pathway for Ireland to achieve a circular economy. It has been characterised by a successful collaborative approach as it has proceeded through the Oireachtas and to this House. I look forward to bringing it through this House in the same spirit.

The Minister of State is very welcome. It is good to see him here again. What is the number one thing we hear on the door as members of the Green Party? We hear about plastic pollution and about litter in general. Dumping is probably the number one thing anyone hears when going to the doors, particularly in rural areas. Where does that come from? It comes from the fact that we have overconsumption. A circular economy is about ensuring that we are not only consuming, but also putting things back into the system. If there was a 100% perfect circular economy, nothing would be destroyed or thrown away and everything would be reused. I am no under illusions that we will reach that point but this issue is part of what this Bill is trying to address.

The Minister of State is correct that it generally has cross-party support, although suggestions have been made, most of which the Minister of State has taken on board. As the Minister of State mentioned, the Bill has also been subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by the Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action. What was interesting in that pre-legislative scrutiny and the contributions of the witnesses who came before the committee was how much industry wants the support of regulations. Everyone knows that consumers expect a greener product, but how do you get to that greener product if it will cost you more money to produce than a competitor's product? It is incredibly difficult to ask somebody to do that. It is why social enterprises find it quite difficult to compete with others on the open market. They are doing something to an ethical standard above those of their competitors. When it comes down to it, if you look at the Companies Acts, you will see that every company is supposed to make a profit. That is ultimately their obligation to their shareholders. What we are doing with this Bill is supporting industry. We are putting in place regulations so that there will be a level playing field and everybody will be operating on the same basis. It will also bring in the ethical and environmental standards that all of us know all of the citizens and all of the people who live in Ireland want. We want to see a cleaner, greener island and that is what this Bill will bring about.

It is not long since the Minister of State was in Galway to launch the 2GoCup scheme. This has been really successful and nine cafes are now involved. The scheme means that you do not have to have your own reusable cup to go into a cafe. You can go into one, give a €1 deposit, take one of its cups, use it and then drop it back to another participating cafe. I would love to see that rolled out everywhere. I have seen it in theatres in Galway. You are not using paper or plastic cups and you are not expected to bring your own. It is very realistic about the fact that people do not always have a cup in their handbag. When you bring a cup back, it will be washed and is then ready for another person to use. That is what we need to get to. That is the perfect vision of a circular economy.

There have been quite a lot of conversations at the joint committee and outside of these Houses with regard to compostable cups and the suggestion that they may be better for the environment. The evidence is clear; they simply are not. The reality is that they are just not composted because it is actually quite difficult to do. It puts an onus on businesses to provide the kind of facilities required to compost these cups.

One of the cafes we visited in Galway is purchasing an enormous number of cups at 18 cent a cup. It is purchasing 80,000 at a time and having to find somewhere to store them. It wanted a solution. That solution was a reusable cup that it did not have to rely on their customers to bring in so that it would not have to be concerned that it would lose business if a customer did not bring one and if it provided no alternative.

It is now providing an alternative. That just shows the kind of innovation that can happen when a circular economy is put at the core of a nation's values. This Bill would see Ireland become the first country in the world to eliminate this kind of use of disposable coffee cups. That is where we need to get to. It was a big jump politically when we imposed the plastic bag levy but look at what a success that initiative has been. I know from speaking to officials in the Minister of State's Department that there were exemptions for plastic bags. Nobody is suggesting that there may not be instances where disposal cups might need to be used. There may well be such instances and that is what stakeholder engagement is about. It is about engaging with people and asking what are the challenges and how can we address them.

Out of this Bill will come regulations. It is not about setting in stone what will happen from now on but it is about setting down the principle as to where we want to get. We do not believe that disposable cups are the answer.

There is another significant issue I would like to address and which comes up for any politician, that is, dumping. I know that particularly deprived estates near where I live are seeing the results of illegal dumping. People drive into those estates and dump there without any regard for the residents and their standard of living. I did a clean-up in an estate around the corner from where I live. I have done several clean-ups in that particular estate, in fact, because the dumping is non-stop. One could find all the equipment needed to kit-out a kitchen in that one estate of 75 houses. That is because there is a long driveway into the estate and there are no CCTV cameras. Law and order has gone out the window. People need support. They want to do the right thing. They do not want to having to clean up the same patch of ground over and over again. That is why I was delighted to see that CCTV would be allowed under this Bill because one is always told by local authorities that there are general data protection regulation, GDPR, issues. Those issues are finally going to be addressed and I thank the Minister of State for that.

I look forward to full engagement on these issues. I have no doubt on the basis of past experience in the Seanad that there will be full engagement on this Bill. This is only a Second Stage debate. I commend the Minister of State and his staff on the considerable engagement they have undertaken to get the Bill to this stage.

The Minister of State is welcome to the Chamber. The circular economy Bill is in keeping with the Green Party's approach to policy in that it is ineffective and targets ordinary people who are already struggling with existing charges. In theory, this Bill aims to support Ireland's transition to a circular economy but the methodology of the studies it is based on is very flawed. In practice, the coffee cup levy is just another imposition on small businesses and people who are already struggling to cope. Not only that but it will also be ineffective.

