Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 30 Mar 2022

Vol. 1020 No. 3

Circular Economy, Waste Management (Amendment) and Minerals Development (Amendment) Bill 2022: Second Stage

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

In many ways, over the past two decades, waste policy has been Ireland’s unsung environmental success story. We have progressed from a situation where the State was facing prosecution before the European courts for lack of enforcement of unlicensed landfills to one where we have both radically reduced our dependence on landfill and our enforcement programme against unlicensed activity has been hailed by the European Commission as a model of best practice for resolving large-scale waste infringements.

However, that is the past and we must look to the future where we will have to meet increasingly ambitious European targets for recycling and reuse, where we must reduce our dependence on the vagaries of international markets for waste export, and where we fully embrace the social, economic and environmental opportunities of a circular economy. More fundamentally, we must meet the challenge of a future where we cannot continue to rely on complex global supply chains to the extent we do today, where all countries will be faced with the reality of increased competition for raw materials, and where the pace of primary resource extraction is far outstripping the planet’s capacity to meet our needs in the long term.

The foundations of the linear economy based around the take-make-waste model are creaking at the seams. Embracing a regenerative circular economy, where waste is minimised, where economic growth is decoupled from resource consumption, and where the value of goods and materials is retained in our economy for as long as possible, is an environmental, economic and strategic necessity for Ireland. This Bill sets out a comprehensive suite of regulatory policy and economic measures that, taken together, will help us to embrace the opportunities of a future defined by this circular transition.

The Bill will provide the necessary legislative basis to place several key measures, including the circular economy strategy, the circular economy programme and the national food waste prevention programme, on a statutory footing. The adoption in December last year of a high-level whole-of-government circular economy strategy plays a fundamental role and provides an overarching policy framework that works for the public, private and voluntary sectors. The first version of the strategy, published in December, sets out the first high-level steps we need to take to make the transition possible.

The first version of the strategy is, by design, a high-level document which aims to communicate the Government's overall approach to the circular economy, but subsequent iterations will feature increasingly detailed and ambitious targets. The Bill provides that the statutory version of the strategy may feature both economy-wide and sectoral targets, and it sets out the supporting actions necessary to achieve those targets. Following enactment of the Bill, I intend to commence work on the second, more action-orientated version of the strategy, which will then be on a statutory basis as a priority this year.

The circular economy programme was also launched in December. It is being implemented by the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, which will provide critical evidence-led support to achieving our national policy objectives. The new programme builds on and encompasses the agency's previous national waste prevention programme, which has been integral to our national success in waste policy outcomes, adding new elements and a new focus specifically related to supporting the circular economy. The Bill provides that these new elements will have the same statutory basis as the programme's pre-existing waste prevention measures, which are currently provided for in the Waste Management Act.

Food waste is a global problem that has environmental, social and economic consequences. Worldwide, more than one quarter of food that is produced is wasted. A public consultation on Ireland's first draft national food waste prevention roadmap was launched by my Department last January and it will conclude this week. The roadmap will set out a series of actions to achieve the Government's ambition to halve Ireland's food waste by 2030. Key areas of focus in the draft roadmap include establishing Ireland's baseline data on food waste, from which we will set out to achieve a 50% reduction by 2030. This 50% target derives from the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Placing the strategy, programme and roadmap on a statutory footing will ensure that the circular economy transition remains a national policy priority.

The Bill will also give the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the power to introduce new environmental levies on single-use items and, in due course, to prohibit the placing on the market of certain environmentally harmful products, replacing and building on existing powers currently set out in legislation on waste. The new levies will work in a similar way to the plastic bag levy, with the proceeds ring-fenced in a circular economy fund for projects relating to environmental and climate action objectives. The various levies will be introduced incrementally. However, the initial focus will be the introduction of levies on disposable hot drinks cups. Levies and bans will only be introduced where more sustainable alternatives are readily available to the consumer. They will not be applied to any product which remains necessary for reasons of food safety or to prevent food wastage.

The objective of the new levies is not to raise revenue. Indeed, the aim of introducing them is to encourage the use of reusable alternatives so that the consumer never incurs the levy in the first place. The precise details regarding scope and rate of the levy on disposable coffee cups will be set out in secondary legislation following enactment of the Bill, with the intention of bringing the levy into force as early as possible. The new levies will build on Ireland's successful experience of the plastic bag levy and the landfill levy. I look forward to introducing the levy on disposable coffee cups as soon as possible this year and I expect to see a rapid and significant surge in the use of reusable cups and a decline in coffee cup litter across the country.

I believe the use of economic instruments to incentivise sustainable behaviour can work. We have seen it work with plastic bags and with landfill. I am also firmly of the view that if levies are carefully applied on the basis of a strong evidence base, they will produce more sustainable consumption patterns and will not result in increased costs to businesses and consumers. Businesses should be able to achieve savings due to the reduced need to stock disposable items such as single-use coffee cups. Where those businesses pass those savings to customers who avail of reusable products, and I hope they will, the consumer also benefits. In addition, if we can successfully embed reusable items in our daily habits, that provides opportunities for new business models based on activities such as deposit-return schemes and reverse logistics.

To support this development and to reduce further any costs associated with the levy on consumers and businesses, I intend to target specifically a portion of the income from the new environmental levies towards projects and schemes that will increase the availability of reusable products and packaging. Recognising the role played by the environment fund since its inception and the need to align its objectives more closely with the promotion of the circular economy, the environment fund will be replaced by a new circular economy fund under the Bill. This fund will continue to support key environmental projects in the coming years.

The Bill will also make important amendments to the Waste Management Act to support the delivery of further actions in the waste action plan. In the context of waste enforcement, the Bill will advance a number of priority provisions, including the use of technologies such as closed circuit television, CCTV, for waste enforcement purposes in a way that is fully in compliance with national and EU data protection law. Littering and dumping deface both our rural and urban landscapes. They are a serious threat to our environment and, in terms of both enforcement and clean up, they result in significant costs for local authorities. At local level, we all are aware from our constituency work of how much littering and dumping can affect our local communities. They are also issues that cause great upset for citizens, spoiling local beauty spots and often undoing the invaluable work that is undertaken by Tidy Towns groups, committees and volunteers.

A combination of legislation, guidance and the use of mandatory codes of practice provided for in the Bill will ensure that the processing of personal data may be carried out by local authorities tasked with enforcing litter and waste law. This will provide an important deterrent to protect our environment from the scourge of littering and illegal dumping while at the same time respecting the privacy rights of citizens. I am very aware there will be concerns regarding data privacy in light of these new powers. I assure Deputies that these concerns have been to the fore in drafting the relevant sections of the Bill. Local authorities will only be able to use these new powers in respect of waste enforcement and littering. The Bill prevents any possibility of mission creep in that regard.

Local authorities will have to address whether the use of CCTV and other technologies are necessary and proportionate with regard to the specific issues they wish to tackle. They will be required to carry out regular reviews of their use of these technologies to ensure that they remain necessary and proportionate. No deployment of these technologies will be permitted until the relevant code of practice is in place. The codes, which will set out in detail the operational requirements for minimising data intrusion, will be subject to ministerial approval. The Bill also explicitly prohibits the use of automated number plate recognition and automatic facial recognition for waste enforcement and anti-littering purposes. Having consulted with both the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner and the local government sector, I do not believe that either of these technologies is necessary or proportionate for the purposes of the Bill.

My Department has very much welcomed the involvement of the Data Protection Commissioner in the development of these provisions and I expect that this co-operation will continue in the context of the development of codes of practice. This will support an ongoing effort by local authorities to tackle illegal dumping and littering. Provision will also be made for the use of fixed-penalty notices for additional waste streams, including under the extended producer responsibility model for dealing with waste tyres. The changes proposed have the general aim of providing for more proportionate and focused enforcement. The combination of legislation, guidance and the use of mandatory codes of practice will ensure that processing of personal data may be carried out by local authorities tasked with enforcing litter and waste law, thus providing an important deterrent in order to protect our environment from the scourge of littering and illegal dumping while at the same time respecting the privacy rights of citizens.

Further provisions of the Bill will help drive better segregation of waste in the commercial sector. EPA statistics indicate that 70% of the material placed in general waste bins should be in recycling or organic bins. This, in turn, will help us to achieve our EU targets for recycling and landfill. My expectation is that providing for better segregation of commercial waste, with recyclable material separated from general waste in the same manner which currently applies to households, will ultimately save businesses money through lower collection costs. The Bill also provides for powers to include additional requirements in the permits held by waste collectors.

In tandem with the new environmental levies, the Bill provides for the introduction of a new waste recovery levy. This will apply to waste sent for recovery, that is, for incineration or for landfill back-filling here in Ireland or exported abroad for those purposes. This new recovery levy will complement the existing landfill levy and will further improve the relative economic incentives for waste holders to choose recycling or reuse 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.

The Bill will help streamline and improve the end-of-waste and by-product application processes that are currently administered by the EPA. These two regulatory processes provide a means whereby material that would otherwise be disposed of as waste can be safely reused, for example, in the form of secondary raw materials.

Today's globalised economy is overwhelmingly based on a linear model of production and consumption. We take, make and then waste. The environmental impact of a linear throwaway model in which we extract great quantities of natural resources to make things we may only use once before disposing of them is not sustainable. It is estimated the raw material resources we use in a year is already 50% more than nature can replenish in a year. On present trends, this will rise to a factor of three by 2050. The circular economy offers an alternative, whereby waste and resource use is minimised and the value of products and materials is maintained as long as possible.

Getting items repaired instead of binning them and remanufacturing items by taking them apart and using parts again in new items has the potential to decrease the amount of primary resource extraction and reduce the carbon impact of manufacturing and transporting single-use items. We need to start thinking and acting in new ways. Our planet simply demands it. As a result, Sinn Féin welcomes most aspects of the Bill. What is unusual about the Bill is that the circular economy is not pioneering or anything new. It tries to recreate what happened in days gone by. Years ago, very little food was thrown away in homes. People mended the soles of their shoes, sewed torn clothes and passed them down, and repaired broken household items. Modern day consumerism has fuelled a damaging throwaway approach, resulting in huge, almost unimaginable, amounts of waste, something the Bill and a national strategy now seek to reverse.

All of the responsibility to change this approach cannot be placed at the feet of workers and families. The corporations that have profited hugely from this throwaway model need to be tackled and forced to take appropriate action to change their behaviour. Last year I travelled to COP26 in Glasgow and highlighted the irony of the CEO of Amazon speaking at a major climate change conference when, just weeks earlier, a few miles up the road from Glasgow, the company he heads was found to be destroying millions of items of unsold stock every year, including smart televisions, laptops, drones and hairdryers, simply to ensure the excess did not impact on its profits. It was a disgusting display of greed and waste. While disposable cups might be the headline for the media today, there is no point charging consumers for using a coffee cup if such disgraceful behaviour by major corporations is not challenged and addressed by the Government and regulators.

The Bill seeks to give the Minister the power to introduce new environmental levies on single-use items and, in the longer term, to prohibit placing on the market of certain environmentally harmful products. A total of 91% of all plastics are single use and the rate of mass production since plastic became commonly used almost six decades ago has resulted in 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic pollution. Single-use plastics are a scourge on our environment, with a vast amount ending up in our oceans and having a major impact on our marine ecosystems. It was amazing to see the speed at which industries could abandon some single-use plastics and move to a more sustainable model when they had to under the EU single-use plastic directive that came into force last year. It is a shame it took so long to address this, in addition to microplastics, with so much ending up in landfill and our oceans.

