Waste Management (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, 2001: Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The main purpose of this Bill is to provide a legal mechanism to bring the current waste management planning process to an early and satisfactory conclusion, in accordance with our EU obligations.

This process has actually been under way since 1996 and, while local authorities generally have sought to address their responsibilities in this area, a minority of them throughout much of the country have brought about an impasse. Regional waste management plans have not been adopted by all of the local authorities concerned. As a result, we have not made the progress that we all accept is vitally necessary and long overdue regarding the provision of effective and cost-efficient waste services and infrastructure. All the time, the problems associated with proper waste management continue to grow.

Action is clearly required to address our current difficulties – continued debate is not an option, and we have already lost too much time. Accordingly, the Government has decided that immediate legislative measures are necessary to ensure the early completion of the planning process and rapid movement towards the implementation of proposed waste management plans.

In bringing forward amending legislation, I am also taking the opportunity of providing a statutory basis for a number of other important waste management and anti-litter measures, including the following: a new environmental levy of up to 15 p on the supply by retailers of plastic shopping bags and, potentially, the extension of the levy to other products that are problematic in waste management terms; a levy on the landfill of waste, at an initial rate of not more than £15 per ton; the establishment of an environment fund, through which the proceeds of these levies will be disbursed to financially beneficial environmental initiatives in a range of areas, including waste management, environmental education and awareness; and an increase of the on-the-spot litter fine to £100 and provision for future changes in the level of the fine. I also propose a number of technical amendments to the Waste Management Act, 1996, to bring legal clarity to the licensing, by the Environmental Protection Agency, of certain waste-related activities.

Strategic waste management planning is the foundation of progress. The failure, until relatively recently, to develop comprehensive strategies for the modernisation of waste management services has left us with an unenviable legacy. We landfill about 90% of our municipal waste, often in small, inadequate landfill facilities. We have a limited recycling infrastructure, almost no biological treatment capability, and no means of recovering energy from waste. Our waste-recycling rate is among the lowest in the EU. This is simply not sustainable.

Accordingly, I have promoted the concept of a planned integrated approach to waste management, utilising a range of technologies to deliver a more sustainable and effective recycling and recovery performance and significantly reduce our reliance on landfill. My Department and I strongly supported a regional approach to the making and implementation of the necessary waste management plans in our policy document of October 1998. The great majority of local authorities committed to the making of joint or regional plans and considerable financial and human resources, including EU grant assistance, have been allocated to this process, which entailed significant public consultation throughout.

However, we have encountered ongoing problems and delays in the formal adoption of regional plans. Currently, three out of 15 local authorities in three regional groups have refused to adopt the proposed regional plan that is before them. These authorities are, in effect, obstructing any prospect of progress on the part of the majority and have thrown the overall planning process into disarray. Even in the two regions where all the local authorities concerned decided to adopt their regional plan, some did so subject to potentially significant qualifications.

The legal advice available to me is extremely clear. A proposed regional waste management plan must be adopted on the same substantive basis by all of the authorities concerned, or none can be considered to have a valid plan. As I stated to this House last week, it would make a mockery of my environmental stewardship to allow the current drift to continue. We have to meet national and EU targets for waste recovery and the diversion of wastes from landfill.

More immediately, we are seeing pressing waste management problems on the ground – for example, in Clare and Galway. We must also recognise that the European Commission has taken a case against Ireland to the European Court of Justice because of our ongoing failure to respect our waste planning obligations. A judgment against Ireland seems inevitable and is probably imminent. We have to act now to put a modern and efficient waste management infrastructure and improved waste services in place.

As Minister, I have to act in the overall national interest and take steps that will facilitate the satisfactory completion of this planning process. I have considered the various legal options open to me and have concluded that the existing regulatory powers under the 1996 Act are not in themselves enough to ensure a decisive and satisfactory outcome. Accordingly, the Government has decided that the power to make a waste management plan should be transferred from the elected members of a local authority to the relevant manager, and to make other supporting legislative amendments.

This move will allow local authority management to conclude the planning process and remove any perceived obstacles to the effective implementation of regional plans. It will clear the way to deliver on all aspects of waste modernisation – segregated collection services, higher recycling and recovery performance, and a dramatic reduction in disposal to landfill.

The broad thrust of these key proposals was debated in this House last week, and that debate focused on two main issues – the implications of these proposals for the local decision-making process, and concern regarding thermal treatment, which is an integral part of most of the pro posed regional plans. I want to deal with those two issues.