The Bill is wide in scope and has many unintended consequences. It is based on a flawed methodology, life-cycle thinking, which aims to assess the impacts of the generation and the management of waste but fails to consider certain environmental, economic and risk management factors. Reusables produce 2.8 times more carbon dioxide and consume 3.4 times more fresh water than single-use-based products. Studies show that a reusable coffee cup, if washed four times a day, is discarded after nine to 12 days. I do not know how many reusable coffee cups I have had but I certainly do not know where any of them are today. Reusable coffee cups also have very short life cycles.

It is also likely that many environmentally conscious people will be unable to use reusable cups. In the UK, only 6% of traders use reusables due to the fact that they are legally liable.

In Ireland, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, FSAI, has previously stated that coffee shops are legally liable for any illness, injury or safety issues that arise. It is likely that many outlets will not accept reusable coffee cups due to the legal risk as our country becomes increasingly litigious. In many cases, people will not be able to avoid the levies and choose what is perceived to be the more environmental option. Whether it is carbon taxes or an attempt to ban the use of turf, the Green Party seems determined to make everyday necessities more difficult for ordinary people to use.

The provisions on the GDPR-compliant use of CCTV is also concerning. I have been an advocate for CCTV in Duleek, Donore and other areas in County Meath. CCTV plays a very important role in helping keep our communities safe and in ensuring that people do not dump large amounts of waste. However, the imposition of fines on any person who does not dispose of coffee cups in the right way is too harsh. A fine for littering may not be very costly to the people in this Chamber, but the measure will affect many people who are simply living pay cheque to pay cheque. It has the potential to cause major upheaval, particularly at a time when so many of our citizens are struggling to pay. As a Senator and a former county councillor, I volunteer every Saturday in my town for Tidy Towns. I am regularly seen picking up rubbish, sometimes in my high heels. I see very few coffee cups. The focus on coffee cups is misguided. I see more plastic bottles on the ground than any other item. A tax should be placed on such bottles. Takeaway boxes are also one of the main causes of litter. They also pose a threat and a hazard to local residents because they attract wildlife. By all means, the Government should put a tax on takeaway boxes. Based on my own experience of looking after the community, these two waste objects should be our main focus.

Granted, some sensible amendments to the Bill have been proposed. An amendment was proposed to introduce a fixed penalty notice in relation to breaches of the waste facility permit. An amendment was also proposed to provide for the establishment of a GDPR-compliant register of households without a waste collection service. I am not opposed to any of these proposed amendments. I recognise the need for proper waste management. However, I urge the Government to explore other measures and to avoid squeezing ordinary people further at a time when a significant percentage of our population is already struggling with energy poverty. I apologise for the fact that I will not be here to hear to the Minister of State's reply, but I will listen attentively to the recording.

Cuirim fáilte riomh an Aire Stáit. I welcome this legislation. I slightly disagree with Senator Pauline O'Reilly who stated that the top issue on the doorsteps is dumping. The top issue on the doorsteps is the cost of living. This legislation will actually contribute towards saving people money. In fact, it is estimated that if we can boost Ireland's circularity by eliminating wasteful practices and making better use of the resources that we have, we can save up to €2.3 billion per year. Thinking about the amount of food and packaging waste that is out there, if we can reduce that, it will represent a significant saving. I disagree with Senator Keogan's contribution in many ways. The legislation is not just about coffee cups. It applies to other areas. The legislation is about the safe and effective use of containers and packaging. I know that a lot of focus is being placed on single-use cups. The legislation is about ensuring that we manage and use the resources that we have efficiently, and that we try to minimise or indeed eliminate wasteful practices in any way possible.

I am quite happy that there is a clear commitment, within this legislation, to achieving a number of the sustainable development goals which were adopted by the UN in September 2015. We have until 2030 to try to reach some of these goals. This legislation goes significantly towards that. As the Minister of State outlined, it will also contribute towards reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.

It is essential that it is about more than just legislation and regulation. This must be accompanied by measures in respect of education. There is talk of this in the context of the environmental fund. There must be emphasis from a very early stage in life on why we need to adopt these practices. There is, obviously, the very welcome new second level subject on climate and sustainability, but this is something on which I see major advertising campaigns to inform people as to how this will operate in practice, as was mentioned earlier, much the same as way the plastic bag levy was adopted.

I mentioned that under the circular economy strategy that has been drawn up, regard will be given under section 7 to a number of bodies and reports, including the UN sustainable development goals, which I very much welcome. However, a concern I have is that there is no mention of engagement with local government during that period. In fact, the first time within the legislation we see mention of local government is when we come to the piece concerning CCTV and detection of illegal dumping. In section 8(14) it is proposed there would be a committee to advise the Minister on his or her functions. In that context, I ask the either elected local government representatives or executive officials would have a role in this, particularly in terms of the roll-out of some of the measures, something that will be facilitated most effectively at a local level. I also ask that we ensure that in advising on those functions for that committee, there would be guarantees of representation for young people or youth organisations representing young people. I would certainly look at considering amendments on that at Committee Stage.

