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.