In the first instance, I do not accept that these proposals undermine local government in any way. I am addressing my responsibilities, as Minister, in the overall local and national interest. A small number of local authorities clearly have difficulty in addressing their planning obligations and I am compelled to respond. The proposed changes will not affect the substance of the waste management plans adopted by the majority of local authorities. I do not consider it democratic that a few authorities can hold up the implementation of important regional plans. Far from eroding local democracy, the proposed Bill will allow the wishes of the majority of local authorities to be implemented. It is telling that, to date, I have heard no practical alternatives being offered to my proposals. Indeed, the thrust of public commentary has been to recognise the inevitability and necessity of these proposals.

My commitment to a vigorous and more relevant local government system is as strong as ever. I have worked continually to drive forward a major programme of local renewal, which includes my introduction of the Local Government Bill, 2000. My belief in local democracy has not faltered; if anything, the improvements that have been achieved in the local government system since I became Minister have convinced me that we are on the right track. I will not be deterred from this route.

The second point of contention during last week's debate involved thermal treatment. The proposed regional waste management plans are not just, or even mainly, about thermal treatment; they are concerned with better integrated waste management services for the regions, delivering a much higher recycling performance, recovering energy from waste which cannot be recycled and using landfill as the last resort for residual wastes which cannot otherwise be treated. Thermal treatment, whether by incineration or other technologies, is envisaged as only one component of an integrated infrastructure, which will facilitate recycling and biological treatment of 40 to 50% of waste.

Opposition to thermal treatment proposals centres on two issues: perceived risks to public health, and a perceived conflict between incineration and materials recycling. I can only reiterate, for the benefit of those who have an open mind on this matter, that there is an informed consensus that modern municipal waste incinerators, employing modern technologies and subject to compliance with strict environmental standards, do not present a significant risk to the environment or public health. All significant waste facilities are subject to full environmental impact assessment, planning controls and a rigorous environmental licensing system operated by the EPA, which must take the precautionary principle into account.

The EPA is specifically and legally precluded from licensing a waste facility unless, among other considerations, it is satisfied that the activity concerned will not cause environmental pollution, that is to say will not, to a significant extent, endanger public health or harm the environment. The EPA, which is statutorily independent in the performance of its functions, considers that municipal waste incineration, operating to the best modern standards and incorporating energy recovery, is preferable to landfill from an environmental point of view.

While it is now common to decry the advice of experts, rational decision-making requires that we, as decision-makers, take these expert views into account. However, we must also address the wider public demand for good information and assurance. I accept that there are many people who have real and genuine concerns about perceived health threats from thermal treatment or incineration. These concerns arise, in no small measure, because of misinformation and misrepresentation. We clearly face a challenge in countering negative public perceptions and the need to disseminate reasoned, well-founded information and advice to the general public will be addressed in the coming months.

Incineration and high recycling levels are not mutually exclusive. I accept that they could be, if incineration was prioritised and insufficient effort was put into composting and materials recycling. However, the regional plans clearly do the reverse. They first provide for maximum achievable recycling – with targets of up to 50% – and only then do they give consideration to thermal treatment and landfill of the remaining waste. Under these plans, the capacity of the proposed thermal treatment facilities is deliberately limited. The argument that the provision of thermal treatment means incinerators would have to be "fed", thereby reducing efforts to recycle, are not valid. We are committed to and must meet specific EU and national recycling targets.

Throughout the EU, the most environmentally progressive member states combine an impressive recycling performance with a significant reliance on thermal treatment as part of an integrated approach to waste management. Unfortunately, the focus of debate on incineration detracts from the very positive minimisation and recycling elements of the proposed plans. Accordingly, I am asking local authorities, in the regional groups, to prioritise those elements of the plans dealing with public education and awareness, waste minimisation and the delivery of segregated collection services and waste recycling infrastructure, and to prepare a clear programme of action to fast-track the implementation of these aspects of the plans.

To support these initiatives, I will shortly publish a comprehensive policy statement on waste prevention, recycling and recovery. This will address in detail practical considerations associ ated with the achievement of our policy objectives and targets in this area and will outline specific proposals in relation to waste prevention, market development for recyclables and the provision of greater infrastructural and reprocessing capacity. I will now deal with the substantive provisions of the Bill in greater detail.

Section 4 provides for an amendment of section 22 of the 1996 Act to provide that the making of a waste management plan will become an executive function. Where a local authority manager considers that a waste management plan is invalid because the purported decision of the relevant authority was subject to qualification, the manager shall adopt the said plan. The variation or replacement of a waste management plan will generally remain a reserved function, but a local authority may not, without the consent of the relevant manager, vary or replace a plan within a period of four years its being made. This is to ensure a period of stability during which local authorities can focus on the implementation of plans.