Officials from the Department raised the prospect of applying a levy on all classes of coffee cups, including plastic and biodegradable, to discourage the single-use approach and promote reusable alternatives. Will the Minister of State give an update on what approach he intends to take in this area? As he is aware, at the beginning of this year France banned the sale of certain fruit and vegetables that came wrapped in unnecessary plastic. If we walk down the fruit and vegetable aisle of any supermarket in Ireland, the amount of needless plastic wrapping we see on some food is astonishing. Such a ban is not included in the Bill. I asked a parliamentary question on whether the Minister intends to follow the French example. He indicated he was not planning to introduce a similar ban here as our supply chain is different from that of France and such a proposal would need to be examined further. Has further consideration being given to this? The amount of plastic wrapping we see is quite incredible. There is a plastic sticker on every individual apple or orange or whatever it might be.

On a related matter, one of the topics my colleague, Senator Lynn Boylan, raised during pre-legislative scrutiny was the standard of biodegradable packaging and the importance of ensuring we simply do not replace single-use plastics with single-use biodegradable containers that have questionable content, for example, PFAS. The environmental charity, VOICE Ireland, gave evidence during pre-legislative scrutiny that a compost bowl obtained in the Oireachtas canteen was the highest rated for PFAS, with 12 times the allowable amount of that chemical coating on the bowl. These chemicals touch people's food, and when the container is composted, they can end up back in a farmer's field and in the food chain. Recently, Denmark and California banned PFAS in food contact material. Has the Minister of State given consideration to this?

I welcome the proposal in the Bill to draft a national food waste prevention strategy. Despite the horrendous level of world hunger, more than one quarter of food produced worldwide is wasted. In Ireland, people have become more conscientious about food waste in recent years. The arrival of food waste prevention apps that allow people to buy excess food from shops and bakeries for a discount highlights the positive role that technology can play in fighting food waste. During pre-legislative scrutiny, I raised the issue of the need for mandatory reporting by food businesses of the amount of food waste they generate and the actions taken to reduce such waste. Under the provisions of the Bill and the strategy, we have to reduce food waste by 50% by 2030. It is arguable that a mandatory 7% food waste reduction target should be set each year with appropriate enforcement mechanisms to ensure we can meet this target. Will the Minister of State outline what consideration has been given to this mandatory approach?

On the deposit return scheme, while the details of the proposed scheme are not included in the Bill, it forms a key part of the circular economy approach. Last year, regulations were signed by the Minister for a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles and aluminium cans. This is supposed to come into effect later this year. While this is welcome and long overdue, Sinn Féin is strongly of the opinion that glass should be included in any new scheme. A recommendation from pre-legislative scrutiny similarly noted that, as glass is an acceptable material for deposit return and for the development of collection, cleaning and refilling infrastructure, consideration should be given to including glass containers in any future expansion of a deposit return scheme. Perhaps it is something the Minister of State might touch on in his closing remarks.

We welcome the new provisions that will allow local authorities to use CCTV and drones in a proportional manner to combat illegal dumping. It is an absolute scourge. I want to raise some questions on the Minister of State's engagement with the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner.

I expect we will have an opportunity to tease out those details on Committee Stage. There is a fine line here and it is important to get the balance right with regard to the use of this technology. It will require close scrutiny.

On the circular economy fund, will the Minister of State outline how much will be in the environment fund? What is the estimated annual income of this new circular economy fund? Will he provide detail on the activities to be financed by that new fund?

I will touch on a further point raised during prelegislative scrutiny, which has regard to repair shops. We heard from various witnesses who had tried to do their very best with repair shops. They told us of the barriers, hurdles and impediments they faced, one of which was the issue of VAT and insurance. Has the Minister of State engaged with the Minister for Finance on these matters?

We welcome the Bill. There is a very significant amount in it. How it impacts on the worst offenders, including businesses and corporations, will be important. It cannot just be left to individuals. We are happy to work with the Minister of State, who I know has taken a significant personal interest in and responsibility for bringing the Bill forward. I look forward to working with him on Committee Stage and further stages.

The Circular Economy, Waste Management (Amendment) and Minerals Development (Amendment) Bill 2022 might sound remote to people who are struggling with the cost of living at the moment but it will actually matter to how we live our lives in the context of waste, emissions and climate change. While I am pleased to support this Bill, it is important that we put it in the context of where we are in respect of consumption, waste and the climate crisis. Anyone who has friends or family in New South Wales in Australia will know that they awoke to yet more deluges of rain, with levees at the point of collapse and sirens wailing. Here at home, we have seen hurricane force winds creeping up the north Atlantic with storms racing through the letters of the alphabet. We read worrying reports of the effects of rising oceans on our cities, including Dublin, where our Dáil sits. We have watched climate scientists scratch their heads at the simultaneous heat waves at the North and South Poles. They should be the only poles this generation of politicians are really worried about because we are the politicians who will have to mitigate, as best we can, the impacts of climate change and the excess consumption of our generation on our children and their children. It has gone too far to be prevented at this stage. We are now really in mitigation mode.

In the 1940s and 1950s, people in Ireland used to suffer and die from tuberculosis, or consumption as it was called at the time, but it is another kind of consumption that is killing this generation and our planet. As politicians, we have to be straight with people. As I have asked repeatedly in the Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action, is any government anywhere telling its people that they need to consume less stuff and use less energy given the depth and breadth of the crisis we are facing and the abrupt climate change we are seeing with parts of Europe collapsing in landslides, Canada and California going up in flames, islands in Greece being evacuated and parts of Australia going underwater with herds of cattle being swept away by floods? I do not agree with our own Government, which puts too much onus on the individual as opposed to leading from the front and demanding institutional change on climate.

Two years ago, before the rapid melting of ice, urgent warnings came from Oxfam that the carbon emissions of the richest 1% of people were more than double those of half of humanity, or more than 3 billion people. We have serious work to do on these serious matters that will affect our children and their children as they live through the worst effects of destructive capitalism and all of the associated exploitation, manipulation and empty promises.

Sinn Féin will be proposing amendments to this Bill, where appropriate, on Committee Stage. The "latte levy" on a takeaway cup might sound catchy but it refers to a single-use model that is wholly unsustainable. We are running when we should not even be standing or replenishing. Already we use 50% of what nature can make in a year and, based on current trends, that will treble by 2050. What way is that to live? What example is that to give to the generations coming up? In light of what we see in abrupt climate change, how can any continuance of this level of consumption be justified? As the Minister of State will know, we are obsessed with growth in this country. We really have to look at that.

The drafting of a waste food strategy provided for in the Bill is essential. It is unconscionable that while half of our world is dumping food, most of the other half is starving. It is really hard to look at the famine that is destroying Yemen and to watch little babies' and children's arms being measured, with arms only as wide as our thumbs. While the starvation there starts with Yemen's people being starved, the conflict there has also been starved of international attention. Our own Government appeases Saudi Arabia's Government, which has rained bombs on innocents, and God knows the untold carbon emissions that arise from those bombs. The Saudi regime has engaged in mass decapitations and has actually butchered a journalist in one of its embassies. It is absolutely disgraceful. The regime is as polluting and devastating as the fossil fuels wreaking havoc on our planet, on biodiversity and on our people.

The disposable economy, whereby cheaper items tend to be of lower quality and require frequent replacement, is also having a poor effect on society. Inbuilt obsolescence will have to go. The right to repair is essential. We must have better quality goods available at a good price so that those on low incomes are not locked out of the circular economy. My nana was not wrong when she told us that we should save up for good things because they will last. It is very good advice if you can afford it, but it is lower-paid families who are affected because they cannot afford to buy the expensive version of an item. We look forward to the return of the local repair shops that are such a common sight in our neighbouring countries in Europe. We see haberdashery stores in every town and village where you can repair your vacuum cleaner, lawnmower or television. In my own home town of Maynooth, we still have a gréasaí so we go there to get our boots heeled and soled.

While I broadly welcome the Bill, as a member of the Select Committee on Environment and Climate Action, I look forward to proposing amendments, which I hope the Minister of State will look on favourably.

The idea of circular economy and waste management is certainly not new to most people who grew up in rural Ireland. My father worked all his life fixing farm machinery. My brother had what was basically a scrapyard. He took in old beaten-down cars. Everyone who had an old banger that they wanted to keep going would come to him. If the radiator had burst, they would get one from him. All of the materials of the car were sent off to be recycled. My brother now leases out that site and does not do that business any more. The concept of all of that is something that most people will embrace and it is something they will want to do.

I was just thinking about how, in recent weeks, the fridge in our house started to make a lot of noise. When I pulled it out and looked underneath, there was a little fan running beside the cooler. One of the plastic blades had broken off and was tipping away and making a noise. I went to spares.ie but could not get a replacement. I tried all of the various websites before ringing a repairman who told me that because the fridge was about ten years old, I would not get a fan for it. It is just a little bit of plastic that would not cost 10 cent to make. The fridge is still working but it is a bit noisy. We will put up with it for another while but the point is that the companies that manufacture goods and sell them to us have a responsibility to manufacture spare parts not just for the time it wants to, thereafter forcing you to buy a new product, but as we move into the future. That is one thing we must ensure is put in place.

Others have talked about the role of the corporate sector in all of this. That is key. We know that disposable cups and all of those things are a problem but the biggest producer of all of this waste is the corporate sector. It is produced when corporations decide to cast aside a particular model of a given product and come out with a new one. Everyone believes that a washing machine is supposed to last four or five years, at which point you throw it out and get a new one. I saw the same thing with our own washing machine a number of years ago. The bearing went on it and it started to make noise. You would have thought there was an aeroplane taking off. I talked to a repair guy and was told that you could not get the bearings any more and that you had to get the entire drum, which was as dear as a new washing machine. What do you do in that situation but throw it out? That is going on all of the time.

It is not just an Irish problem but a global problem and it needs to be recognised as that. As materials like that are being dealt with, we need to ensure the corporate sector manufactures items in a way that they are fixable and people are trained to fix them. We need to have an economy focused on that and not the other economy which is about the cast away and start again.

I was glad to see the provision at the end of the Bill with regard to coal mining and hydraulic fracking of fossil fuels and gases from tight-gas sandstone reservoirs. We had a big campaign in our part of the world, in Leitrim and West Cavan, about how bad hydraulic fracking and extracting gas in that way can be for the environment. However, if it is bad for us to do here in Ireland, it is bad to be taking gas from any other country doing the same thing. That point needs to be made. We need to recognise that we are a global economy. It is not just an economy, but a global ecology. If something is bad here, it is bad in Pennsylvania or anywhere else. We should not be buying into it. We should not allow temporary problems, such as the situation in Ukraine, as extreme and horrible as it is, resulting in shortages of oil, to lead to our economy being held to ransom.

While amendments and improvements to the Bill are required, it is moving in the right direction and a great deal more work needs to be done.

I welcome the opportunity to debate the Circular Economy, Waste Management (Amendment) and Minerals Development (Amendment) Bill, which Labour is glad to support. As the Minister of State said, the Bill aims to shift Ireland's consumption patterns from a take-make-waste linear model to the more sustainable pattern of production and consumption with the aim of reducing and minimising waste and thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It is a very welcome move.

In a circular economy, as we know, waste and resource use are minimised and the use and value of products and materials are maintained for as long as possible so that when a product reaches the end of its life, its parts are used again and again to create further useful and productive products instead of being discarded, an all-too familiar pattern which we have been hearing about. It is hard for many of us to fathom the quantity of waste that is produced worldwide. Most of us probably do not like to think about waste. Naturally it is distasteful even to reflect on the amount of waste we in our own households produce - the non-productive producing of waste. It is hard to visualise it; it is not something we like to think about or talk about. It is out of sight and out of mind in many cases. However, clearly we need to address this issue of waste. It was brought to my attention very graphically on a recent visit I made to the Covanta waste incineration plant in my constituency in the Poolbeg Peninsula. I was confronted with literally a mountain of human-produced waste, mostly domestic but also corporate. That was a wake-up call. It has quite a profound effect to be confronted with the visible manifestation of our waste and our wasteful habits. I very much welcome the Bill because it seeks to tackle that issue which we all-too often do not like to think about, talk about or even debate in political circles.