I note the establishment of the circular economy fund. Many of the powers with regard to that are vested in the Minister. Again, I hope that consideration could be given to a greater role for local authorities in terms of specific local initiatives and that could in some way be tied into how the fund would be administered on the ground.

I welcome the fact that the Minister of State referenced both my Bill and that of Senator Wall, the moves to allow local authorities to use CCTV and other technologies to be able to catch illegal dumpers. This is a curse in all of our communities, urban and rural. I disagree again with Senator Keogan with regard to believing that people should not be subject to a fine if they engage in dumping because they are not financially well off. I do not care who somebody is, no matter how wealthy or disadvantaged they are. If they are involved in dumping, they deserve to be punished. The Minister of State will find general agreement from virtually all sections of the community that this should be the case. It is a scourge on all our communities and for the Tidy Towns groups and development associations that do wonderful, good work, which is undone by those who are involved in dumping.

I welcome the provisions in the legislation. I am glad to say that many of them echo those of the Bill I proposed and that we debated a number of months ago. I am obviously keen to ensure that in as far as possible, it will be general data protection regulation, GDPR, compliant but I am also keen that the legislation will be technology neutral as new technologies are developed. We spoke previously around areas like drone technology and so on, which can be rolled out in a GDPR-compliant fashion and which can be used to catch those responsible for damaging our communities. We know again that this will represent a significant saving. I surveyed local authorities and we are talking about something in the order of €90 million to €100 million per year being spent on dealing with illegal dumping and littering. If that money can be saved by local authorities to be invested in other areas, that is a significant development.

I ask that when this legislation is enacted, immediate supports be made available to local authorities in order that they can roll out the necessary CCTV. If the Minister of State talks to local councils, he will discover that they are more than willing to deploy the necessary technologies. Elected representatives and council officials want to catch these illegal dumpers and ensure they are prosecuted. They will need the resources initially to do that, though. I ask that when the legislation is enacted, we follow through on this as a priority.

What the legislation provides for is a levy and a potential ban on one-use items. I am supportive of the broad principle of that. It is what we want to achieve. What I do want to ensure though is that we do not essentially replace one-off items with cheap plastic, and that it becomes an excuse for doing so. We should not say that we are not going to use the one-off items so let us just use lots of cheap plastic. The key to this is about limiting the percentage of plastic that we are going to use. This is a concern that is being expressed by paper cup manufacturers and it is a legitimate concern that needs to be heard. Effectively, the fear is that paper cups will be banned and we will end up with plastic cups that will involve cheap plastic and in the long run will not be good for the environment. We have got to be careful of unintended consequences.

If Senator Keogan cannot find a KeepCup, I will quite happily supply her with one. I have a KeepCup that I use and a number of others. This is a very welcome piece of legislation, which is attempting to ensure that we properly manage the valuable resources we have. The Minister of State should expect broad cross-party support on it.

The Minister of State is welcome. It is great to be here. We are fully in support of this important piece of legislation that has been talked about for a long time.

When talking about the circular economy, education is a major issue in terms of explaining it, especially from the younger generation to the older generation. I was at a meeting a few weeks ago and the circular economy came up. A man put up his hand and said he had no idea what we were talking about. We need education on the entire terminology relating to the circular economy - what it is about, what we are trying to achieve and where the information is available. The amount of education that is required is phenomenal. It is not just at primary school but through all the generations. In many ways, that will probably be the biggest task for the Minister of State. I honestly believe that the generations are struggling with the terminology and what we are trying to achieve. We need to break it down so we can get a clear understanding of the message we are trying to get out. That is one of the key points I would like to make.

The proposed levy on single-use plastics is a positive step. I do not want to mention the names of particular shops, but if one goes to any shop tomorrow morning one will see a line of cups to the left-hand side of the coffee machine. It is a significant issue. I often wonder how we are going to change. I remember that 20 years ago we introduced the plastic bag levy overnight and we moved on to more appropriate ways of doing our shopping. This is about trying to change the way we shop and the culture of society. That will take a little bit of work as well in terms of education, support and a bit of a stick to make sure that we get there.

The key issue will be to make sure that we get the big changes that are going to be so valuable in society going forward. Again, there is a generational issue. We are going to have to bring people with us. That will require a good body of work that needs to be thought through. I will be straight with the Minister of State: I do not have the solutions. I do not know how he is going to bring the generations with him without saying: "Oh my God, this is another tax." This is going to be a body of work that we will just have to work on.

One of the key issues I have identified in the legislation is the national food waste prevention strategy. The Minister of State might elaborate on that. I might be wrong in my figures, but I think that 30% of all food that is purchased is wasted, whether it is yoghurts, potatoes or other produce. Consumers are probably buying too much in one go. Again, this will involve a major change in how we alter how society purchases and stores products. We need to learn what dates on yoghurt, for example, mean. Some people believe that a yoghurt cannot be eaten after the date on the container while others believe the date does not matter until something is wrong with the product. It will take significant training and information to educate people. The point I make is about how we are going to get the information out there to all sections of society so that people can change their practices. I look forward to seeing how the Minister of State will ensure we get these important strategies across to the public and what means he will adopt to get the information out.

