Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Waste Disposal.

Nora Owen


11 Mrs. Owen asked the Minister for the Environment when he will be publishing the Special Waste Control Bill which arises from the local authorities waste management proposals which have been lodged in his Department.

The preparation by local authorities of waste plans and of special waste plans arises at present under the European Communities (Waste) Regulations, 1979, and the European Communities (Toxic and Dangerous Waste) Regulations, 1982, respectively. Plans are in operation in most local authority areas.

My Department is separately preparing comprehensive legislation to modernise and consolidate the law on waste and to provide an improved framework for waste planning, management and regulation. Work on a new waste Bill is at an advanced stage in the Department but I cannot indicate definitely when the Bill will be published. The intention is to make a submission to the Government in relation to this Bill in the autumn of this year. The priority up to now was to progress the legislation for the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency, which was recently enacted and which contains a number of provisions relevant to waste.

Is the Minister of State aware that a well known environmentalist has said that there are three issues which are of importance to the environment, that is, waste, waste and waste? Does she not accept that she made previous commitments to circulate a waste Bill before the summer and that there now seems to be some delay in this regard? I wish to draw her attention to the fact that there are no sites available in Dublin city and county for waste disposal. The problem has now reached crisis stage and sites have been sought in neighbouring counties. This proposal has met with very fierce local resistance. Would the Minister not agree that this is a very urgent matter and that she should revert to her earlier promise to bring a Bill before the House during this session.

I did not give an undertaking that the Bill would come before the House before the summer recess. I said it was my intention to circulate details of the Bill to interested parties and to hold a series of workshops with them before the Bill was sent to the Cabinet for approval; in other words, to have widespread discussions with people interested in this area. This is the same process followed in relation to the Environmental Protection Agency legislation.

I am aware of the difficulties which exist in relation to waste disposal but they can be resolved by local authorities and do not require new waste legislation. Local authorities have to place greater emphasis on recycling and take more waste out of the waste stream so that it does not have to go to land fill sites. As the Deputy knows, the new Environmental Protection Agency Act makes provision for the setting by the agency of criteria for land fill sites. Hopefully the agency will be in place later this summer so that they will be able to set down the criteria before any new land fill sites are developed. They will be the body with whom this matter is discussed.

Other than the directives brought in under European Community Regulations we have not had waste legislation since 1878. This is a high priority; it is major legislation. It is the one gap in our environmental protection law. We have good water and air pollution legislation. We need to resolve this matter and it is my intention to do so within the next months.

What consolation can the Minister give to industries, hospitals and research institutions which are dependent on Britain and other European countries to dispose of their waste? What plans does the Minister propose to put in place to deal with the major problem of toxic and chemical waste, together with domestic waste?

As the Deputy is probably aware, we are a small producer of dangerous and toxic waste. According to the latest figures, we produce about 52,000 tons of this waste per year. It will always be necessary to export waste. It would be impossible for a country the size of Ireland and at our stage of development to provide all of the facilities for dealing with very specialised waste. As the Deputy knows, it was the Government's intention to provide a national waste incinerator. That decision was postponed because of the development at Du Pont in Derry. Now that Du Pont are going it alone the Government are re-examining the provision of a national waste incinerator. This examination will be concluded shortly.

As the Deputy is well aware, markets are available abroad for the disposal of all dangerous waste, and I am not aware of any difficulties that have arisen. That will remain the case even if we go ahead with the provision of a national waste incinerator. The new waste Bill will obviously deal specifically with waste that is dangerous and hazardous. It is the Government's intention to place a very heavy reliance on this legislation in the matter of waste minimisation and waste prevention. As Deputy Mitchell has said, it is in the generation and disposal of waste that pollution occurs, and industry generally in the country will have to put in place cleaner technologies in the future.

There is a number of Deputies offering. I would be glad to facilitate them, but perhaps they will be brief.

I am sure the Minister is aware of the major controversy with regard to the Kill site proposal in which three local authorities are effectively involved, each of them having different interests to serve. May I ask the Minister whether there is a proposal to provide some co-ordination between Dublin city and county local authorities and the local authorities of neighbouring counties to try to find a rational and reasonable solution to the problem of waste arising from the greater Dublin area?