A local authority will be precluded from making resolutions under sections 3 or 4 of the City and County Management (Amendment) Act, 1955, or section 179 of the Planning and Development Act, 2000, that would be contrary to, or inconsistent with, any provision of a waste management plan or would limit or restrict the proper implementation of such plans. Section 5 provides for a consequential amendment of the definition of waste management plan in section 22(1) of the 1996 Act.

Section 6 provides for a technical amendment of section 38(5) of the 1996 Act, to remove the perceived legal impediment and allow for the intensification of use of an existing waste facility operated by an urban district council. The 1996 Act empowers only county councils and city corporations to develop waste disposal facilities. However, a unique and problematic situation has arisen in Galway, where the only available landfill is operated by Ballinasloe UDC.

As this section now stands, the EPA is precluded from granting a waste licence authorising the expansion of this facility to receive waste inputs of the level required in the period to 2005, at which time the landfill will close and be replaced by a new facility within the regional framework. At current intake levels this landfill will reach its authorised capacity next year with no prospect of replacement in that timescale. Accordingly, this provision is a short-term measure to allow the necessary intensification of use of this facility where so provided for in the relevant regional plan.

Section 7 provides for the amendment of section 39 of the 1996 Act to allow for a prohibition or limitation of the recovery or disposal of a specified class of waste in specified waste facilities. This is an enabling provision that will facili tate transposition of certain aspects of the EU landfill directive which require certain wastes, such as tyres and liquids, to be prohibited from landfills but may also facilitate measures to support recycling.

Section 8 provides for the insertion of a new section 72 in the 1996 Act providing for the imposition of an environmental levy of not more than 15p or 19 cents in respect of the supply by retailers of plastic shopping bags; the subsequent increase of this amount in accordance with increases in the consumer price index; the possible extension by provisional order of an environmental levy to other products or articles, such order requiring to be confirmed by an Act of the Oireachtas before it has effect and related regulatory powers, including power to require that the net proceeds of the levy be paid into the environment fund.

Plastic bags are a visible and persistent component of litter pollution in urban, rural and coastal settings. They impact on ecosystems and on habitats and wildlife and they undermine Ireland's clean, green image. It is conservatively estimated that approximately 1.2 billion plastic shopping bags are provided free of charge to consumers at retail outlets annually. This equates to roughly 325 plastic bags per head of population per year, which is excessive and largely unnecessary. The primary purpose of the proposed measure is to directly influence consumer behaviour and to achieve a significant reduction in the consumption of plastic shopping bags dispensed at retail outlets. The levy will be imposed as a point of sale levy on the supply by retailers of plastic shopping bags to customers. It is intended under the proposed regulations that retailers will be required to pass on the full amount of the levy as a charge to customers at the check-out. The responsibility for collecting the charge will rest with the Revenue Commissioners.

Section 9 provides for a consequential technical amendment to section 7 of the 1996 Act in relation to provisional orders made under section 72(12). Section 10 provides for the insertion of a new section, section 73, in the 1996 Act to allow for the imposition of a levy on the landfill of waste at an initial rate of not more than £15 per tonne or 19 per tonne from 1 January 2002; the subsequent increase of this amount by not more than 5 per tonne annually and related regulatory powers, including powers to require that the proceeds of the levy be paid into the environment fund. The levy will be payable by the person who carries on the waste activity concerned, in most cases local authorities, and regulations made under the section will give local authorities powers to collect the levy from any private operator in whose functional area the waste disposal activity is carried on.

Historically, the relatively low cost of landfill in Ireland has contributed to an undue reliance on this option and has militated against other more desirable waste recovery options. The intention of a landfill levy is to encourage the diversion of waste away from landfill and generate revenues for the new environment fund that can be applied in support of waste minimisation and recycling initiatives.

Section 11 provides for the insertion of a new section 74 in the 1996 Act providing for the establishment of an environment fund to be managed and controlled by the Minister and to be audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General. The Minister may pay money from the fund for a range of measures, including programmes to prevent or reduce waste, the establishment and operation of waste recovery activities, litter prevention, producer responsibility initiatives, environmental partnership projects and environmental awareness, education and training.