I want to speak about different aspects of the Bill that I welcome. On the use of CCTV, in respect of section 20 of the Bill I welcome the introduction of measures to detect and deter illegal dumping and littering by empowering local authorities to use GDPR-compliant technologies to detect and prevent unsightly and illegal dumping and littering among other measures. We in Labour support this measure first proposed by my colleague Senator Mark Wall in the Seanad, through the Local Government (Use of CCTV in Prosecution of Offences) Bill 2021 which he introduced last year with a view to addressing the difficulty local authorities have in addressing illegal dumping.

I should say that years ago, as a practitioner in criminal defence in the District Courts, it was always quite a memorable experience to hear the local litter wardens bringing their prosecutions and giving evidence to the court of how they had to go through bags to pick out envelopes and other materials that could identify the relevant offenders so that they could bring forward the prosecutions. It is a very cumbersome and very difficult task to prosecute in these cases. I welcome the initiative that has been taken here.

It is something that has been brought to our minds more because of the pandemic-related restrictions. The travel restrictions imposed over the last couple of years have meant that many people who might have exercised in gyms or leisure centres were instead exercising outdoors locally. It really brought home to many of us the realisation that so much environmental vandalism is caused by fly tippers and litterers in urban and rural settings alike. In some areas illegal dumping has caused really serious erosion and other problems. It can be found everywhere not just in remote rural areas but in the main streets of our cities and throughout our constituencies. Cleaning up the mess comes at a cost. It is not only creating an unsightly but in some cases hazardous environment. Senator Wall has given me the estimate that across 31 local authorities in the State, the cost of clearing up litter and illegally dumped materials may be as much as €90 million per year which is enormous. This is without considering the enormous voluntary effort put in by community clean-up groups which operate nationwide. I go out with my own group, the Friends of the Grand Canal, on the first Saturday every month. I know there are also local voluntary clean-up groups across my constituency in Portobello, Kimmage, Donnybrook, Terenure, Rathgar, Sandymount, Ringsend and Irishtown. These are volunteers who go out every week and do tremendous work, keeping their areas clean.

Dublin City Council and the local authorities generally, of course, also do a great deal of work. A number of constituents in my area have been very concerned at the removal of public bins in heavy footfall areas such as beside Charlemont Luas stop thereby contributing to a resurgence of illegal dumping and littering. We need to ensure the adequate supply of litter bins and that the councils are engaging in regular collection. We also need to support local community groups like the ones I have mentioned, which have taken such an interest in and put in such an effort to keep local areas clean. We are very lucky that there is such a voluntary effort going into clean-ups across the country. It shows the need to address illegal dumping and littering, which is a serious issue.

The aspect of the Bill that has received most focus is the reduction in single-use items at sections 11 to 14, inclusive. There has been some good collaboration on waste measures in the past between Labour and the Green Party. During the last Dáil, there was a joint venture between my colleague Deputy Sherlock and the now MEP Grace O'Sullivan with whom I worked in the Seanad. Deputy Sherlock and Grace O'Sullivan MEP worked together on the Bill to prohibit certain products containing plastic microbeads. That was another important measure brought forward to address single-use items, in particular plastic, and the enormous challenge plastic waste constitutes.

Following extensive debate and engagement with the previous Government that Government agreed to pass its own legislation to ban the manufacture or placing on the market of any water-soluble personal care cleaning product containing microplastics or microbeads. The engagement leading to the passage of that legislation represents the sort of red-green or green-red politics that I believe in. It is also a collaborative and constructive approach to politics, understanding the connectedness of the climate and biodiversity crises and indeed the crisis and challenges in dealing with waste.

I ask the Minister of State to engage with his colleague at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage to advance further regulatory measures dealing with plastic waste in particular, both at domestic and EU level because we are all conscious of the significant amount of microplastic material detected specifically in marine life. The logical natural progression of banning these toxic microplastics is that we would now seek to phase out single-use plastics altogether. The Minister of State referred to the levy that was imposed on plastic bags which was controversial when it was first introduced. Because it has now become so embedded in our national culture, we often forget that the topic actually dominated phone-in talk-radio shows for weeks at the time it was sought to be introduced, as indeed did the introduction of smoke-free areas and so on. We then adjust and move on, recognising the enormous benefit to us all, our society and our country that these measures represent.

Now that society has adjusted to the plastic bag levy, we all bring our own shopping bags to supermarkets without even thinking twice. Similarly, we need to move to a situation where we regard it as natural that we have phased out single-use plastic.

I listened to the coverage of the Bill on "Morning Ireland" this morning. Those interviewed in vox pops were shocked to learn that about 200 million disposable coffee cups are sent to landfill or incineration every year.

Again reflecting on my experience of visiting the Covanta site, we saw a huge amount of single-use coffee cups in that mountain of waste sent to be incinerated and a huge volume of other recyclable materials. While we have had very strong uptake of recycling and very positive figures on increased use of recycling and of green bins, there is still too much recyclable material going into incineration, which is something we need to address.

It is, of course, positive to see the move away from landfill, which the Minister of State addressed, and I have certainly seen those impressive statistics. However, we need to do more to develop the potential in the waste to energy sector, for example, through the rolling out of district heating systems, which, again, in my own area have been promised for a long time for Ringsend. I see the Minister of State, Deputy Smyth, looking somewhat rueful about this. It is an issue on which there has been far too much delay. We need to see this moved on as a matter of urgency. Other European countries have well established waste to energy programmes. District heating is the obvious use of waste to energy. It an obvious application where waste to energy can really make a huge difference and can really improve people's quality of life and address issues around the very concerning rises in fuel and energy costs.

It is very positive, therefore, to see these measures brought into the Bill around single-use items, disposable coffee cups in particular, on which there has been a real focus. To be very local for a moment, it is very welcome to see signs up in the canteen in Leinster House suggesting people use their own cup rather than taking a disposable one to the coffee machine. We have a responsibility to lead by example. I never miss the opportunity to say that one area where we have really failed to lead by example here in Leinster House is on encouragement of cycling. As the co-convenor with Senator Garvey of the Oireachtas cyclists group, we have been pushing for many years to try to get decent bike parking facilities in Leinster House. It is something I will again be in contact with the Minister of State about because we need to be seen to encourage more Oireachtas Members and staff to cycle to work. We are not sending out a signal that we are a welcoming space for cyclists with the very poor provision of bike parking facilities and with absolutely no covered bike parking facilities, while cars are parked everywhere, often on the lawn at the back of Leinster House. This is where we need to be leading by example, as we are on encouraging the use of keep cups or people's own cups.

I want to move to another point on which this Bill could do more or where we may need to see additional legislation, and that is on the right to repair. While this Bill, in a very welcome way, will assist in shifting behaviour among producers and the general population, we also need to do more to shift the balance of power from manufacturers and corporations back to citizens and ordinary people. It is often difficult to make sustainable choices. We heard Deputy Martin Kenny speak about the difficulties with repairing products that break down and the fact that, in too many cases, those products are simply disposed of and new products are purchased. This relatively new concept of a right to repair is one we need to see enshrined in law. It would make a huge difference in reducing waste while also addressing a power imbalance between consumers and manufacturers, and putting more money in people’s pockets.

In March 2020, the European Commission adopted its new circular economy action plan, which aims to establish a strong and coherent product policy framework to transform European consumption patterns and to avoid the production of waste in the first place. As part of this process, the Commission looks to embed a right to repair in EU consumer and product policies. This sort of legislation was strongly recommended, I note, by several of the submissions to the public consultation underpinning this Bill. It is an important part of a circular economy plan. The idea of right to repair was also echoed in debates which have taken place in the Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action over recent months. This Bill could do more on the issue.

I have already drafted a Labour Party Bill to enshrine a right to repair. I should say it was inspired by the writing of Karlin Lillington in The Irish Times, speaking about how the right to repair has taken on a very strong force in US politics and US environmental activism and we have seen this coming forward. This legislation would include measures to stop waste and tackle the cost of living by requiring manufacturers, particularly of digital and electronic equipment, to make available repair information to consumers and to break the monopoly on repair by the manufacturer. The legislation is urgently needed, not just to tackle corporate power and power imbalance and to break that monopoly, but also to crack down on what we might call planned obsolescence, that business strategy where the obsolescence of a product is built into it from its conception by the manufacturer to the point where we all think a washing machine should only have a few years lifespan. It is, of course, done with a view to compelling consumers or creating a culture in which consumers feel compelled to continue to invest in more and more new products. We are calling for a comprehensive right to repair to be enshrined in legislation to empower consumers and to create a market for repairable products and repair services.

I am conscious that, as is the case with many of us, my area of Dublin 8 has a number of small local phone shops where people can bring their smartphone or whatever make of mobile phone they have if the screen has cracked – in a household with teenagers, there are often many incidents of phone screens being cracked. The small local shop will fix the phone screen, usually in a matter of minutes, but, of course, if that is done, it generally means the phone is no longer guaranteed by the manufacturer because the manufacturer has retained the monopoly of repair. That is exactly the sort of practice which right to repair legislation seeks to tackle.

I believe it should be an important component of any circular economy legislation to enshrine that right to repair, to re-empower consumers and to break that cycle of obsolescence which generates so much waste and which will continue to do so unless we tackle it. We must go beyond the current EU directives and EU measures and extend that right to include not just digital electronic equipment, albeit that is a very important area, but also to include smaller household devices and to empower consumers generally. In the spirit of our previous engagement with the Government on the CCTV issue and on the prohibition of microbeads, I would hope the Minister of State will work with me and my party colleagues to see this principle placed on a legislative footing.

More generally, we very much welcome the concept of a circular economy. We in the Labour Party have put forward the important concept that national economic planning and climate targets must be in sync because they are two sides of the same coin. We need to ensure that any economic strategy takes account of and builds in environmental strategy and regional job generation to ensure we become the renewable superpower that we can be, and to break the hold of fossil fuel oligarchs and magnates, which I know is very much in all of our minds at present.

It would also, of course, ensure that climate would be at the heart of government. While the Green Party clearly has a very strong commitment on climate action, the offices of the Taoiseach, the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform are held by the other two Government parties, so we need to see that cross-party and cross-government strategising on the economy and on the environment together.

I want to mention Part 5 of the Bill, which is very important. It will end the issuing of new licences for exploration and mining of coal, lignite and oil shale, a welcome and important component of the move to consolidate a policy of reducing reliance on fossil fuels. Again, this is a topic that many of us have been speaking about. I expressed yesterday to the Taoiseach my wish that we need to take every step to avoid the horrific war in Ukraine having consequences on climate targets and environmental action. However, it may well do, because we are certainly seeing this horrific war, this brutal invasion of Ukraine, having enormous knock-on effects on food security, fuel and energy security and the cost of living for all of us, not just in Ireland but across the world and, in particular, in developing countries that were so reliant on Ukrainian wheat imports as much as anything. We know the war has already had enormous consequences. It may pose a threat to the limited but hard-fought for gains achieved at COP26 last year and it may pose obstacles to the reaching of our own climate targets. However, we also know that the consequences of failing to keep global temperatures below 1.5°C this century will be catastrophic and that any further slippage could have unthinkable results for humanity as we face this existential crisis. All of us are conscious of our fortune in being able to stand here in a peaceful corner of Europe to debate climate issues as the war rages in Ukraine and as people in Mariupol, Kyiv and elsewhere endure horrific bombardment but, undoubtedly, the climate crisis is that existential crisis that confronts us all and that we need to take more urgent action on.

