Ceisteanna–Questions. Priority Questions. - Waste Management.

Eamon Gilmore


2 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government if he will make a statement on the findings of the national waste database report for 1995-98 produced by the Environmental Protection Agency; the proposals, if any, he has to deal with the waste crisis in view of the fact the level of waste almost doubled in the period surveyed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10022/00]

The Environmental Protection Agency warns that care must be taken in making comparisons between the findings of the national waste database report for 1998 and those of the preceding report for 1995 as it can be difficult to determine the extent to which variations in data reflect real developments or are a function of improved reporting and methodology.

For example, it is not correct to suggest that waste arisings doubled in the period from 1995 to 1998. Estimated waste arisings in 1998 amounted to some 80 million tonnes, but this included nearly 20 million tonnes of dirty water from the dairy sector which had not been taken into account in the 1995 database. The 1998 total also reflects a significant change in the method of calculation of arisings of animal manures and slurries, which amounted to over 40 million tonnes.

While a degree of estimation and extrapolation is necessarily involved in developing data on waste generation, the trends in the period 1995 to 1998 seem clear. The EPA's findings point to increasing waste generation in most of the main categories, reflecting, inter alia, the economic growth and improved manufacturing and industrial performance of recent years. Overall, the EPA estimates that non-agricultural waste arisings increased by 37% to over 15 million tonnes.

The volume of waste recycled and otherwise recovered has increased substantially in real terms, from about 900,000 tonnes in 1995 to over 2.5 million tonnes in 1998. However, because waste arisings have also increased significantly, overall waste recovery rates have not substantially improved.

The 1998 report clearly underlines the challenge inherent in meeting the Government's targets for the recovery and disposal of waste set out in the policy statement, Changing our Ways, and the need to press ahead with the adoption and vigorous implementation of the local and regional waste management plans that are currently being finalised. These provide for practical measures to minimise municipal and industrial waste generation as well as the development of improved waste services and an integrated waste management infrastructure. Their implementation will have a major impact on our waste recovery performance.

The National Development Plan, 2000-2006, provides for capital investment of £650 million to support the delivery of improved waste management services and infrastructure. Of this, £100 million in Exchequer-EU funding will be provided to support the development of requisite waste recovery infrastructure over the life of the plan.

Our national environmental awareness programme, supported by measures at local level, will raise the issue of waste minimisation in the public consciousness but, in addition, more direct action will be necessary. Delivery of regional and local waste management plans will be complemented and expedited by an increasing focus by Government on fiscal and other measures to prevent and minimise waste generation and directly influence business practice and public consumption patterns.

Additional Information.

It is the intention to expand upon the policy issues and guidance in Changing our Ways with the publication this year of a new policy statement on waste minimisation, recycling and recovery. This will outline the scope of measures to be undertaken in the interests of a sustained improvement in our recycling performance and the findings of the 1998 national database report will have a major bearing on this policy development.

Leaving aside the Minister's efforts to talk down the seriousness of the EPA's report, which shows that waste is growing at a rate of approximately 12.5% per year, what action does he intend to take to deal with this country's growing waste crisis? Local authorities are taking different courses of action in respect of this area. Some of them are privatising their waste collection and disposal services, some charge different rates for these services and others are considering the establishment of new dumps or the construction of incinerators. In the interim, the waste mountain is growing. What does the Minister for the Environment and Local Government propose to do to deal with this country's growing waste crisis and to bring to bear a degree of national strategy in respect of the management of our waste problem and solutions thereto?

As Minister for the Environment and Local Government, I intervened in this area in October 1998 following my discovery that the Waste Management Act, 1996, advocated an approach to waste management based on local authority areas, which was clearly inadequate. I quickly realised on entering office that there was a need to take a more regional approach to resolve difficulties in this area. It was for that reason that we produced our policy document, Changing our Ways, in 1998 which gave the lead to local authorities to approach waste management in an integrated and regional way.

Almost all local authorities are currently involved in a consultation phase regarding regional waste management strategies. These strategies which are now being put in place are designed to fully implement the policy I outlined in October 1998 in respect of waste prevention, where possible, minimisation, reuse, recycling, including composting and the separation and seg regation of waste, and safe final disposal. As already stated, the authorities are in the middle of a consultation phase but, when the strategies are put in place, they will have a significant effect on the problem of waste and waste management.

I must contradict Deputy Gilmore because at no stage did I try to talk down the EPA's report. However, I am obliged to point out what is accurate, what may have been exaggerated etc. I agree with the Deputy that a serious problem exists in relation to waste and waste management.

The six minutes for this question have elapsed. We must proceed to Question No. 3.