Section 12 provides for the amendment of the First Schedule to the Environmental Protection Agency Act, 1992, and section 39 of the 1996 Act to provide legal clarity and remove a potential duplication of licensing requirements for certain waste recovery and disposal facilities. A dual licence covering the requirements of both regimes, or two separate but similar licences, would lack the necessary clarity and enforceability. Accordingly, the section provides that waste recovery and disposal facilities will be licensable by the Environmental Protection Agency under the 1996 Act, except where the facilities are connected or associated with an activity which is or will be licensed by the agency under the 1992 Act.

Section 13 provides for amendments to the Litter Pollution Act, 1997, in relation to on-the-spot fines for litter offences. The section provides for an increase of the fine to £100 or 125 from a future date to be set by ministerial order. Further increases in the fine in the future are not to exceed 25% in any three year period. The section also confirms the Litter Pollution Regulations, 1999, which increased the fine to £50 or 60 from 1 January 2002.

The Waste Management (Amendment) Bill will provide a legal mechanism to satisfactorily conclude the stalled waste management planning process and to facilitate the delivery of improved waste services and the development of an effective and safe waste infrastructure. The Bill will also provide for a range of environmentally important and desirable initiatives to be undertaken in the near future.

I look forward to the debate on the Bill which I hope will range across its many full important provisions. I also look forward to taking on board, as far as possible, any suggestions Members might make during the passage of the Bill through the House. I commend the Bill to the House.

I am pleased the Leader is allowing greater debate than what was proposed yesterday on this important Bill. I am glad we will have an opportunity to reflect on it today and next week.

This Bill goes to the heart of local democracy. It takes a fundamental basic power away from elected members and gives it to an unelected manager. Elected councils throughout the country have read and discussed at great length the waste management proposals. A number of councils, including Louth County Council, rejected the waste management plan because it included a provision for incineration or thermal treatment. By introducing this Bill, the Minister is taking away from the representatives of the local people a democratic right and a reserved function of elected members to decide how their waste will be managed and giving it to a county manager who does not have any knowledge or professional competence in this area, is not responsible to the public and who will not stand for election. Local government is about giving power back to the people through its elected members. The Minister has made significant progress in giving elected members a greater say in what is happening at local level. However, this Bill is a complete reversal of that progress. We in Fine Gael oppose this provision in the Bill which is unacceptable and undemocratic. We will fight it all the way. As a result of what the Minister is doing, the communities will fight incinerators wherever they are proposed, particularly in counties Louth and Meath. An incinerator is proposed two miles from my house. My community and my town, as well as people in Meath, will fight this proposal.

How did these waste management plans come about? They are the result of consultants employed to develop regional policies. We have regional waste management strategies for the north-east, the south-west and so on, but the elected bodies of those regions did not meet collectively to discuss the plans. That is a critical failure in the waste management strategy. While the consultants were agreed as between the county managers and the councils, the plans were not presented to a joint meeting of the councils. If they had been, there would have been a true regional aspect to them. The councillors, whose reserve function it is to decide these issues, would have discussed, debated and decided them among themselves. Under this Bill, that has not happened. Whatever consultant was appointed – in most cases it was a well known firm – dictates to the council what it must do. If we do not do it, the manager will dictate what must be done.

A study was undertaken into the feasibility of thermal options for waste treatment in the north-east and the mid-west regions and an inception report was published in 1998 before the plans themselves. The consultant professional groups, the Department's representatives, county managers and others drew up this assessment. The infamous company, as I refer to it, Thermal Select, is mentioned.

When we went on the Continent to look at waste incinerators, we were brought to a plant at Karlsruhe which we were told had the most modern, efficient, productive and scientifically advanced way of managing waste. The report states that Thermal Select combines pyrolysis with gasification in a process offering improved recycling possibilities with lower emissions. When we visited the Thermal Select plant, there was no recycling. Everything was being burned. The report states that no other alternative thermal technology is at this stage of development and it is this process which shows most promise.

We visited the plant as any group would and everything seemed fine. We were to make our decision on a waste management plan at 6 p.m. At 5 p.m. I spoke to the mayor of Karlsruhe on the telephone and he told me, in English, that the Thermal Select plant was closed because it breached regulation emissions. He said that it would be closed for months but would reopen although it had breached the regulations.

How then could Louth County Council accept that if we passed this plan this company would operate in our town as it did in Germany? A journalist in Puerto Rico, who had read my comments in the international press, told me by telephone that Thermal Select was building a plant in his state, that the people there had the same problem and that there were other significant issues of concern. On the Internet there are details about Thermal Select's activities in northern Italy where there are also questions about it.