On the previous Deputy's point about Covanta, I remember in the last Dáil as Dublin spokesperson going down to the Irish Water sewage treatment plant. I was told, and it is an analogy I have kept in my head since, that the sewage that flows into that plant is the equivalent of the volume of water that flows in the River Dodder from source to sea in a 24-hour period. It is cleansed to a certain degree and then goes out to sea.

Speakers have referred to plastic bottles, 80% of which still end up in landfill. It takes 1,000 years for each bottle to decompose. In the United States, there are not 2 million bottles but 2 million tonnes of plastic bottles in landfill that have been discarded.

The Minister of State will have heard the news yesterday that plastic particles have been found in human bloodstreams for the first time. We have been aware of such particles being found in fish, and we eat those fish. A study published in the journal Environment International tested 22 anonymous blood samples and found plastic particles in 80% of people tested, indicating such particles may be able to travel round the body and lodge in organs.

Politics owes the Green Party and the green movement a great debt in terms of highlighting and bringing the need for climate action to the fore. I feel comfortable saying it is now a mainstream topic. The Green Party is particularly good at the legislative and macro pieces but is not as radical as I would like to be in terms of micro measures implemented on the ground. If it is proved that microparticles from plastic bottles are found in the human body, why do we not just ban them? Here is a practical solution. Given all the plastic bottled water for sale in our shops, why do we not encourage the big water bottling companies to supply substantial water fonts to these supermarkets and let me bring my glass bottle or three glass bottles and fill them up every time I shop? If I want to purchase, why must I purchase plastic all the time?

This is serious. We are bringing in a tax on plastic cups. Why not ban them? If people want coffee, let us bring our own cups. The best way to do that is ban the sale of these. That leads to another issue. Everybody buys coffee now, including me. When you go into the shop, it is not just the cups. You have the slim, little wooden paddle sticks, which get used once and are thrown into waste. They are never recycled. There are the coffee grains. They get thrown in the same bag. There are fast food companies that I will not name which offer the grains to customers free of charge.

They are great in the garden.

Yes. Even there a bit of education is needed because apparently they are not great in every aspect of the garden but are suitable for particular plants.

Sometimes I think we are too late. A piecemeal manner of addressing this will not work. If you want to see the appetite for plastic, go into your supermarket. The most obscene example of plastic use is on airlines. When you order a cup of tea and a bun, you are given a plastic cup, a plastic spoon, plastic sachets of sugar, a plastic holder for the milk, plastic around the bag, a plastic bag to dispose of the plastic to be collected and that is disposed of in another plastic bag that the cabin crew push around. The amount of plastic peddled to consumers on airlines is obscene.

I have a Bill that is almost completed and has been in gestation for quite a while. It is around waste recycling. I hope to publish it after Easter. It proposes to build on the voluntary efforts made by some supermarkets. I do not want to name them. They have large bays in the supermarket so people can dispose of unwanted plastic before bringing their shopping home. Some supermarkets and supermarket chains are taking big steps forward in relation to this. I was talking to someone from a new supermarket in my area and they are going to great lengths to restrict the amount of waste. We need to go a step further. My Bill intends to make this mandatory in supermarkets and shops of a particular size. Some of the legislation governing rehab talks about this. I should be able to dispose of unwanted wrapping, containers, covers or whatever in the shop. A classic example, in terms of paper, is the load of newspaper supplements which I do not want when I buy the newspaper and would like to be able to leave behind. Supermarkets are stopping at this phase; they are clapping themselves on the back and saying they are enabling people to leave wrappings and produce covers behind. I would like them to be able to examine whether packaging on some goods is left behind by customers in much bigger volumes than packaging on other goods. They should be able to contact manufacturers to say that customers do not seem to like the way they package their goods. That is the only way to create a chain of change. That Bill is coming forward after Easter.

The Minister of State should not be afraid to be radical. There is a huge appetite among the public. Plastic bottles will kill us all. They are killing marine life and ocean life. There is some evidence, which I am sure will grow and grow, that we are digesting it into our system. There is plastic in our system and God knows what damage that is doing to us.

We all need to challenge ourselves. Like Deputy Lahart, I leave plastic and packaging behind in shops. In fairness, the shops I go into and where I leave the packaging behind are very accommodating. It is welcome that the Minister will be able to target this type of packaging. We must reduce what we are sending to the incinerator, which of course is a blight that was foisted on the community of Ringsend. If we can reduce the packaging and waste going to the incinerator, this will be good legislation.

I welcome the discussion of this Bill, which we in the Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action reported on in the context of pre-legislative scrutiny of the legislation in June 2021. The report was subsequently published in December 2021. We met many stakeholders who provided evidence from a broad range of perspectives, including representatives of the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, VOICE Ireland, the European Environmental Bureau, EEB, and CIRCULÉIRE. The backdrop to this new policy is the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021, which outlines Ireland's transition to net zero and achieving a climate-neutral economy not later than 2050. It also puts on a statutory footing the circular economy strategy, the circular economy programme and the national food waste prevention roadmap, which will focus on reducing food waste by 50% by 2030.

We live in a linear economy, where raw materials are collected, often to the detriment of developing nations, then transformed into products that are used until they are finally discarded as waste. Value is created in this economic system by producing and selling as many products as possible. This leads to the take, make and disposal of consumerist culture in which we all partake. Deputy O'Rourke is correct that this legislation is a backward-facing policy instead of a forward-facing policy. This is how we used to live some 30, 40 and 50 years ago and we must reflect on the values we had in those days, because we might learn a great deal from the many people who still practice that more frugal lifestyle.

Two reports from the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, last year pointed to a worrying trend in the way we are dealing with our waste. The first, released in September 2021, showed that 69% of Ireland's plastic waste is burned instead of being recycled, which is sending additional greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. A second report on waste published by the EPA in December 2021 found that while waste was rising to record levels, recycling rates were falling and Ireland was over-reliant on incineration to tackle our waste. Furthermore, in 2019, almost half of our rubbish was burned, and that was up from just 4% in 2009. The EPA said at the time that systemic change was needed to shift the focus to designing out waste and promoting reuse and recycling.

I am hopeful that with this Bill we will see the shift we need to help us reach our emissions reductions targets as well to help us move towards a more sustainable and fairer economic system. In a circular economy, waste is minimised and products are kept in use for as long as possible through design, repair and reuse. When a product reaches the end of its life, its parts are used repeatedly to create further useful products, hence the circular nature of resources and products. It is to be hoped this Bill will be a turning point that brings us away from a linear economy and towards a circular one. It is intended to put Ireland on a path towards a circular economy by placing the circular economy strategy, the circular economy programme and the national food waste prevention roadmap on a statutory footing. It will also introduce levies and bans on certain single-use items, while using CCTV to deter dumping and littering.

What I wish to focus on concerning this Bill are the changes made since pre-legislative scrutiny by the Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action, of which I am a member. I also wish to touch briefly on timelines and targets. Most importantly, though, I wish to spend most of my time discussing how to make this legislation, and other climate action policies, poverty- and disability-proof. This should be a key focus of the Government in respect of legislation and policies of this type. The Bill has marginally improved since the pre-legislative stage, and has incorporated some of the recommendations made by the joint committee. The Minister of State will be discussing this aspect in his closing statement as well.

The improvements made include some definitions, such as the meaning of "circular economy", which identify each stage of the supply chain and the need to minimise the harmful impact each stage has on the environment. Clarifying that the term "recovery activities" does not include incineration is also welcome. Equally, it is welcome that the annual reporting process under the circular economy plan will now be done in tandem with the climate action plan and through a statutory instrument. I also welcome clarification from the Department that the existing list of environmental levies is indicative and that it can be extended to include single-use items such as wet wipes, hotel toiletries, sugar and condiments.

It has been highlighted, however, by the Department that this legislation only deals with food packaging and that other items must be dealt with separately in the Department and in the EU. A significant public awareness campaign will be implemented on foot of the enactment of this Bill, and this is welcome and was another key recommendation of the joint committee. Unfortunately, the Bill has some shortcomings. Many of our recommendations have been deferred for consideration by the circular economy interdepartmental committee, which is to be established after the legislation is enacted. These include measures such as VAT relief for refurbished and repaired items, insurance and liability for those working in the repair and reuse sector, harmonisation of civic amenities sites, with co-location and co-operation, such as with men's sheds, the addressing of the challenges of planning, obsolescence, renewal, wider development of traditional and heritage crafts, skills and practices and measures the construction sector could take to reduce waste.

Regarding the last point, there is a hesitancy from the Department to increase costs on quarries to incentivise the recovery and recycling of construction industry waste, as this could increase construction costs. In addition to those limitations, I also have some concerns about the language used throughout the Bill. The word "may" is used instead of "shall" in many locations in respect of the Minister's powers to impose levies, bans and regulations. The Bill does not specify where funding from the levies will go in respect of the environment fund. I will be seeking to amend this legislation on later Stages to strengthen the language used to ensure it is robust and has the full backing of the law. This was an issue with the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021 when it first came through the House as well. I refer to this sort of looseness of language. It does not bring the clarity and strength required by legislation and I would like to see work done on this aspect.

A key criticism of the heads of the Bill was the lack of any concrete timelines or targets. I must acknowledge that the Bill has improved in this regard. For example, there is now a timeline for the circular economy strategy to be completed within six months of the commencement of the strategy and not less than once every three years thereafter. The Government has indicated that a six-year timeframe is appropriate for the circular economy programme. The joint committee also requested that numerical targets for sectors to move towards the circular economy be included in the final text of the Bill and I am happy to see that was provided for in section 7(6). These targets will now be included in the circular economy strategy, as provided for in legislation.

While these improvements are welcome, many of these proposals are to be etched out in the circular economy strategy itself. This means that much of the target reporting and target ranges will not be contained in primary legislation, which means they will not have the full backing of the law. This could compromise our ability to ensure sectors are held to account and adhere to Government strategy in this regard. Overall, much improvement can be done to make this an integral part of our climate action objectives and to help us to achieve our national and international objectives in this regard. I will submit amendments to that effect when the Bill moves to Committee and Report Stages.

I turn now to the important issue of poverty-proofing this legislation. In recommendation No. 62, the Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action suggested that consideration be given to environmental and human rights considerations in the devising of circular economy action plans. I believe this applies to the international and domestic context. Internationally, the success of the circular economy in developing countries will be critical to global efforts to ensure sustainable growth and the meeting of our collective climate action goals. Human rights, economic inclusion and social equity must all play a central role in circular initiatives at home and abroad.

Domestically, we must ensure the rights of those on low or fixed incomes to participate fully in economic life are protected, enhanced and enforced in a new circular economy model. Hence poverty- and disability-proofing should be an integral pillar in the development of a circular economy. What is being proposed here, if implemented, would bring positive change for our environment and help us to reach our climate action goals. We must, though, ensure this new model does not negatively impact those on low or fixed incomes or on those with disabilities. As we transition to a zero-carbon economy, we must ensure we leave no one behind and that the transition is a fair and just one. What NGOs have persistently advocated for when we make this transition to a zero-carbon economy is that people on low incomes must be able to afford their minimum energy needs. In the context of a circular economy, we must also ensure the same is applied to food and essential goods and services. That is why I call for this Bill and the circular economy strategy to be poverty- and disability-proofed.

