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.