Regardless of the company, when we visited the plant, the technology was not doing the job it was supposed to do. The councillors in Louth voted on the basis of the facts at the time. They were happy to accept the waste management plan, as were the county councils which originally rejected it, except for incineration or thermal treatment. That is the only exception that was made. Everything else, such as recycling, re-use, composting, and anaerobic digestion are acceptable, but incineration is not acceptable.

The people of County Louth support the council in its decision and expect to have the measures in place but without incineration. This Bill takes away that choice and provides for incineration regardless of whether we want it, because it will allow the manager to say that we must accept the waste management plan. I reject that aspect of it the Bill. Its focus is the putting down of local democracy.

The Senator might allow me to intervene to explain that the Thermal Select process he discussed is a gasification process, not incineration.

I am pleased the Minister made that distinction. It is a question of temperature. The company he met, Endovar, proposed to burn the waste at 600 degrees and Thermal Select proposes to do so at 800 degrees. The Minister can call it what he likes but things are burned and that is incineration. There are emissions and that is called pollution. That is the reality.

The Minister's Department flew in an expert, Professor Deiter Schrenk, who is—

Again for the record, the Department did not fly in experts to County Louth or anywhere else.

Perhaps I need correction. A regional waste management conference was held in Roscommon, I think. I thought that notice of it came from the Department of the Environment and Local Government and that this gentleman spoke at it. It may have been the association of local authorities, but whoever it was, the Minister referred to this gentleman last week or certainly referred to him—

I think he once met Louth councillors.

He did and that is what I am referring to. I did not interrupt the Minister in his speech.

I am sure the Senator would not want to be—

I am not getting involved in cross-talk with the Minister.

I do not want to either but—

The Minister does not have a right to interrupt when I am speaking.

I did on a point of order.

The Minister should make his remarks through the Chair.

I raised a point of order. I do not think the Senator has a right to mislead the House.

That is a serious charge. Let it not be said—

The Minister will have the opportunity to reply—

I do not accept that. It is unfair and unwarranted. It is a very personal remark which I do not accept. It demeans the Minister who is here to listen to a debate.

The facts are that this gentleman, who is an expert on—

The Senator is being inaccurate.

The Minister will allow the Senator to make his case.

Thank you, a Chathaoirligh.

The Senator should not mislead the House. I do not want him to have to apologise tomorrow.

Personal remarks are not acceptable from me or the Minister and I ask him to withdraw them.

Not until the Senator withdraws the remark which misled the House. He accused the Department of flying in an expert, and that is not true.

What I said was I presumed that the expert was nominated by the Department.

That is not what—

That is fair enough. Professor Schrenk mentioned that the prevalence of certain diseases such as allergic diseases, including allergic asthma, is increasing in Western countries and that major diseases such as lung cancer are more prevalent in highly industrialised zones. In his opinion, modern lifestyle, including changes in the pattern of food consumed, smoking and other individual factors, has a major influence on these increases. Furthermore, according to Professor Schrenk, a certain percentage of cases of lung cancer and chronic diseases of the respiratory tract are related to a spectrum of emissions in urbanised areas, including sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides.

The professor went on to refer to municipal solid waste – MSW – incineration and mentioned calculations showing that the contribution of a modern waste incinerator to the total emissions of these compounds is in the range of, or below, 1%, depending on the background air quality. In rural areas, the additional emissions of most relevant pollutants related to modern municipal waste incinerators are in the range of a few percentage points, according to the figures cited by Professor Schrenk.

As far as I am concerned, incineration will add to atmospheric pollution and to ill health. Indisputable facts emerged from a survey recently carried out in County Louth, which found that 20% of children in the county are asthmatic. If incineration is introduced in County Louth, will it increase or decrease the incidence of ill health in our community? I believe that incineration will increase ill health.

We have more cars—

The Senator must be allowed to speak without interruption.

The question of health is a very important one. Although I accept that there are differing views on incineration on all sides of the House and among the public, no authoritative statement has been put on the record by Irish health authorities.

That is true.

We are told that European directives allow incineration, which is obviously true. The Minister has said that he is prepared to listen to what Senators have to say. In that spirit, I call on him to ask the Health Research Board to carry out a survey of all available national and international literature on this issue to help people make up their minds. It should be a definitive, authoritative and independent report based on the available facts, and it should bear the stamp of the State. The State's final decision on whether to allow incineration under certain conditions would be more acceptable if such a report had been published in advance.

Who will make the decision on the thermal treatment options in the waste management plan? It appears it will not be made by the people or by elected Members, but by county managers. If such a provision is included in our strategic plan for waste management without taking other issues into account, democracy will be effectively annulled and incineration foisted on us against our total, absolute and implacable opposition.