Online will only work with certain generations. How we get that change out there would be totally different in some scenarios.

The proposed changes to GDPR for CCTV regarding dumping are very positive. I ask the Minister of State to elaborate on how that will work with historical cases and whether the legislation will apply retrospectively. Will we look back at other cases with GDPR issues? How will other cases be looked upon regarding this new legislation?

Section 4 seems to mention the chief executive. I presume that is the chief executive of the local authority. Like other Senators, I am concerned about giving all the powers to local authority management. We have elected members who do exceptional work. The Bill makes no mention of local authorities but states that the chief executive will appoint. While I am open to correction, the Minister of State is giving an executive function to the local authority management. Local authority members should have a greater role on issues regarding CCTV and dumping. Motions have come before local authorities. It is really important for the local authorities to have a real angle regarding matters on which the members have good knowledge. It is important that we be frank. Some local authority managements are absolutely brilliant while some local authority managements might not have the same respect for elected members. That interaction as it applies to this legislation might be improved. I did not count how many times chief executive was mentioned, but it is certainly more than ten times. We need to find a balance to ensure we can get everyone on the same field.

I believe the legislation is important and is well drafted. Those are my initial thoughts. Hopefully, we can work together to get the Bill through the Houses of the Oireachtas and enacted as soon as we can.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. I echo others in welcoming the Circular Economy, Waste Management (Amendment) and Minerals Development (Amendment) Bill which is long overdue. For too long we have developed a global economic system which is extractive, linear and based on hyper consumption. The Bill will not address the bigger issue relating to the growth model we live within, but it is a welcome step. We know we are using raw materials unsustainably and this at least puts in place a framework whereby we value the materials within a product and can ensure that they are long lived, and that they can be repaired, reused, repurposed and only as a last resort recycled.

While I welcome the Bill, I wish to raise the number of issues with the Minister of State. The first relates to construction and demolition waste. Throughout the country we have enormous levels of dereliction. We are also seeing young buildings only 30 or 40 years old being demolished. It is widely believed - the Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action heard from experts on this - that construction and demolition waste is the fastest growing waste stream in the country and could be producing 10 million tonnes of carbon emissions annually.

Like everything, the most carbon-efficient building is the one that is already built. How does the Minister of State plan to address unnecessary demolition? Will we see legislation to limit unnecessary demolition? We do not need to go too far from this building to see the site that was once the Kevin Street Institute of Technology, a building which was important for its architectural value but also for the fact that it had embodied carbon. It has now been completely flattened instead of seeing how that building could be repurposed and redeveloped into housing and apartments. If a building cannot be repurposed and the only option is to demolish it, will we see the proper segregation of waste and the reuse of as much of the materials as possible following demolition?

Others have already mentioned food waste. I understand that on Report Stage in the Dáil it was agreed that the Minister would prepare an annual report on the implementation of the food waste prevention strategy. If that is the case, it is very welcome.

There are a few points I would like to raise. The first relates to the terminology used. Will the language align with the revised EU waste framework directive 2018, which would ensure the reduction of food waste at each stage of the food supply chain? We have to capture food loss as well as food waste and many people are not aware of the distinction. Food waste is the food we buy in the shop that then goes to waste, whereas food loss is when crops die in the ground, for example, because it is not financially viable for the farmer to take them up or due to pests. We have to capture the whole food industry if we really want to address the emissions and the waste.

Under the provisions of the Bill and the strategy, there is a target to reduce food waste by 50% by 2030. Would the Minister of State be open to considering annual food waste targets? We have passed the climate Act and have our annual targets and sectoral targets. An annual target of a 7% reduction, alongside mandatory reporting by food businesses on the amount of waste they generate, would allow us to track whether we are meeting those targets. We can set targets all we want but if we are not actually on track to meet them, they will not make a difference. Having those annual targets would allow us to monitor that and make sure we are in fact reducing both food waste and food loss. I would also like assurances that when food redistribution is required to reduce food waste, business will prioritise human consumption over animal feed or reprocessing into non-food products.

Moving on to the matter of single-use items, particularly plastics, I was fortunate enough in my time as an MEP to negotiate the single-use plastics directive for my political group. I saw at first hand the power of the business lobby during those negotiations. It was desperately trying to water down measures. Ireland’s own Repak played a very negative role in the single-use plastics directive. Through a freedom of information request, we were able to show just how much these lobbyists pushed back against targets and were successful in delaying the introduction of deposit return schemes in Ireland. It is great that we are finally going to get a deposit return scheme in Ireland but I again echo the calls from my colleagues in the Dáil to expand that scheme to include glass. Glass is particularly suitable for reuse. We could work with small and medium enterprises on this, as has been done in other jurisdictions, including in the United States, where they have encouraged craft beer companies or dairy farmers to go back to using glass.