What does this mean, exactly? Poverty-proofing is the process by which Departments, local authorities and State agencies assess policies and programmes at design and review stages on the likely impact they will have or have had on poverty or inequalities likely to lead to poverty with a view to poverty reduction. In the context of rising energy costs and inflation, we must be cognisant of the real daily struggles of people we are dealing with. I, and I am sure every Member in this Dáil, have been contacted by people who are really struggling now with the cost of living, including fuel. These are costs that people could have managed last year or the year before, but with both global and domestic issues, they are finding it very difficult now.

I had one constituent who contacted me who is a cancer patient who had to give up work, so he is now on a disability payment. He received a large electricity bill, and because he paid that bill, he did not have enough money for food. This many also has type 1 diabetes and he ended up in hospital after becoming hyperglycaemic as a result of unstable blood sugar. That is the type of case many people are experiencing. That constituent contacted my office and it is the reality for people that they are unable to pay their heating bills and are resorting to eating less or cheaper and less nutritious food. Children are bearing the brunt of this upheaval, and with inflation continuing to rise, so will poverty rates. Poverty-proofing and disability-proofing Government policies will become more important than ever as a result.

This can be done in a number of ways. In section 7(5), there is a list of strategies and national plans to which the circular economy strategy must have regard. However, there is no reference to poverty reduction strategies, including the forthcoming strategy to combat energy poverty. I hope the Government can include a reference to such a strategy in that section once it is published.

We are at an impasse with respect to the crucial policies that will affect people with disabilities and people on low and fixed incomes now. Ireland still has no relative poverty target, although the Government's Roadmap for Social Inclusion 2020-2025 states that a key aim is to reduce the level of consistent poverty to 2% or less, with an associated goal to reduce child poverty in Ireland and ensure all families have the opportunity to participate fully in society. We are also waiting on the review to be completed on the National Disability Inclusion Strategy 2017-2021, which should feed into this legislation and the circular economy strategy. The new strategy is not ready for inclusion in this legislation but there may be room to include the current iteration, even if it is out of date.

The Europe 2020 strategy set an EU target to reduce poverty by at least 20 million people by 2020. The poverty target was crucial as it kept poverty high on the EU agenda. However, there was a failure to reduce poverty by more than 8 million people, following an increase to 123 million people being in poverty during the 2008 crisis. The Commission is currently considering proposals for an EU poverty target for the next decade, but we must still reference the existing target in legislation. Section 7 includes a reference to the United Nations sustainable development goals, but the EU is only on track to meet 26, or 15% of the 169 targets for those goals. That is very concerning.

In the meantime and while we wait for ongoing developments in the national poverty and disability strategies, we could include in the current Bill consideration of the Roadmap for Social Inclusion 2020-2025, which includes poverty targets. This is a live document and it would help assess the circular economy strategy against the targets in this roadmap.

A waste prevention strategy was launched by a Minister a number of years ago without consultation with organisations dealing with or supporting those at risk of or living in poverty. There was no consultation with disability groups, who deal with people on the ground, in the drafting of that policy. There were 36 groups consulted on the document, ranging broadly from the Restaurants Association of Ireland to the Soil Recovery Association. Unfortunately, there was a major gap when it came to those living with disabilities or at risk of poverty. This is something on which we must absolutely keep a focus.

It is not just about poverty-proofing. This circular economy Bill should also play a role in alleviating poverty by addressing the structural inequalities inherent in a linear economic model. The aim should be to support social enterprises in Ireland that provide support and employment for those living in poverty, ensuring they are more involved with the circular economy and that the circular economy products are cheaper than existing products. That would have a positive impact on those on low incomes. There is much potential in this Bill if we get it right. I know Oxfam Ireland has done a great deal of work on the poverty alleviation mechanisms within a circular economy and I recommend the Minister meet its representatives, although he may already have had those discussions. This is very relevant as products currently on the market aimed at reducing waste are really out of reach for most people. It is great we are seeing zero waste shops but they tend to be much more expensive. There should be a focus from the Government on supporting such enterprise, making them the norm rather than the novelty. During the transition we must ensure cost is not prohibitive for people on low incomes while at the same time investing in sectors to create sustainable employment accessible to all.

The environment fund has already been set up to collect the plastic bag levies and it could be expanded to include the funding of more groups using revenue generated from further levies as part of the circular economy strategy. Section 8 describes a list of sectors that can apply for funding, but it is short on any reference to organisations that aim to reduce energy poverty or the impacts the circular economy could have on people living with disability or illness, such as the man with cancer I mentioned earlier. If we are talking about poverty-proofing and ensuring there is a fair and just transition, we should use this circular economy Bill to focus on those people, and such groups should be included in the list of those who could benefit from the levies. That would ensure payments are being directed to the right areas and people.

People at risk of poverty or with disabilities must be treated as active participants in the new economy rather than being relegated to inactive participants, as they are with the current linear economic model we have today. I recommend the circular economy interdepartmental committee, referred to by the Government as the group that will look further into some of our committee's recommendations, should also include the Minister of State with responsibility for disability and the Ministers with responsibility for children and justice. These are the portfolios that cover poverty.

Without proper consultation on our climate action policies, we risk accelerating poverty and further disadvantaging people with disabilities. There will be an opportunity to engage later in the legislative process but it is important their voices and concerns should feed into policy processes at initial stages. Consultation should be active, early and thorough to make people feel they have been involved and to give the best possible result.

It is crucial to include a review clause in this Bill and I hope to bring it as an amendment when the legislation progresses through the House. This would include a review to be carried out in conjunction with poverty and disability advocacy groups to see how the Bill affects those with lower or fixed incomes and to assess whether the drafting of the circular economy strategy, the levies applied and the national food waste programme take into account the needs of those most vulnerable to transition and change. That is a key element to monitor in the progress of this Bill and its effect.

With regard to food poverty, we must be cognisant of affordability in the context of the rising cost of living. I understand there is an opportunity to address pricing of food products in the agriculture and food supply chain Bill that would establish a new authority called the national food ombudsman to enforce the unfair trading practices directive and to have a specific role in analysing and reporting on price and market data in Ireland. We might use this as another tool to help address food poverty and I call on various Ministers to ensure advocacy groups are adequately consulted in this process and on the full range of climate action policies in future.

The idea of a circular economy in the current economic context is positive but we must also be cognisant of and focused on how this new economy will treat people, particularly those who are most vulnerable in our society. It is a question of whether we include them or view them as passive actors during the course of this transition. We have an opportunity to change this by adopting a more holistic transitional approach for people in poverty or with a disability, recognising the opportunity to drive social change along with climate action.

As I do more work in this area and get older, I am developing a more holistic view across society. I originally would have been very much environmentally focused. That was my background and my area. I am now starting to see that we cannot separate the environment from how we live. We cannot separate it from every single element that impacts on people, including food costs, fuel costs and travel. It is so cross-cutting. Our responses and the legislation and policies we develop have to take into account all those other sectors. We cannot just look at it as an environmental Bill whereby if we cut plastics out of the environment, we will not have plastics in our water. We need to look at it through all the lenses required.

I welcome this discussion. The Bill flips on its head the whole idea of take, make and waste. There is great waste in this country day in and day out. Some of the changes proposed in the Bill could see an annual saving of €2.3 billion if people just changed the way they function. I was listening to a Deputy talk about a new motorway from Cork to Limerick. That money would build most of that motorway and probably a bit extra as well. That puts perspective on the annual waste of some of the bad environmental habits we have come to accept as norms.

The idea of reducing disposable coffee cups is a very good one and I welcome the sanctions in that regard, along the lines of the plastic bag levy which was introduced in the late 1990s with great success. Every town and village also has its takeaway and a lot of foil trays and plastic tubs come out of them. People can recycle them at home if they are willing to throw them into sink, scrub them down and dry them before they go into the bin. Most people fling them straight into the bin. Far too often these tubs are chucked out the window of a car at the local beauty spot after someone has stopped off to have their picnic on their way home from the chipper. There are elements that legislation needs to go after. It is not just all plastic bags and coffee cups. The proliferation of littering takes other forms that we need to tackle as well.

I am enthused to see the Bill finally deal with CCTV and its use in combating illegal dumping. Sections 20 to 23, inclusive, tackle the whole area of GDPR and the provisions allow people to start using cameras in a smart way to detect illegal littering and secure prosecution. That is the only way we are going to get to a head on this. I am chairman of a local environmental group, the Woodcock Hill enhancement committee. For the last two years we have been told repeatedly by legal professionals and Clare County Council that we cannot use cameras. I have asked senior local members of An Garda Síochána if they would refuse to act should we detect an act of littering or a crime and pass footage over to them. They said there was no way they would refuse and that they would gladly take it into a court and test it legally. There has been no test case for this.

I do not believe the GDPR barrier that we are told is prohibiting us from using CCTV exists in real terms. This is some fandangled idea that legal experts have drawn up. I am repeatedly told by people in the legal profession and An Garda Síochána that they will not turn away CCTV footage that is presented to them and is of high quality. In the realm of criminal law in recent years we have seen CCTV camera footage welcomed with open arms in our courts system. I am not convinced it has been a barrier in the last two or three years. We seem to have an interpretation of GDPR in Ireland that is not fully congruent with those of other European nations. I do not get that.

To go on a slight tangent, on all the regulations relating to hedge cutting, I have seen every summer when I go abroad to continental Europe, which is governed by the same EU environmental legislation as us, that people there seem to be able to cut hedgerows while we cannot do so. They seem to be able to use CCTV cameras yet we cannot. I think sometimes there is a skewed interpretation in the Houses of the Oireachtas, in the body legal and the body politic, that cannot take very sensible regulations from Europe and implement them in a simpler way. We were facing the possibility of going to court and trying to prove this in a test case. I am glad it can now be done.

I will tell the House what we use in the Woodcock Hill enhancement committee. We use a trail camera purchased in Lidl. I think it cost us €80. It has a little battery pack on the back. We strap it onto a tree. We know where the litter is always dumped. The batteries last for three or four months. There is a SIM card in it so when a car passes and the boot pops open, I get a message with the photo and video footage. I can see who is dumping and sometimes it is very interesting. Sometimes it is the people we would least expect to be doing so. I would love to abuse Dáil privilege and name them all out but I will not. I do not want to raise blood pressure here tonight but it is very interesting to see who is dumping. We like to profile them in our head and say it is that guy or that woman but it is often very surprising. It is often the person down the road holding down a top career who is chucking stuff out of the boot on a Monday morning on their way to work. They probably know who they are if they are watching this debate. We do not always need to use Dáil privilege. Sometimes what is unsaid is understood in a home environment.

Other forms of enforcement also need to be looked at. We have three litter enforcement officers in County Clare, I think, although we have 800 council staff. I am not diminishing their roles; they all do important jobs. I know what some of them do and I do not know what others do. There are 800 people working for Clare County Council and three of them are working in the domain of litter and waste enforcement. That is wrong. They are under capacity. They do a fantastic job but, by God, how can they tackle a problem when they are that under-resourced?

There are other areas of pollution they cannot go next nor near, for example, noise and air pollution. On 22 January, Ennis town, with a population of 25,000, had air quality worse than Beijing, a city of 21 million people. That says a lot. There is no capacity to go after that. It just gets a headline in The Clare Champion or is mentioned on Clare FM. There is no great follow-up because we do not have the capacity to enforce regulations on noise, air and all the other forms of pollution. We seem to be good at tackling litter waste because it is visible and we take it away and deal with it. We do not have sufficient capacity yet in Ireland to deal with those other forms of pollution.

