Thursday, 4 March 2004

Questions (14, 15, 16)

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

12 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the action which has been taken to establish the source of thousands of tonnes of household waste, destined for Asia, which was recently intercepted in Rotterdam; the action being taken in connection with this consignment and to prevent further such consignments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7151/04]

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Bernard Allen

Question:

21 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the contacts he has made with local authorities regarding shipments of waste destined for India and Singapore that were seized in Rotterdam; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7117/04]

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Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

66 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he will report on investigations made into the illegal trans-frontier shipment of waste by a number of Irish local authorities which were recently the subject of media reports. [7217/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 12, 21 and 66 together.

Exports of waste from Ireland are governed by the provisions of EU Regulation 259/93 on the supervision and control of shipments of waste within, into and out of the European Community. While the provisions of the regulation are detailed, the position, in summary, is that the requirements applying in a particular case are determined by whether the waste is shipped for disposal or recovery and the intended destination of the waste. In the case of shipments for recovery, the requirements are further dependent on whether the waste falls to be classified as "green", "amber" or "red" waste.

In October last year, the Dutch authorities inspected a shipment of waste from Ireland which was in transit in Rotterdam awaiting onward shipment to India. I understand that the waste involved generally consisted of mixed recyclable materials such as cardboard, glass, plastic, paper and metals. The shipments had been ostensibly classified as "green" list waste on the basis that the waste was recyclable and contained a combination of waste types which were individually mentioned on the "green" list. However, on foot of their inspection, the Dutch authorities pointed to a 1998 European Court of Justice decision which held that mixtures of green list waste of municipal origin fell to be classified as "amber" list waste and, accordingly, deemed the shipment to be illegal.

The Dutch authorities contacted the Environmental Protection Agency in January 2004 with a view to requiring arrangements to be made to have the shipment returned to Ireland. Following liaison between the agency's Office of Environmental Enforcement, the local authorities from whose areas the waste emanated and the waste contractors who had responsibility for the waste prior to shipment, the full consignment of waste has now been returned to Ireland and is in the process of being returned to the premises of the waste contractors concerned. The containers are being inspected by officials of the relevant local authorities with a view to establishing the appropriate means of dealing with the wastes involved.

Following inspection by the Belgian authorities of a similar consignment of waste in transit in Antwerp, which appears to date from the same late 2003 period as the Rotterdam shipment, a request has been made to the Environmental Protection Agency for arrangements to be made for the return of this shipment to Ireland. I understand that arrangements are currently being made for the shipment to leave Antwerp by 11 March at the latest.

Following the Rotterdam incident coming to light, my Department wrote to all local authorities — who are the competent authorities for the purposes of exports of waste — reminding them of the need to ensure correct classification of waste exports leaving their functional areas and requesting that they ensure that the matters involved were brought to the attention of relevant waste companies operating in their areas. In addition, the EPA's Office of Environmental Enforcement has issued detailed guidance to each local authority. Furthermore, following a seminar for local authorities on the establishment of an environmental enforcement network last month, the OEE has identified support for local authorities in the performance of their regulatory functions in relation to the export of wastes as an area for priority attention.

I should point out also that a revised regulation to govern waste shipments was published by the European Commission last summer. I identified the advancement of the discussions on this proposal as a key objective of the Irish EU Presidency, particularly in terms of ensuring that as much clarity as possible is brought to bear in regard to the requirements involved. Following debate on the matter at the Environment Council earlier this week, work on the proposed regulation will now continue with a view to securing further progress on the matter at the June Council.