I would also like catering businesses to be supported to move away from disposable products to reusable ones. During the debate on the single-use plastics directive, when the issue of plastics was having its moment in the sun, we hailed as a huge achievement the fact that biodegradable food containers were being used on the Leinster House campus. I had to laugh because the European Parliament in Strasbourg had already moved to the reusable model, where people gave a €2 deposit and got their salad, soup or whatever in a glass container and then brought it back and got their €2 back.

The problem with lauding biodegradable containers as positive is that most people are not aware that they have to be disposed of properly. They have to go into a bin that will be diverted to an industrial composter. On this campus, we deposit the biodegradable containers in which we get our salads or soups or dinners in the regular bin. That completely defeats the purpose of being biodegradable. Likewise, there are concerns around the linings of the food bowls used both on this campus and in general, particularly for salads. The food containers in the Leinster House facilities were found to have 12 times the permitted amount of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, PFAS, on them. If we want to bring people along on this journey and get them to buy into it we should be leading by example. We should abandon the single-use items in this building and bring in that model of reusable deposit return schemes.

I would also raise the so-called latte levy. Nobody would disagree that discarded coffee cups are a blight, particularly in cities and towns. Actually, I will take that back as somebody does disagree.

We also see them on roadsides and in hedgerows, discarded through car windows.

Has the Minister of State considered the Italian levy model? It uses a graduated levy on containers, determined by the amount of plastic in the containers. Those who are producing the worst forms of single-use items incur the highest levies, incentivising businesses to buy the best forms. However, I would prefer it if we moved to a reuse model.

What precautionary measures are being taken to ensure that we do not get the cheap products about which we are being warned, that is, those that are marketed as reusable but will realistically only be used once or twice or, at festivals, will be discarded?

I am running out of time. There is so much in this Bill that I hope to get to on Committee Stage. I wish to reiterate my support for legislating for the provision of refill products in supermarkets of a certain size. Detergents, dry foods and cosmetics lend themselves to refillable containers. There is an issue regarding insurance and repairs. I encourage the Minister of State to consider Italy's laws on obsolescence because we cannot afford to wait for the EU to act. Thanks to the influence of business, we have seen how long the EU has taken to agree a standard charger for mobile phones. I commend Italy on the moves it has taken on obsolescence.

I ask the Acting Leader to propose the suspension of the House. The Minister of State needs to get to the Dáil for a vote.

I propose that the House suspend.

Cuireadh an Seanad ar fionraí ar 3.02 p.m. agus cuireadh tús leis arís ar 3.13 p.m.
Sitting suspended at 3.02 p.m. and resumed at 3.13 p.m.

The Labour Party welcomes and will be supporting this Bill. It is vital that we as a country move to a fairer, more sustainable and equitable economic waste system. The importance of this is now being felt acutely by ordinary working people across the country who are struggling as a result of the rising cost of living and high levels of inflation. It is hard to understate the importance of reducing waste, and the corresponding levels of pollution that arise because of how it affects our landscape, air quality and waters.

As we know, in a circular economy, waste and resource used are minimised by the use of products and materials that are maintained for as long as possible so that when a product reaches the end of its life, its parts are used again and again to create further useful and productive products instead of being discarded. The amount of waste that is produced all over the world is too much to comprehend, and we in Ireland must play our part in reducing waste and tackling climate change.

The efforts of this Bill support the transition to a circular economy, including encouraging greater levels of recycling. I, therefore, welcome the Bill. I am pleased the Government has taken on the issues my colleague, Senator Wall, has worked hard on, specifically in relation to addressing the difficulty local authorities have with illegal dumping. We welcome that the Government is providing in this Bill for the use of CCTV to deter littering and dumping. Senator Wall has estimated that across 31 local authorities in the country, the cost of clearing up litter and illegally dumped materials may be as much as €90 million per year, which is enormous. This is without considering the voluntary effort put in by community clean-up groups, which operate nationwide, and particular litter black spots we have in Dublin city, including in my area in the inner city in Dublin 8.

Following on from what Senator Boylan said, one of the big issues to tackle is embodied carbon and the use of waste that is involved in building materials in house building.

What we see at the moment are large numbers of buildings being demolished to build new buildings for housing that can be reused and brought back into life, or at the very least, the materials that are involved initially in rebuilding, such as the steel and brickwork, are able to be reused. That is an essential part of a circular economy.

Another issue we believe is worth raising and relegislating for is the right to repair. We need to shift the balance of power from manufacturers and corporations back to citizens and ordinary people to be able to repair consumer goods. It would make a huge difference in reducing waste while also addressing a power imbalance between consumers and manufacturers, and putting money more in people's pockets. When I was a young girl, every single village had a cobbler where one was able to go and get one's shoes fixed and redone. Indeed, I used to have one cobbler at one stage to whom I brought my shoes, for which I paid approximately €15, so many times that he said I had to let go of them. It is very difficult to be able to find somewhere that does that now.