The fifth report of the House of Commons cross-party environment, transport and regional affairs committee, published on the Internet, deals solely with arguments in relation to energy from waste. Section Q of that report highlights the health issues in relation to incineration. It states:

The arguments about the health effects from incinerators are complex and are based on incomplete knowledge. There are, however, some truths which can be drawn from the debate over the health implications of incineration. Firstly, that the health effects which result from an incinerator's emissions are not yet fully known. Secondly, that the regulation of incineration to date has been rather poor and that this has resulted in poor practices developing in some incinerators. This, in turn, has raised the levels of anxiety amongst the public. Regulation must encompass emissions, the handling of the ash and all other aspects of the operation. Lastly, the lack of pre-separation of potentially hazardous materials, such as PVC, treated wood and batteries, increases the risk of emission limit values being exceeded.

Section R of the report states, in relation to the United Kingdom:

The Environmental Agency must provide a better standard of inspection of incinerators if the public's confidence is to be regained. The agency will also need to examine a strategy for communicating the risks from incineration to the public. In addition, continuous monitoring of the emissions from all incinerator stacks should be carried out and the data made freely and easily available to the public. Where recurrent breaches of limit values are found to occur, the operator should be fined. If breaches continue to occur, the plant should be closed down.

This Bill was first published in green, as it was to go to the Dáil. Last week the colour changed when the Bill was published in yellow, as it was to be initiated in the Seanad. In my opinion, this Bill should be printed in red, as it gives a red card to county councillors. They are being told they are not valued and that their voice will not be heard as it will be the manager's decision. The democratic process is overrun and overruled in this Bill, which I reject utterly.

We will oppose many sections of the Bill on Committee Stage and we will make constructive suggestions as to how the issue of waste management should be dealt with. From Cork to Donegal and from Galway to Kerry, every parish has a sign saying "No Dump" or "No Incinerator", because no investment has been made in recycling, re-use or waste management. The Government, particularly the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, has failed utterly, absolutely and completely in this area. People will accept recycling, which they want, but the way must be shown by investing money in it.

The Minister went to Nova Scotia where 50% of waste has been recycled for the past four or five years, and that is the only way forward. We should educate and learn, and give money to local authorities for infrastructure. The Minister is taking the wrong road. His proposal is unacceptable and we utterly and absolutely reject it.

Ar tosach báire, ba mhaith liom fáilte a chuir roimh an Aire Roinn Comhshaoil agus Rialtais Áitiúil chun ábhair na Bille seo a phlé. I welcome the Minister to the House. In his address, he alluded to the fact that this topic has generated a lot of debate. A lot of heat has been generated too, if the pun can be pardoned. While all this is understandable, we must be conscious of the risk of being brought down a cul-de-sac on one aspect of the proposals with regard to waste management. As the Minister rightly pointed out in his speech, we need to take a more comprehensive and broader look at the issues.

Some inescapable facts must be faced. Obviously, excessive amounts of waste are dependent on landfill. It is a shame that 92% of waste should go into landfill at this stage of the country's development. Equally, it is fair to say that the Minister has been pursued by the EU to advance the situation so that we meet the regulations and targets set.

Over the months I have listened to criticism of the Minister by the Opposition. This is disingenuous because, on the one hand, he is criticised for not taking action and, on the other, he is vilified for the action he takes. As the Minister is aware, I do not subscribe fully to all aspects of the Bill but I wish to consider its positive elements. Undoubtedly, one of the biggest blights on our landscape is litter pollution, although various attempts have been made to tackle this problem. In terms of other European countries, with the possible exception of Italy, Ireland is probably the worst offender in this area. The litter problem in Italy is particularly bad, but Ireland is not far behind in that regard. There is a need for awareness and education in this area. Schools have done tremendous work and my assessment, with which many people agree, is that children are often better at complying with the legislation in this area. They often correct their parents for indiscriminate littering.

I welcome the increase in the fine to £100 and that it will be index linked subsequently. This is necessary and perhaps it should be mandatory. I am aware of cases taken to court by local authorities where the Judiciary decided to apply the Probation Act or impose paltry fines. This does nothing to deter people or encourage them to be responsible in this area. Local authorities have not always been diligent with regard to the enforcement of the legislation. The Seanad dealt with a Bill recently where county councils were empowered to engage community wardens. It was recognised that part of their responsibility would be the enforcement of by-laws under various legislation.