On wheelie bins, I checked before coming in to the Chamber and €306 is what a national wheelie bin provider is quoting for a 12-month contract. Surely, in 2022, we could make wheelie bins mandatory. There are a lot of people bringing out a little bag and burning it in the back garden by night so the smoke is not seen in the dark. There are people stuffing little bags into bins as they walk down the street. Surely we can do that. We are charging people a lot of money on USC and local property tax. Surely a little bit could be given back to people.

On bins in train stations, I took the train here this morning. In Limerick train station there are recycling and waste bins side by side. I come up to Dublin having had my sandwich and my bottle of Ballygowan and there are no bins. When I do find them they are waste only. It is a simple thing. They should be side by side wherever we go.

On naming and shaming, when I began as a councillor, and I think many Deputies have served on local authorities, the back pages of the council agenda booklet were always printed in pink. We all flicked through them because they listed everyone convicted for a litter fine. That disappeared in the last few years because GDPR said we could not do it. That is codswallop. I think we can and we need to get back to doing it. There is nothing like peer enforcement and seeing that Mary and Joe down the road dumped litter out of their car on Saturday and were fined €150. It is great. It teaches them a lesson they will never forget. We need to get back to publishing that information and let newspapers have a field day. This should be a little feature on page 2 or 3 of The Clare Champion every week. Let us name and shame them. I think legislation can do that.

I welcome the legislation, which is long overdue. I brought forward a Bill in a previous Dáil in respect of return and reuse of waste. It is important that we have fairness in a just transition. That needs to be at the heart of climate action. Citizens need to play their part but we must also get big business and large multinationals to do their bit. We have to move away from the throwaway culture of single-use plastic. Of course we want people to change their habits and use less plastic. However, large companies continue to package stuff in plastic. I am sure the Minister sees it in supermarkets. Products are in plastic trays. We need to ban them. We do not need plastic trays any more. We know that. We can do the weekly shopping without bringing home ten or 15 of these plastic trays that all have to be disposed of. If they go into the recycling bin, they might wind up in India in a furnace somewhere or in China, having to be shipped halfway around the world. We need to stop it at source. Reuse is okay but it is only second best. Cutting off the source of the waste needs to be the priority. We need to move away from the situation where we have that in supermarkets. There is also a cost to the packaging which is passed on to the customer. If I am buying vegetables that are in plastic wrappers, I can be sure the cost of the wrappers is added on to the purchase price. We need to stop it at source.

Our semi-State companies need to be at the heart of this. I am appealing to the Minister as a Dublin Deputy to look out at this. Bord na Móna is already involved in recycling and the circular economy.

It is operating major waste facility plants, one dealing with tyres and another dealing with household waste. It has really geared up in this area. We need to address this in such a way that we are not reinventing the wheel. We need individual action and action by companies to cut off waste at source. I welcome the circular economy but if we can cut of waste at source, it is better.

I very much welcome the provisions on CCTV. This is an issue I have raised on many occasions. I concur with previous speakers. It is a pain in the head that we cannot use CCTV. It was being used very effectively in County Laois. Small cameras strapped to a bush or a tree were catching people littering. GDPR has gone crazy and we need to stop that. I do not know where the current interpretation of the regulation comes from but we are overusing GDPR and it is being used as an excuse sometimes. We need to use CCTV. I ask the Minister to progress the Bill quickly so that we can accelerate these provisions and get mobile CCTV back in action at black spots.

We need to watch out that whatever action we take does not put people further into poverty. We must ensure we reward low and middle-income households in particular. We can do that through deposit return, for example. Let us move to using glass bottles. The page in my hand is A4 size. Why cannot we have standard bottles? The Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, will remember, as I do, when we used glass bottles which could be washed and reused repeatedly. People were paid to return them. Let us get away from plastic and remove it from society, in as far as we can, and try to reward people for good environmental habits.

I call People Before Profit. Deputy Bríd Smith is sharing with Deputy Boyd Barrett.

In 2020, 317,000 tonnes of plastic were generated in Ireland, of which 93,000 tonnes, less than 30%, were recycled. As somebody who cares about the environment and recognises that 70% of all the marine litter in the European Union is accounted for by only ten of the most commonly found single-use plastic items, I can really appreciate where this Bill is coming from.

The last time we took action on banning plastics, which was about a year ago, it was to ban all plastic cutlery. Voilà, I have here exhibit A. The little plastic fork I hold in my hand is sold in this House along with fruit. I thought we had banned plastic cutlery. A lot of stuff goes under the radar. I am not the big police chief of plastic but I am passionately concerned that we produce and use far too much of it. My party welcomed this Bill with great excitement. We thought it was great to have a circular economy Bill and wanted to see what it would do in terms of the environment. However, it does not tackle the real polluters, namely, the fossil fuel and plastic industries which make and produce plastics and make the greatest profits from them. That is a real shame. It is a habit the Green Party, in particular, is in danger of repeating.

Aside from the interlinked issue of the climate crisis, I can think of no more important issue that we could deal with. It goes to the heart of dealing with our environmental crisis, but also with how we deal with the planet's finite resources, which are being exploited and overused in a massive way. The way we constantly produce, reproduce and push economies to have more and more products is not sustainable. As the basis of the capitalist system under which we live, we will have to think about that system and ways of challenging it. For this reason, in this modern capitalist society where there is overfishing, exploitation of marine life, depletion of natural resources and minerals, overuse of fresh water, disruption to the global hydrological cycle, burning of carbon and fossil fuels regardless of the consequences, and the destruction of rare earth minerals, forestry, etc., we need a strong and robust Bill that addresses all of that. Such a Bill would tackle the planned obsolescence inherent in many of the global production and supply networks. It would fund and enshrine the right to repair and ban the use of damaging chemicals in production. It would support locally-grown and healthy food production. It would regulate, ban and restrict the exploitation of our finite resources. To do that in a concrete way or to even begin the process to build or aspire to a genuine circular economy is, in fact, to challenge the basis of production under the type of capitalist economy we have because the whole basis of production in this economy is the unrestrained use of our natural resources with no regard to natural limits or the consequences of that production or the commodification of every possible resource, such as water, clean air, decent food and others that are essential for life.

"Externalities" is a word used by economists to categorise the costs of and damage done by this model of production - the pollution, despoliation and overuse and depletion of natural gifts - but these are not unfortunate asides or unforeseen consequences. They are essential to production for profit and at the heart of how it takes place. If externalities were truly costed and paid for by the oil, gas, plastics and petrochemical industries, all those industries would be bankrupted by now. The system effectively privatises profit and socialises environmental destruction.

The idea of a circular economy is at the centre of any sane response to the multiple environmental crises we face. As with every policy that seeks to address a crisis or an aspect of capitalism, it is often mangled from the original concept of the system itself to being co-opted into the idea of extracting maximum financial reward from any product, activity or resource. The core idea is to have an economy that moves away from the model of take, make and throw away towards a model of create, repair and reuse more where we carefully use the gifts that nature has given society and from which society benefits. It should not be an economy for the profit of a tiny minority. We should move away from a system based, as Rachel Carson says, on "the gods of profit and production."

Our problem with this Bill is that it does not deliver on its goal. No legislation on its own can do so because it would challenge the fabric of capitalist production. The Bill does not have an aspiration in that direction. In its 93 sections, what consumes the largest space? Is it banning single-use plastics such as the fork I used in exhibit A, fining producers or covering a greater range of products that those producers will be held responsible for at the end of the life of those products? No. Is it banning harmful chemicals used in creating packaging, banning pesticides or perhaps starting to look at how the privatisation of waste management has damaged the goals of reducing waste and safeguarding the environment? No. The largest block of this Bill is concerned with the use of CCTV cameras by local authorities and recordings made by officials using mobile phones. I note the frustration expressed by all the Deputies who have been local authority councillors. I understand the issue of illegal dumping and fly-tipping is a big problem. For example, Dublin City Council spends on average €1 million a year cleaning up after fly-tipping on the streets, while the companies that were privatised and make vast profits from bin charges contribute nothing to the project of dealing with fly-tipping. Much of the fly-tipping happens because people, particularly in poorer communities, cannot afford the ever-increasing cost of bin charges.

To be honest, CCTV is all over my estate, for example, but nobody looks at it because staffing levels in the local authority have been cut back. The staffing levels in the Garda station are otherwise affected. Nobody watches the CCTV coverage. I do not know about rural Clare or east Galway, but that is certainly the case in big cities such as Dublin and I imagine it is the same in Limerick, Cork and Waterford.

Nobody in the local authorities actually watches this stuff. The chunk of the Bill concerned with this is very worrying. It is disturbing, to say the least.

We face widespread pollution from industrial sources that are damaging our rivers and urban and rural areas. We have crises in water quality and water management. We have a boom in mining activity triggered by a rush for certain scarce and rare minerals, resulting in fears over long-term damage to our watercourses. The campaign against mining in Ireland has issued the statistic that the global gold industry has been the driver of a mining rush in Ireland to the extent that Ireland, north and south, has been identified as a hotspot for the European mining boom. To date, 27% of the south of Ireland and 25% of the North of Ireland have been concessioned for mineral prospecting licences. Most of the activity is in areas such as the Sperrins in County Tyrone. Derry, Donegal, Connemara and rural communities in Wicklow have all been affected. For some of our areas of pristine beauty, we have issued hundreds of mining licences to Canadian and other global corporations.

Purchasing a Bill on the circular economy and doling out licences for mining to the extent in question all over the country suggests a conflict of interest. I am struck by the similarity with the climate action legislation. It was much-anticipated legislation that attempted to address a key environmental crisis but suffered from vague language and multiple get-out clauses in doing so. In this Bill, we see the repeated use of the word "may". We may do this and we do may that. There are many strategies and plans, and there are roadmaps to be constructed at a later stage. Very little use is made of the State's ability to regulate and ban harmful activities. While we welcome the efforts to address the single-use plastic issue, it has to be said that the time taken and the various loopholes that allow for the continued production of single-use plastic in the coming years are very worrying. It has been pretty clear that alternatives to almost all the products discussed here are possible, apart from where there is a relatively small need in medical and some specialised cases.

Given what we now know, our marine environment is drowning in plastic. Some 70% of all marine litter comes from the ten most commonly found single-use plastics. In Ireland, we produce up to 80% more plastic packaging per head than the rest of Europe. We generate 27% more municipal waste than the European average. We should have seen stronger timelines and actions. While we welcome the banning of some single-use plastics, the associated timelines are worrying. While we can introduce amendments, the charge for disposable cups is not what is needed given the scale of the crisis. It smacks a little of the carbon tax in that the measure punishes the behaviour of people rather than the corporations and producers of the waste.

Regarding the lack of definite targets, the Bill states the Minister "may" introduce targets for a waste management plan, but it would have been preferable to see those targets in the legislation. Again, we will try to amend the legislation in this regard. Until we see a circular-economy strategy and programme, or the food waste prevention strategy, it is hard, if not impossible, to know how seriously to take this Bill. In short, I welcome the reference to the circular economy but am puzzled by the fact that the legislation seems to attach such little importance to that economy in the here and now.

I am alarmed by the plan to deal with food waste as one of the key policies having regard to Food Vision 2030, a policy that has correctly been labelled by farmers interested in sustainability as an expansion plan for Ireland to become a world leader in sustainable greenwashing, heavy on spin while thrashing the Paris Agreement obligation. A policy that embeds the model of dairy expansion and the creation of more markets abroad should not be mentioned in the same breath as food waste prevention or a circular economy Bill.