I repair a lot of clothes, leather and bags. I had to buy stuff online and teach myself how to do it and be able to sew. Not everybody has that time and luxury, and it requires an awful lot of intensive effort. Supporting the right to repair regarding our everyday consumer goods is very important. Being able to break down consumer goods into a list of component parts, seeing what they are made of and actually improve them is also very important. We should be doing things like teaching upcycling in schools, be it clothes or furniture.

Interiors are one of the next exploding areas of fast fashion. We see fast fashion come into clothing and bad standards of living where people are buying stuff to go out on Saturday night and not using it again. We are seeing it now when it comes into interiors and home goods. We need to be able to teach people how to repair to facilitate a circular economy and allow that to happen. My colleague, Deputy Bacik, drafted a Bill to legislate for this, which will include measures to stop waste and tackle the cost of living by requiring manufacturers, particularly of digital and electronic equipment, to make repair information available to consumers and break the monopoly on repair by the manufacturer.

Finally, we need to help people reduce the amount of clothing waste by encouraging them to mend and reduce the prevalence of fast fashion. Indeed, there is also the treatment of garment workers and other workers employed and exploited in a fast fashion single-use economy we have built up around us. The Labour Party welcomes the efforts in this Bill in making a move towards a circular economy. We ask the Government to ensure that climate is at the heart of Government policy in the coming years across Departments and be able to support the right to repair to facilitate the circular economy in the years to come.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I also thank him for referencing the Bill I brought forward on behalf of the Labour Party. Indeed, my colleague, Senator Malcolm Byrne, brought forward a similar Bill on behalf on Fianna Fáil. It is very important that those two Bills were brought forward because the problem has not gone away, unfortunately. We are still getting calls. This morning, I got two telephone calls from people who were reporting illegal dumping in south Kildare and that problem continues day in, day out.

It is also opportune to thank, as other colleagues have done, the Tidy Towns groups. We need to go out and use every opportunity to thank them for the enormous work they do. We need to support them in every way. The fund the Minister of State will create through this Bill should be targeted towards those volunteers who go out of their way each week - each day, in some cases - to make sure their local areas are clean and cleaned up.

My colleague, Senator Moynihan, raised the issue, which was also raised by Senator Malcolm Byrne, regarding the €90 million. As I said before, the Minister of State can just imagine what we can do with that type of money if it was actually saved and put back into local authorities. We, as public representatives, are always asked about playgrounds etc. and the sort of money we could save in relation to that €90 million should be put back into those sorts of facilities. Unfortunately, I recently learned of a clean-up that cost Kildare County Council in the region of €48,000 within the last two months. That is totally and utterly unacceptable for it to add and grow into that figure.

I also want to mention the local projects that are mentioned in the Bill. We need to support those local projects. I want to mention the green kilometre scheme. I am not sure whether the Minister of State is familiar with that but it is a magnificent local project in County Kildare where locals are encouraged to look after the 1 km outside their home.

It has seen great take-up. The environmental officer in Kildare County Council, Dara Wyer, has long supported this project. It has seen great take-up in south Kildare and in north Kildare. As other colleagues have mentioned, a lot of people go out, day in and day out, to ensure that the 1 km is clean. That helps in the overall assistance to Tidy Towns and community groups. Something like that will inform the education other colleagues have spoken about as well, because that is the piece we need to get right. It is education through schools but also through community groups. We need to support community groups. My local community group has a yearly clean-up. This year we collected almost 1,000 bags and it is a similar amount every year. That is the sort of basis on which we need to educate and support communities. We welcome the Bill. I look forward to speaking more to the Minister of State about it as we work through the Bill.

I am very conscious of the time. We have only five minutes left and I have two speakers. I ask Senator Higgins to leave some time. I would appreciate that.

I will do my best. I will be coming back on Committee Stage. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, to the House. The legislation is part of a wider set of proposals in Ireland and at EU level to address the climate and biodiversity crisis. This Bill is focused on the economy and how it fits within the planetary boundaries and our fair share of them in terms not just of emissions but of resources, and effective and appropriate resource management.

As a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Environment and Climate Action, we engaged very extensively in a period of pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill. I am pleased to see that some of the recommendations are reflected in the legislation before us. However, unfortunately, a number are not. This is a moment to try to be a bit more ambitious and to get it right. This comes in a context where a significant amount of legislation relating to the circular economy is coming through at EU level and where we have due diligence legislation that is looking at supply chains internationally. This is the context, and a fundamental point is that a piece of legislation on the circular economy should not solely focus on consumption but should also focus much more strongly on production and a radical transformation of the production end of things. I feel that is a part of the legislation that could be strengthened still.

I will briefly highlight a couple of the areas that I will come back to on Committee Stage. One aspect not reflected adequately in the Bill is recommendation 62, which focused on extraction and the global dimension. I mentioned the fact that environmental and human rights considerations should be part of the global economy action plan, as this is in tune with the thinking on due diligence that is happening at EU level. The sustainable development goals, SDG, have a number of very specific provisions in terms of responsible consumption and production. This was a chance to integrate some of the SDG targets more strongly. I mentioned the human rights pieces, which I will leave aside for now, but I note my intention to strengthen in particular some of the areas around extraction of precious minerals and re-use and recapture of minerals. One thing we know is that, for example, more gold can be mined from mining tech waste in some cases than from direct mining. The fund is welcome, but it is not enough.