The Minister should consider if one community warden engaged in each electoral area of the county council could take responsibility for litter in addition to his or her responsibilities in relation to the registration of private rented accommodation about which local authorities are dilatory. Perhaps the provisions on derelict sites could also come within their remit. If local authorities were asked for their derelict sites registers, they probably would be conspicuous by their incompletion. If community wardens had a remit in these areas, they would be effective with regard to litter and improve the current position, but it would also ensure that other areas that are currently neglected would receive attention. This process could be self-financing and I ask the Minister to consider this proposition.

I welcome the Bill's provisions in relation to plastic bags and the application of a levy of up to 15p. The Minister signalled this move some time ago and I am glad it has been introduced. The behaviour of people while shopping has changed over the years and the convenience of plastic bags has been fully embraced. Unfortunately, it creates a pollution legacy. The Minister stated that each person uses 325 bags a year, which is a cumulative total of 1.2 billion bags each year. This tells its own story. The levy and fund that will be created are definite steps in the right direction.

There is an undoubted need to ensure a determined effort is made with regard to landfill. This will require education, leadership and penalties against people who do not comply. The introduction of the landfill levy of up to £15 per tonne is a step in that direction. The objective is to ensure people change their ways in accordance with the policy documents and I welcome that development. However, it is important that it is not used as a mechanism to make the use of landfill prohibitive. As the records of the House and my council show, I share many of the reservations about thermal treatment and incineration. I agree with the Minister – I do not wish to fall into this trap – that compilation of the regional plans has generated a debate on thermal treatment to the total obfuscation of the other issues involved such as prevention, minimisation, reuse and recycling. We should be much more determined to achieve progress in those areas.

I welcome the Minister's statement that the debate has focused too much on incineration and that, accordingly, he intends to ask local authorities in the regional groups to prioritise the elements of the plans dealing with public education and awareness, waste minimisation, the delivery of segregated collection services and waste recycling infrastructure and to prepare a clear programme of action to fast track the implementation of these aspects. This is good and progressive and it needs to be pursued with vigour and diligence. Thermal treatment is only one step above landfill in the hierarchy proposed by the EU and EPA and those steps should be taken.

I am not an expert on the health issues related to thermal treatment but I have serious questions in that regard. There have been many other public health issues such as the problems arising from blood transfusions and the British Department of Agriculture's mishandling of the BSE crisis. The enforcement of environmental controls was lacking in such cases. However, this is not only an Irish phenomenon. Controls have not always been as thorough or good as they should have been throughout Europe and in the United States. The suggestion that the effects of the thermal treatment process in other jurisdictions should be investigated by an authoritative body in Ireland is good. Perhaps the Minister could consider that proposal because people will need reassurance if we are to move in a direction that raises genuine concerns and fears among the public.

When a decision was made in Wexford in relation to our waste management policy, we opted for landfill over thermal treatment. This was done on the basis of information from Lille in France, Iowa and other places. We also held a meeting with ESB International and Sauer Utilit ies, both of which mentioned an investment of £80 million and a period of 20 to 25 years to underwrite the cost of the project. Any decision to take that route is almost irreversible for a generation and should not be taken lightly. We also considered landfill and we chose that as the preferred route. Our proposals have a 20 year lifespan under a new development that would be undertaken. This decision can be changed at any stage because the landfill can be closed. I am aware of expert opinions that landfill is as great a pollutant as anything else, but I have examined many of them and I was most impressed with the landfill in Kill.

Sitting suspended at 1 p.m. and resumed at 2 p.m.

The making of the waste management plan has transferred from being a reserve function to an executive function. I empathise with the Minister's dilemma because waste management from a national perspective was not progressing at a rate that was necessary; therefore he felt it incumbent on him to take steps to enable the plans to be put in place.

Once all the regions embarked upon a strategy with a regional focus for tackling the issue it was felt that everybody had to sign up to the regional policy. I wonder if that conventional wisdom is soundly based. From my experience in Wexford, the council took a decision that, while it would embrace all aspects of this, thermal treatment would not form part of its strategy and any residues would go into landfill. That seemed to be a logical and reasonable objective for the council to pursue.

While the hierarchy of waste management is set out by the EU, I know that from talking to senior people in the Commission on this, they would not necessarily disagree with the comment that thermal treatment is perhaps not necessary if we effectively implement the policy on prevention, minimisation, recycling and re-use. I was particularly pleased with the emphasis the Minister laid on introducing policies at council and regional level that will prioritise our efforts and energies in that regard.

At the outset the Minister came in for some political criticism for not interfering in the process. There were a range of options open to the Department, one of which was to have a waste management authority as has been proposed by the Labour Party. Tonight we will discuss the NRA. Our experience of national bodies has been less than wonderful and they have been less than effective. I am glad that route was not selected.