I fail to see how the circular economy Bill can be serious if it does not seek to address the disaster of municipal waste management. The privatisation of municipal waste management has been a disaster — a disaster for workers, the environment, householders and ultimately the local authorities, which are picking up the pieces and the tab for the private companies, all of which are registered offshore and make vast profits, while the cost to the ordinary household goes up and up and the fly-tipping increases all the time.

I want to comment on what is heralded as a key element, the extra charge of between 20 cent and €1 on disposable cups. It speaks to the common theme of how the Green Party, in particular, addresses environmental crises. The charge is a miniature version of the carbon tax, a policy based on the idea of changing the behaviour of people but allowing multiple loopholes and get-out causes regarding certain products. This highlights the corporate and systemic nature of the problem. The thinking is that we can keep manufacturing the products under certain circumstances but will charge people for using them. While drowning in a sea of plastic and choking all the species in the marine environment, we are dragging our feet on the banning of the manufacture of such damaging products. What timelines stretch to 2030 given the scale of the crisis now? We are to expect a deposit-and-return system for bottles later in the year, but this should also be in the legislation.

The mistaken belief is that the environmental crisis can be tackled by neoliberal measures that charge our behaviour out of existence, but only if it can happen and if aimed at individuals. The measures are never aimed at businesses and corporate entities that ultimately benefit from the production and manufacturing involved.

I learned a couple of things when I was in Palestine when I was about 18. First, I learned that Israel is an apartheid state and that we need to do something about it. While I was there, I was working in the desert growing tomatoes, melons and all sorts of other crops. An interesting point that has always stuck with me is that each morning when the farmers were producing the tomatoes for the European export market, we poured into big vats the contents of massive bags of chemicals whose purpose was to keep the tomatoes solid so they would still look good at the other end when transported vast distances to Europe. The nice tomatoes — beautiful tomatoes with no chemicals — were produced for the local market. They were absolutely gorgeous. They did not look exactly the same as the ones on the shelves here but they were the tasty ones. There were no chemicals in them at all.

I learned something else in Israel: the rotten melons produced by the Israeli farm were sent to Gaza. There is a very important lesson in that experience. It relates to the discussion Deputy Bríd Smith and I had with farmers the other day. The matter has been highlighted by the Ukraine crisis. We believed we were feeding the world but discovered we were not when the Ukraine crisis arose. We rear many cows and export them and many dairy-related products but we could be in danger of not being able to feed ourselves, or even the cows, because we do not grow enough grain, vegetables and other foods. That we import these products and that they are transported all across the world means more chemicals and plastic, the emission of more fumes, more waste and more destruction of the environment rather than diversifying agriculture to produce food locally so we do not need loads of chemicals and plastic packaging. Diversifying agriculture would give us food security, reduce waste and give a more certain existence to farmers and others, but we would have to support our farmers in doing so.

That is the logic of the way neoliberal capitalism operates. I know people do not like it when we use these slogans, but that is the truth. Capitalism specialises in the production of cheap products on massive scales for exports to the market, not for production for need at a local level. The consequences for the environment are disastrous. I will give another simple example. When I and the Ceann Comhairle were young, we used to get milk delivered by milkmen in glass bottles. We left the empty bottles out every day and they were reused over and over again. When I worked in the Netherlands, the same was done with beer bottles. When people bought Heineken or Amstel, they had to bring the bottles back to the shop where they bought them. We bought more and got money back when we brought the bottles back. The bottles were used over and over again. Then we got Tetra Pak, which involved massive amounts of carbon that are a complete waste of resources. That happened somebody was able to make money out of it. It was all about the commodification of these things rather than doing things in a rational way.

It is all very well talking about the circular economy, which I am in favour of, but I want to stress that we are letting loose the forces that are destroying the circular economy. We have to give local authorities the necessary staffing, resources and infrastructure required for a circular economy. The Minister of State knows this. In our area we do not have anything near like the numbers of staff in the cleansing department that are needed. People have to have a massive fight to get a bin anywhere. We do not have anything like the resources necessary in local authorities to provide for the recycling, reuse and so on that we would need to have a meaningful circular economy.

I attended a Wellbeing Economy Alliance, WEALL, event at the weekend. A comment made by Dr. Peter Doran of Queen's University Belfast stuck with me. He said the most successful ideologies are invisible. Sometimes when our friends across the House are successful, they are successful in making visible the ideology that is often invisible to us, namely, the neo-capitalist model. They are absolutely on the money on that.

Do you want to join?

It is all right. I will send the Deputy some membership forms. The transfer season might be open soon.

The circular economy Bill moves in the right direction. It contains measures which move us away from the idea of take, make, waste, which follows a slavish idea of GDP and economic throughput as being the good we always chase after. It is moving us towards a more circular economy model. It will fit well with the move towards well-being budgeting. The two things will sit well together and it is to be hoped we will begin to move away from the slavish pursuit of GDP growth.

It is welcome that we have alignment with the rest of the EU because the European Commission today announced the circular economy action plan which proposes new regulations to make almost all physical goods more sustainable and energy efficient throughout their life cycle. The regulations will impact all aspects of that life cycle through design, usage, repurposing and disposal of products. We are seeing two facets of government at a national and European level beginning to work together to move us somewhat in the right direction.

I echo the comments of Deputy Stanley. One thing I particularly welcome is that local authorities will be empowered to use GDPR compliance technologies such as CCTV and drones to protect detect and prevent unsightly and illegal dumping and littering. I disagree with Deputy Smith on this point. It was used extremely effectively in Waterford. Many extremely scenic areas are unfortunately blighted by illegal dumping and fly-tipping. In 2020, Waterford City and County Council was officially reprimanded by the Data Protection Commissioner for its use of CCTV, one of seven local authorities to be so reprimanded.

Technology makes a big difference. There are areas in the county which are difficult for local authority council staff to access. CCTV and drone technology was being used very effectively in order to fight fly-tipping. I welcome that section 14A and the new section 14B will allow for mobile recording devices for preventing, investigating, detecting and prosecuting offences under the 1996 Act. It is timely and a step in the right direction. It is only a small measure in a larger Bill, but it will make a difference to people on the ground. There are other measures in the Bill which are extremely welcome. I commend the Minister of State on bringing it to the House.

I welcome the Bill and commend the Minister of State and his Department officials on the work they have done on it. The Committee on Environment and Climate Action, which I Chair, was tasked with pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill. I note Deputies O'Rourke and Smith, who are members of the committee, are present. They worked on pre-legislative scrutiny, as did I and Deputy Whitmore, who spoke earlier. I commend them on their efforts.

I commend my colleague, Deputy Richard Bruton, who was appointed as a rapporteur on this issue. He compiled an extensive report for the committee and his efforts underpin the pre-legislative scrutiny report which we published in the autumn. In that report we put forward 62 recommendations to strengthen the Bill, and I wish to note that the provisions of the Bill bring very positive developments. However, I have some concerns about whether the language of some of the Bill is strong enough to ensure the legislation works in the long term and not just in the short and medium term.

Colleagues across the House have noted in the debate that the current global economy is based on a linear model of production and consumption, a model that is economically and environmentally unsustainable. Global demand for raw materials for things like food, electrical goods and clothes is increasing sharply and it is clear, perhaps now more than ever, that we need to find smarter and more efficient ways of using those raw materials.

In the past two years, we have faced a global pandemic and, as a consequence, a public health crisis. As life finally started to return to normal, Vladimir Putin's cowardly invasion of Ukraine caused unimaginable suffering for the people of Ukraine and instigated a further crisis in Europe and the world. The current security, energy and humanitarian crises, and the emerging food crisis, are not isolated events; rather, they are intrinsically intertwined. Following a two-year pandemic, they create a perfect storm that neither our energy dependence on fossil fuels nor the linear model of production and consumption can successfully address and overcome.

I have spoken about the security and energy crisis several times in the House. Today, I want to touch on the food crisis that could affect millions of people. Even before Putin started a war in Ukraine, the global food system was strained. Food systems cannot be resilient to crises if they are not sustainable. Just as with fast fashion, fast food is another extreme example of unsustainable practices that drive the take, make, waste model. While I might disagree with my colleagues across the House on many issues, I agree with some of Deputy Boyd Barrett's comments.

The globalisation and commodification of the food market has created huge problems and challenges, one of which is that it has made food cheaper. As prices are low, consumers consider the products to be disposable. The growing, processing and transportation of food uses a significant amount of resources. For all of the food that is wasted, the resources used to produce, deliver and cook it are wasted too.

In 2019, Ireland generated just over 1 million tonnes of food waste representing a carbon footprint as high as 3.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. Cutting waste in half by 2030, in line with the United Nations sustainable development goals, will support the transition to more sustainable food systems as well as contributing to a reduction in emissions. However, I note with some regret that the specific waste reduction targets are not included in the Bill.

I commend the Minister and Department officials on their work to date in addressing the challenges and provided a legislative framework for the circular economy. I look forward to engaging with the Minister on Committee Stage and I hope he will be in a position to accept amendments.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. Many of the measures are long overdue. In general, Sinn Féin will support the Bill. We will engage and bring forward amendments, where appropriate, on Committee Stage. The Bill will have far-reaching consequences and a much greater effect than the blunt instrument of carbon taxes the Government is heaping on ordinary workers and families. On 1 May, just over one month from now, the Government will add fuel to the fire and punish those who cannot afford to change their behaviour in the context of climate change mitigation. Many of my constituents would love to install solar panels and other renewable technology but they simply cannot afford it.

The Bill provides for councils to use CCTV to try to prevent illegal dumping, with a code of practice for the use of CCTV to be drawn up. It will also allow councils to use drones and other mobile recording devices to try to prevent illegal dumping. It is important that the protection is extended to community CCTV, which is currently in legal limbo. Every summer in particular, the roadsides of rural counties Kildare and Laois become a night-time dumping ground. That is partly a result of this Government and the previous one abdicating their responsibilities and allowing, in effect, the privatisation of domestic waste collection services. We need to bring domestic waste services back into public responsibility. Councils are struggling to provide mattress recycling days in some municipal districts and they must be properly resourced. All Members have seen the video of mattress dumping in rural County Offaly. It is only the tip of the iceberg in the context of what is going on in Kildare.

Some people would say that is no wonder when the Department of Defence is getting away scot free with dumping God knows what while filling in the hollow next to Donnelly's Hollow on the Curragh. There was a cover-up that day and there have been more since. In a further waste of taxpayers' money, the Department gave Kildare County Council a choice between mediation and taking the Department of Defence to court. The taxpayer was left with a mediation bill of more than €22,000 at the end of the process, as well as a veil of secrecy that nobody, not even the Minister, will lift.

The Bill will not facilitate the introduction of a deposit and return scheme which the Minister of State knows is long overdue. Neither does it introduce the long-promised feed-in tariff to allow households and businesses sell electricity back to the grid. We are told that, like Christmas, they are coming.

The Government needs to act on these vital measures. Time is running out for the planet and it is definitely running out for the Government if it does not do something soon.

The Minister of State has said the Bill is designed to create more sustainable patterns of production and consumption that will minimise waste to significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. He stated that waste and resource use are minimised in a circular economy and the use and value of products and materials is maintained for as long as possible. When a product has reached the end of its life, its parts are used again and again to create further useful products rather than being discarded as is now all too familiar.

The Bill seeks to incentivise the use of reusable and recyclable alternatives rather than the range of wasteful single-use disposable packaging and other items. I know the Government today announced a tariff on disposable coffee cups and I welcome that, but what about plastic bottles? Behavioural change is required in the context of what the Minister of State is trying to adopt. In the United States, there is still a return fee on aluminium cans. Is that something Ireland can do in respect of plastic containers such as those for shampoo or other bathroom products? I am not sure whether the Minister of State has spent any time in the personal hygiene aisles of supermarket of late. He would be appalled at the amount of single-use and other plastic there. The idea that much of it is being recycled is completely incorrect. He is probably young or old enough to remember replaceable razor blades. This will require considerable change and something has to be done to get people back to preferring to use, reuse and recycle.