Something the committee recommended is that public procurement policy is one of the key tools and that specific measures on green public procurement should be part of a circular economy strategy. The Minister of State will be aware of my passion on this issue. I notice that there are levies and other measures, which are harder, that apply on the consumption end but the circular economy strategy, which has possibly a more important role to play, relies on voluntary measures in engagement with the sectors. I am concerned that on the production side we are going for voluntary measures and codes of practice. We are past that in terms of the crisis we are in, whereas we are going with quite hard tools on the consumption end. I feel the powers of levies should be extended.

Recommendations 58 and 59 have not been addressed either. They are measures relating to the right to repair. This legislation should contain measures in line with the right to repair and to protect against built-in obsolescence. Simply capturing that on the shop floor does not do. We need to capture that.

Something we also looked at, for example, was levies on virgin plastic in production versus direct levies. Because other speakers have points, I will finish even though I have a lot of points to make. I hope I will have the chance to engage with them on Committee Stage.

I welcome the Minister of State, who has responsibility for communications and the circular economy. This is all about tackling challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, waste and pollution. As the Minister of State is fully aware, it is based on three principles: eliminating waste and pollution; circulating products and materials; and regenerating nature as well. Design is so important here. We all talk about products and the end user and how when we design a product the end user has to be part of that to make sure the product is used. For example, women were never considered when safety belts were being designed. Perhaps what we need here is to build such an approach to product design by all designers into the principles underlying the strategy and fund for the circular economy.

I pay tribute to some of the local groups in the areas in Roscommon and east Galway that I represent. For example, the Roscommon Women's Network has its CycleUp store and it also facilitates training for women on how to reuse materials. They have made owls out of pre-loved materials. These are fantastic creations. They are well known and have been given to Ministers and Ministers of State as well. I hope the Minister of State, Deputy Smyth, will also receive one from the Roscommon Women's Network.

Like Senator Moynihan, I pay tribute to the many places that do shoe repairs. It is very simple. We have amazing shoe repair shops in many towns, such as Willie Burke's in the Ballinasloe area.

Local authorities need funding for general operatives on the ground. That is crucial. There must be engagement between the Departments of the Environment, Climate and Communications and Public Expenditure and Reform and local authorities to make sure there is funding for general operatives to tackle littering in bogland areas and towns. Galway County Council is down on the number of general operatives in my municipal district. We need such operatives because they can tackle litter, build awareness, facilitate incentives relating to signage and draw up the policies and strategies we all want to implement. We do not have people on the ground to do that, however.

I will address some of the key elements of the Bill. I am very supportive of the single-use levy. We saw what happened with plastic bags under the previous Government. It is vital to have CCTV tackling litter. This is a significant issue. The most recent report of Irish Business Against Litter came out in recent days. It states that the two main issues in Ballinasloe are disposable cups and the fact that we cannot get CCTV to tackle some of the problem areas.

I thank Senators. I will not do justice to their contributions in the seven minutes allocated to me. I will have more time on Committee Stage to discuss issues, and I can also discuss them in the meantime with Senators. I welcome the general tone of the contributions from everybody. They were very constructive. People were genuinely trying to think of ways to make the Bill better. Although the Bill is progressive, it also harks back to a time when society was less wasteful.

The point was made that the circular economy is a jargon term, and it is difficult to communicate it. What we are really trying to get away from is a throwaway culture. As Senator Boylan said, the idea that, in the context of modern, hyper-consumer capitalism, we just use things rather than reuse or look after anything goes against the culture and principles of our parents and grandparents.

Regarding the new environmental levies, I want to emphasise once more that the introduction of these levies is to change behaviour and not to raise money. I will have succeeded if the behaviour changes and I do not raise any money at the end. My expectation is that money raised from the new levies will fall off steeply over the years as consumers switch to more sustainable alternative products and avoid paying the money. It saves money for the consumer because they no longer have to pay for the cup. As Senator Pauline O'Reilly stated, the cup costs 18 cent. That is built into the price of the product we buy. If we do not have to pay that, it is an advantage to the individual and to the business as well. We do not pay the levy because we have chosen not to. A lot of Irish people are quite rebellious against regulations, and they might say they are not going to pay the levy. That is what happened with the plastic bag levy. They did not pay it because they bought their own bags. That is a good way to rebel. Any levy introduced will only come in after public consultation. We are not doing a consultation on disposable cups for hot drinks at this point. We are providing legislation that allows for any type of packaging - for food, drink or anything else - to have a levy on it only where there is a reusable alternative.

In that case then we will have a real consultation and not only one to go through the motions. We want to find out what are the cases where it is not possible to switch. We do not want to impose a levy in those cases. If we reflect on the plastic bag levy, which was very successful, the reason it worked was that we were practical in its implementation. We said, for example, that butchers or fishmongers did not a plastic bag levy because they could not reuse the bag fish and meat had been in and so on. Therefore, we will take a practical approach to this one, as we did in the past, and we expect it to be successful in the way the previous levy was massively successful.