Co-ordination of the waste problem in Dublin is under way. As the Deputy is probably aware, an environmental impact study was commissioned recently in relation to the Kill site proposal. Officials of my Department had discussions recently with representatives of Dublin County Council in relation to that proposal at which certain matters were raised. We want to be sure that before a planning application is made all the matters are fully considerd in the environmental impact study. As the Deputy is aware, the site at Kill was the site of an unauthorised waste development which was closed down by the court in 1983. It is my intention to ensure, in so far as I have any authority in the matter, that new landfill sites are situated in the most appropriate area, that they are properly engineered and screened and properly run and managed. In the light of developments here and in the European Community the Dublin local authorities have to consider the fact that in future greater emphasis will, be on recycling with less dependence on landfill, although landfill will obviously be necessary. I know that there is co-ordination between the local authorities with a view to considering the most practical way of solving Dublin's waste problem for the future.

May I ask the Minister if, in her consideration of the disposal of domestic waste, incineration has been considered for that purpose in conjunction with district heating systems as is the case in many large urban areas in Britain and on the Continent, and whether this could be applied to Dublin and larger towns in the country?

In the disposal of waste everything has to be considered. A survey carried out in the past by the ESB showed that incineration for subsequent use for district heating would be uneconomic and would not be viable in an Irish context. Certainly there are enormous difficulties with incinerators worldwide, even those merely used for municipal waste. As many Deputies may know, even the thought of an incinerator frightens many communities——

Including the Minister.

——and I am not certain that in an Irish context incineration is necessarily the best way of dealing with municipal waste.

I am disappointed that the Minister is still obviously actively considering the provision of a national waste incinerator. Would the Minister not agree that if we had a thorough programme of reduction of dangerous waste at source we would not need a national toxic waste incinerator? Second, would the Minister agree that we could learn from Denmark which is making much greater efforts than we are to phase out PVC?

I do not agree with the Deputy. To my knowledge, despite the idealism about the total abolition of dangerous and toxic waste, no society is free of these substances. Even hospitals and health activities generate dangerous and toxic waste. From an environmental point of view, what we must do is provide the best way of dealing with the waste that is generated. I agree with the Deputy that we need to place greater emphasis on the reduction of dangerous waste at source and perhaps on the phase out of certain waste. That is why in the Environmental Protection Agency legislation we made provision for the establishment here of a toxic release inventory which will give us basic information about the composition and production of certain dangerous waste. That is a forerunner to any phase out programme.

I would clarify that on the question of providing a national waste incinerator a decision will have to be made by the Government in due course. Obviously the Government will have to consider the economics of the provision of such a facility, particularly in the light of the decision by Du Pont, and when they arrive at a decision it will be made public as soon as possible. We cannot shirk our responsibility in providing the most practical way of dealing with dangerous waste.

While we all agree that priority should be given to the prevention and pre-emption of waste, as Deputy Garland has said, would the Minister agree that at the end of the day we will end up with a certain amount of toxic and hazardous waste and that it would be folly for any environmentalist to ignore that fact? We have to face up to the issue of how to dispose of hazardous waste. I would ask the Minister to clarify a statement in an earlier reply in relation to exporting our waste, which surprised me. Is it not a fact that the scope for exporting waste across our national boundaries will be severely limited in future years by new EC developing rules?

The Basle directive which will come into effect shortly and the Community's policy generally is on self-sufficiency. However, the Community recognises that, even though self-sufficiency has to be the aim, no small country could be totally self-sufficient and in those circumstances countries can agree on a bilateral basis to take each other's waste, and that will remain the position. I agree with Deputy Mitchell that even in ideal circumstances, such as those that prevail in Denmark and other countries mentioned by Deputy Garland, provision still has to be made for the disposal of dangerous and toxic waste. For example, asbestos which is generated from many old buildings and so on will remain a dangerous waste that has to be disposed of in a very specialised way no matter how we phase out existing waste streams. We have to be realistic in that regard.