16 Dec 2021, 11.00
The Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action has today published its Report on the Pre-Legislative Scrutiny of the Circular Economy Bill 2021, in which the Committee makes a total of 48 recommendations covering the language used in the Bill, targets and accountability, and further considerations.
Committee Cathaoirleach Deputy Brian Leddin said: “The current global economic model is based on a linear model of ‘take – make – waste’ whereby raw materials or natural resources are taken and turned into products that ultimately become waste due to their design. A circular economy minimises waste by reusing or remanufacturing products or parts of products, keeping materials in use for longer. A circular economy model therefore offers a more environmentally and economically sustainable alternative to the linear model.
“The Programme for Government sets out commitments in respect of waste and a circular economy action plan with intentions for measures to introduce and promote a more sustainable and responsible system and culture for consumption, use and re-use of materials and end of use recycling and disposals. The Circular Economy Bill is a key part of this process and the General Scheme was published by the Government in June and referred to the Committee for scrutiny.”
The overall aim of the General Scheme is to provide a statutory framework for the implementation of a circular economy in Ireland. To achieve this, the Bill proposes a legislative basis for several key measures including a Circular Economy Strategy, the Circular Economy Programme and the National Food Loss Prevention Roadmap.
Deputy Leddin said: “While it was agreed that the provisions of the Bill bring very positive developments, in examining the General Scheme, the Committee identified a number of key issues where further consideration is necessary to ensure the legislation works in the long term and does not just provide solely for short to medium term goals.”
The key issues identified were the language used in the Bill, targets and accountability, and further considerations.
Deputy Leddin said: “The Committee agreed that a stronger, broader definition of the ‘Circular Economy’ is needed that goes beyond the limits of resource use, and that greater emphasis needs to be placed on ‘reduction’ to encourage the reduction of resource use and to ensure that environmental damage is reduced all along the supply chain. Particular concern was expressed at the use of the term ‘may’, where a stronger term such as ‘shall’ would be more appropriate and would also ‘futureproof’ the legislation.
“There was support for eliminating or moving away from the use of the term ‘waste’ throughout the General Scheme of the Bill in an attempt to shift the focus towards ‘resources’ and resource management. The phrase ‘time to time’ is vague and clear, specific timelines are required for the effective monitoring of progress and to ensure accountability.”
The Committee heard that the absence of defined targets and responsibilities in the General Scheme has the potential to negatively impact the efficacy of the legislation. Stakeholders highlighted a number of policy documents such as the Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy and the National Waste Management Plan for a Circular Economy, which referred to the introduction of targets for reuse, repair, resource consumption and reduction of waste.
Deputy Leddin said: “While the General Scheme sets out some targets around reuse and repair, the introduction of targets within the Bill that would align with such policy documents would be transformative in facilitating the move to a circular economy. The Committee expressed concern that the Circular Economy Strategy will not set out firm targets to drive the necessary cross-sectoral change and agreed that stronger provisions around accountability were needed.”
The Committee also agreed that for the Bill to be as effective as possible, it is essential that its provisions align fully with other climate policy, and that, due to the far-reaching nature of a circular economy, further consideration should be given to expanding the Bill to include relevant measures, including EU directives and national policy in relation to biodiversity and habitats.
Deputy Leddin added: “The Committee agreed that in order to action the change to a circular economy, it is necessary to devise and implement a communications campaign highlighting the intended strategies as well as the individual behavioural changes needed. The campaign should encourage buy-in from the general public as well as businesses and high-level stakeholders.
“There is a need for strong leadership with regard to reusables in order to move away from the disposable economy, including ‘biodegradable’ packaging as they are likely to be incorrectly disposed of. Government departments, including the Houses of the Oireachtas, should consider leading the move from disposables by implementing a reuse policy within departments.
“Members noted that there may be challenges with regard to buy-in for increasing reuse in different sectors where cheaper disposable alternatives are readily available. It was also noted that while increasing awareness around correct bin use was needed, a more effective option would be to simplify packaging at manufacturer level which would also simplify disposal and make it easier to recycle less complex materials. Members agreed that such anomalies must be examined, and measures implemented to discourage and prevent unnecessary waste from packaging.
“The Committee also agreed that planned obsolescence is a significant challenge particularly regarding electronics. While some EU Member States have legislated for a ban on obsolescence they have found difficulty with regard to implementation. The Committee agreed that further examination of the issue was needed to ascertain if measures such as enabling ‘a right to repair’ and ‘a right to reuse’ could be implemented to reduce waste as a result of planned obsolescence.”
The Committee’s Report on the Pre-Legislative Scrutiny of the Circular Economy Bill 2021 is available on the Oireachtas website.
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