There are difficulties both recycling and composting compostable cups. Most of them end up as litter, get incinerated or are put into landfill. That is why we will not exempt compostable cuts from the levy. Members will have noticed during the week that Irish Business Against Litter found that while there has been a sharp fall in the number of litter blackspots across the country the prevalence of coffee cups on our streets warrants actions to disincentivise the use of paper cups, even compostable or recyclable cups. I have spoken to many cafes. Senator Pauline O’Reilly spoke about the experience in Galway where nine cafes have just gone completely disposable cup free. There have a deposit refund scheme, as there is at many festivals. When one goes to a music festival one pays €1 or €2 for a cup and gets it back when one hands it back. It is the same idea and that can work. We are not forcing people to adopt this or to pay the levy. It will always be avoidable.

Many cafes stopped taking reusable cups during Covid but there was no obligation on them to do this. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland confirmed its Covid guidance is and always was that it is permissible to accept reusable cups. Some cafes unilaterally decided they would exercise an abundance of caution and would not accept them but there is no public health reason not to accept cups. We should remember in any café people are handling dirty cups and plates on the table and also money. Therefore, they are used to handling items that are not absolutely perfectly clean. Nothing in this Bill obliges a vendor to accept a reusable cup, irrespective of whether it is dirty. If one wants to be a vendor who just charges money on cups, one can do that and that will be an option.

The awareness campaign that will precede the levy will stress the need for customers to make sure their cup is clean when they hand it over to the vendor. That should be a matter of culture and politeness. Revenue from the levies will be used in part to support the use of reusables in ways that minimise costs to consumers and businesses. It should be noted the use of reusable cups should result in savings for businesses as they will not have to supply so many disposable cups. As Senator Pauline O’Reilly said, one café in Galway told her they had bought 80,000 at 18 c each just the other month, which is a significant amount of money.

I thank members of the Oireachtas joint committee for their constructive engagement with the Bill through the pre-legislative scrutiny process and for their comprehensive report. The Bill, as amended in committee in the Dáil, reflects the fundamental recommendations of the joint committee, in particular regarding the definition of a circular economy and the mandatory setting of sectoral targets in the circular economy strategy. Other recommendations of the joint committee will remain under active consideration by my Department for potential inclusion in future legislation. As with the environmental levies, I anticipate the yield from the waste recovery levy will decrease over time as wasteholders make greater use of recycling or reuse. The recovery levy will not initially be applied to construction and demolition waste in order to avoid any short-term increases in the cost of construction as we tackle the housing crisis and it will not apply to any recycling activity. Mandatory incentivised pricing for commercial waste will operate on the same basis as currently applies to household waste and I am convinced it will ultimately safe businesses money.

Regarding the use of CCTV and other recording technologies, which can include drones, bodycams and so on but only to catch people for illegal dumping, it does not warrant having a drone to follow somebody for littering. A CCTV camera under very limited circumstances will be set up but there will have to be a code of conduct. It will continue to be the role of elected councillors to set waste policy but the code of conduct will be set by the chief executive. It will be an executive function. For those concerned that data protection safeguards might hamper the deployment of these technologies, I assure Senators my Department has engaged with the local government sector in detail regarding these provisions and I think they are fit for purpose. For those who still have concerns about data privacy, I draw attention to proposal to use mandatory codes of practice, the fact that CCTV and other footage can only be accessed by authorised local authority personnel and the data collected can only be used to convict for litter and dumping offences and not for broader offences. I do not want to see these technologies misused and I am satisfied the Bill provides a robust legal basis for their appropriate needs.

Significantly improving the repairability and ease of maintenance of consumer goods is an essential component of the circular economy. Meaningful changes in this regard can be effectively implemented by way of comprehensive EU legislation rather than through piecemeal national measures.

Earlier this year, the European Commission announced such comprehensive measures for the right to repair in the form of a proposal for a regulation on ecodesign for sustainable products and a proposal for a directive to empower consumers for the green transition through better protection against unfair practices and better information.

I agree with Senator Dolan that it is key that these changes happen at the design stage. This will be the second ecodesign directive. The first focused on energy efficiency. Now we are going to be looking at durability of products and repairability, which will be addressed by means of a consumer information labelling system. When a person buys a product, he or she will see that it lasts for so many years and that will influence his or her decision on whether to take a long-lived or short-lived product. This is to move people towards products that are either more repairable or more durable. The directive will also provide for the mandatory provision of spare parts and provision of manuals. Members can see that is moving towards allowing things to be repaired.

I look forward to further progressing the Bill on Committee Stage. Once again, I thank all Senators for their contributions. I have made extensive notes on their comments. I will either come back to them directly or address them on Committee Stage. I thank everybody very much.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 21 June 2022.
Cuireadh an Seanad ar fionraí ar 3.37 p.m. agus cuireadh tús leis arís ar 4 p.m.
Sitting suspended at 3.37 p.m. and resumed at 4 p.m.