I am sure the Minister of State is aware there is no viable recycling of single-use plastics. They either go into landfill or are incinerated. Has anyone in his Department considered the increased quantity of single-use plastics in food packaging? Styrofoam trays are being used for meat products, while single use-plastic is used for shampoo and soap products. We need to incentivise alternative packaging such as cellulose packaging, Tetra Pak or glass instead of plastics. How is this change to be achieved in the context of the price differential? Time must be spent considering that in the context of the Bill.

As regards food waste, significant volumes of food and fruit are produced and imported into this country every year but never find their way into consumers' fridges. Best before dates are utilised to ensure food integrity but there is often a significant difference between the best before date and when a product is actually out of date. Much of this food waste ends up as organic waste and in some cases can be used as animal feed but much of it could be used in biological digestive systems for energy production. However, we do not have our act together yet to incentivise that activity or get any production from it. Is the Minister of State aware that it is producers who suffer the cost of this food waste rather than supermarkets or other retailers? If one wants to tackle the issue of food waste in the supermarket sector, one needs to look at the purchasing practices employed by supermarkets. They order minimum supply quantities and when products go unsold, that is at the expense of the producer.

The Minister of State mentioned the circular economy fund provided for in the Bill. He stated this is building on the objectives of the environment fund. He is proposing that this fund be developed through the Bill, with the aim being to fund key environmental projects in the coming years. Those are lofty aspirations. Are these environmental projects to be evaluated and assessed into the future? I have worked with many companies in the food sector that are seeking to develop significant innovation in terms of manufacturing, packaging, increased shelf life, etc. and, in nearly all cases, the level of and access to State resourcing was almost negligible in the context of supporting that activity. It is my experience that we do not have a great record in transformational innovation in this country unless it comes from the university sector. It largely tends to be ignored when it comes from the commercial sector. As I stated, these are lofty ambitions but ring-fencing money for use in research and development that is not properly spent is just another form of taxation. I am interested to see the proposals of the Minister of State in respect of the circular economy as the legislation moves on.

As regards the amendments to the Waste Management Acts, fly-tipping and dumping have been mentioned by several Deputies. Those activities are a scourge and a blight on the rural environment in particular. While I was a councillor, I was engaged with Waterford environmental teams in the disgusting activity of going through domestic waste bags dumped on the roadside to look for evidence that would pinpoint the person responsible. I was amazed even then with the evidence found, such as receipts and correspondence. The difficulty there was in pursuing a prosecution. While a member of Waterford City and County Council I asked several times for CCTV to be deployed at a number of problem dumping spots but was informed by the executive that this was not possible because of general data protection regulation, GDPR, issues. When I tried to set up a private group conducting video monitoring, I was told I was in danger of ending up in the courts because of data legislation. I note the Bill suggests that number plate recognition or facial recognition is not to be used in this video data. I await the thoughts of the Minister of State on what evidence can be brought to bear in terms of video analysis without some recognition of vehicle identity that will result in prosecutions for fly-tipping and serial dumping.

I welcome the proposals to incentivise the better segregation of waste streams for the commercial sector, leading to greater waste being diverted into recycling or organic bins. However, much of this waste may offer a compostable agriculture product opportunity and this is an area the Department needs to seriously consider. Organic waste can be a significant alternative to fertiliser products in agriculture. All present are aware of the current problems we are having internationally in terms of sourcing and paying for fertilisers. I ask that the Department do significant work on this.

I welcome the ban on the exploration for and mining of certain fossils fuels such as coal, lignite and oil shale. That is progressive.

In summation, there is much in the Bill to be welcomed although it must be stated that much of it is aspirational at this time. Many of the objectives, particularly in respect of consumer behaviour, will require a significant degree of cultural shift. There are likely to be additional supply chain costs to be borne and that will affect the end price. How will that be managed in the context of imported competitor products? One thing is certain - it will be difficult to change consumer behaviour without some cost-benefit recognition on the part of consumers.

This will not happen without significant re-education and reinforcement on both the environmental damages that are being caused by our present consumption patterns and the possible environmental benefits that can accrue if we adopt a new reuse-recycle policy.

I welcome that the Minister of State's Bill sets out a roadmap for the future circular economy. Although, like many, I fear its publication may be a great deal easier to complete than the practice it wishes us to change. I, therefore, ask that the Minister of State and his Department engage early, often and repeatedly with manufacturing, trade and retail sectors so that the policy objectives he desires in this Bill may be mutually agreed and may possibly be permitted in the future. Gabhaim buíochas, a Cheann Comhairle.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCeann Comhairle. I welcome the publication and the progress of the Circular Economy, Waste Management (Amendment) and Minerals Development (Amendment) Bill 2022. It is another step forward in this Government’s taking actions, which I regard as climate brave. I will come back to that point of politicians and voters being brave on climate action because without us taking those difficult decisions, incentivising and, in some cases, de-incentivising different measures, we will not solve the climate crisis and will not do what is required to address this planet being on fire.

We know we can reduce our use of fossil fuels, which is needed, but the transition from fossil fuels will only address 55% of emissions. The remaining 45% comes from the things that we make. We need to end our culture of making and wasting, which were many of the values that previous generations in Ireland implemented without a circular economy Bill. Instead, we need to adopt a more circular economy focused on use and reuse.

There are different ways in which we can do that and we know that individual consumer choices are key but that will never achieve the type of change we need, so I welcome some of the system change that is so crucial in addressing climate action.

Communities will be so important in addressing this issue and I want to give credit here to two organisations which have educated me on the issue. One is Dublin City Council, my own local authority which does very significant work in educating our climate ambassadors, that is, our Tidy Towns groups which are in every community in the city. I refer also to the Rediscovery Centre in Ballymun, which I know the Minister of State visited. I encourage any school student in the country, and their teachers, to make contact with this centre in Ballymun. This was an old heating facility which used to heat the Ballymun flats, which have been demolished. With the use of European Union money and a great deal of renewable technology, we have been able to repurpose that as a showcase for renewable use and for rediscovery. My open call to the schoolchildren of Ireland is to come to Ballymun to discover what they can do with the circular economy. Those institutions educated me about this issue and, in some ways, encouraged me to be brave about it.

Yes, this will involve additional costs for consumers, which is what a levy is, and we have to be honest about that. Like other environmental taxes, we are making things that are bad for our community, our country and our planet more expensive. We do not want to collect these taxes and we want people to switch away from these things but in order to do that, we need to increase the cost of some of these items. That is a difficult decision, particularly in the context of a cost of living increase.

We are also putting alternatives in place and that transition towards those alternatives needs to be at least as ambitious as the financial instruments that are so easy to implement. We know the transition is much more difficult and takes more time but we need to be at least as ambitious on those alternative options. We cannot penalise people and not provide the alternatives.

When we take climate action, it involves opportunities but it also involves unpopular decisions and what I call being climate brave. Like the addition of cycle and bus lanes, which take road space away from cars, we need to be honest with people that what we are doing there is actively discouraging and discommoding drivers in order that we can make the change to save our planet. That is what we are doing and we should be honest with people.

Of course, we know that not everybody can cycle and that public transport is less convenient than the mobile heated armchair that many of our cars have become but we are doing this, not to discommode or to attack drivers, but because we know that is what we need to do in order to tackle the climate crisis.

Like the densities of housing developments, we have to be honest with people that building more dense communities may mean we have fewer traditional homes with front and back gardens. Why are we doing this? We are doing it because we need to create more sustainable communities.

With the carbon tax, we are increasing the cost of carbon fuels because we want to create a fund for a just transition that will protect those on low incomes and will finance retrofitting to end our dependence on fossil fuels.

All of these measures require climate brave decisions by politicians. They require politicians who are willing to take those brave decisions, often unpopular, and it requires voters to reward politicians who are climate brave and are going to make those difficult decisions. Too often in here, I have seen Members of this House lurching towards the easy answers, to the less brave decisions and to the populist options. That may get a person re-elected but it will not save the planet.

I say to people to remember the politicians who introduced the smoky coal ban, the plastic bag levies, and who banned smoking to improve air quality in public buildings. History looks more favourably on those people who are brave. I ask that we say to voters to look at those politicians who are being climate brave and reward them.

On the details of the Bill, I want to point to sections 11 to 13, inclusive, in respect of the levy, and section 14, which will allow a prohibition. If the levy does not work, we have to move quickly towards a prohibition.

We already have regulations on a deposit and return scheme from last year, if I am correct. I know a number of Members of the Opposition did not look at the regulations issued last year. We need to move quickly to have those implemented. Hundreds of people attend football matches and, unfortunately, bottles and cans are left behind. Football clubs in my area have often said they would love to collect those cans and use them as a revenue source to ensure those materials are stored away safely.

I turn to the issue of CCTV. My community, more than any, is scourged by illegal dumping and it is done by people within my community. The CCTV measures here get us back to a point where it is legally possible to use CCTV but it will not be the solution to illegal dumping. We have to go further and give local authorities more nominated officers to issue fines and to equip them in that respect. We are way behind in what we can do in tackling illegal dumping.

I very much welcome the measures in this Bill. We should also look at Senator Malcolm Byrne’s Bill on the CCTV issue and on emerging drone technologies, for example, to address it. A great deal of good work has been done in respect of this Bill and I encourage the Minister of State to keep going.

I thank Deputy McAuliffe. Our last contribution on this topic is from Deputy Browne.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCeann Comhairle. For those who may not know, I live in Cashel, County Tipperary, a town with an amazing heritage, location and people. I was involved in a zero-waste pilot programme from 2017 until July 2018. Its aim was to reduce waste by 25% through a number of different initiatives involving the community. It had a particular focus on ending the bad habit of using single-use products when alternatives could be found or, indeed, having those products repaired or recycled to become of use again. This ranged from waste reduction workshops for repair and reuse of products, up-cycling, and so on. There was very significant interest and buy-in from the local community and it very much showed us what could be done if we all adopt measures which promote sustainability. There is a public appetite for this, especially given the money-saving nature of it which cannot be overstated.

This is particularly relevant to what we are talking about today which is adopting measures to develop the so-called circular economy, involving a move away from single-use disposable items, and advocating a more sustainable way of manufacturing and consumption. This can be done through manufacturers adopting production methods that not only ensure they cut down on non-biodegradable packaging, such as plastics, but also ensure the product itself, if non-perishable, can be repaired if worn or broken and reused.

We need to throw off the mindset of single-use items and that is why there is a need for the inclusion in this Bill of measures to deal with single-use cups and containers. When talking about this, we must point out that the raw material resources which we use per year are already 50% greater than nature can replenish in a year. This will rise by a factor of three by 2050 on present trends. This is the definition of unsustainable and is where the circular the economy needs to be reinforced by investment in alternatives.

We also need to ensure the methods adopted to deal with the scourge of littering are realistic. Using technology to monitoring dumping is one thing but it means nothing if that technology is not used when dumping is proven to have taken place.

We cannot confine this type of monitoring to 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. working hours. If we do not target it at the time when people are proven to dump rubbish, not only will we waste money and resources we will also do the campaign against littering a disservice by throwing it into disrepute and making it appear to be another waste of public money that is not able to target the scourge of dumping properly. If we really mean what we say, we cannot do it without the system having real teeth in terms of being able to tackle dumping effectively.

We support this Bill and will bring forward amendments on Committee Stage where we consider it fit.

Debate adjourned.