There was a suggestion, which I might have favoured, that where waste management plans were not in place, the councils would be revisited with this issue. The Minister has alluded to people adopting what he calls the Paul Daniels solution by hoping that the issue will go away. Obviously that will not happen. However, it is imperative that the sine qua non is that local authorities have the right to make an effective decision that conforms to national and EU policy. Where councils have made the decision to pursue all areas with perhaps one exception, that seems to be a plausible and acceptable position.

In this instance the Minister has opted for a system where the power is transferred back to the executive and the county manager. I have opposed that for as long as I have been involved in local government. The empowerment of local councillors in addressing the democratic deficit is something that any of us involved as practitioners of local government would advocate. The Minister has been one of the strongest advocates of enhancing local government and empowering local councillors. He has diluted this part of the Bill by ensuring that it has a four year life span. However, in areas where the council has adopted a waste management plan, it should not be necessary for the manager to override that. I hope that no manager would ignore the mandate of elected members despite provisions in this Bill that would give him such powers. There is an onus on the council to have a sensible plan in place and where it has, he should respect the will of the members as the only ones with a democratic mandate. I hope managers will not use this power to fall in line with thermal treatment just for the sake of it.

The environmental fund is a welcome provision in the Bill. In his speech, the Minister outlined the purpose of this fund. If we try to make this a "catch-all" fund, it will have a seriously diluted impact on the ground. The fund should primarily be geared towards preventive waste measures. We need to be much more progressive in our thinking at authority and individual level because fundamentally responsibility for waste management starts with individual people and their households. It is at that level that significant improvements can be made. That means ensuring that there is awareness and that people buy into the policies that are enunciated here.

I started by mentioning litter control. That is an area in which we have been aspirational for a long time. We need to be specific on the measures necessary, which should be properly resourced, as should local government. The Bill is like the curate's egg – good in many places but with areas where it could be improved. Perhaps the Minister of State will take on board what Members have to say on the Bill in order that it may be modified subsequently.

I wish to share time with Senator Ross.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

On the assumption colleagues on both sides of the House will pay adequate atten tion to the proposals regarding waste management plans, I will concentrate my thoughts on plastic bags. I hope the Minister of State and House will excuse me. As a chief executive of a supermarket company, this is something close to my heart, but it is an interest which is not hostile to the Minister's concerns and intentions. Although I plead guilty to being one of the conduits through which customers obtain plastic bags, I cannot claim to be happy with the position. I am sure the Minister of State will not have had the experience I have had of customers catching me by the lapels and saying they hate the way I give away so many plastic bags or that they hate the way I want to charge for plastic bags. On one occasion when we did charge for plastic bags, some people said they would leave never to return if they were charged 8p for eight plastic bags. There is a difference in attitude between different people.

If it is to work, and I would like to see the Minister's intentions work, we must change attitudes. There are different attitudes in different shops and on the part of different customers. We have 19 shops, in some of which we use very few plastic bags because customers are aware of the environment or what they should be doing while, in others, almost everyone uses plastic bags. There is an education challenge here and I hope the Minister of State will be able to face up to it and ensure it happens.

The excessive use of plastic bags is bad from an environmental point of view. To take my company as an example, we have engaged in many initiatives over the years to encourage customers to use fewer bags and use more eco-friendly alternatives. Our embarrassment from an environmental point of view is strengthened by the fact that there are commercial realities relating to plastic bags. The cost of each individual bag is insignificant and is probably only about a halfpenny, but the aggregate cost to a supermarket or company is certainly not insignificant. At a rough guess, plastic bags account for about 0.5% of total sales. That may not appear very much, but in the supermarket business, margins are razor-thin. If we did not have that expense, it could be passed on to customers in meaningful savings. There is a benefit to the economy in this.

We are at one with the Minister in wanting to eliminate plastic bags. Having tried to do so by means of education and persuasion over the years, we must admit the reality that people will probably not change their attitudes and practices until they are given a strong financial incentive to do so. The levy proposed in the Bill is just such an incentive. I mentioned that, in supermarket economics, the cost of the plastic bag of a halfpenny is quite significant. That being so, a levy on each bag of 15p would be devastating. The Minister has obviously aimed the levy at a level where it will have an impact and will be too large to be absorbed by retailers.

The Minister is rightly interested in changing behaviour rather than raising revenue and a 15p levy will be certain to do just that. It will change behaviour because neither the retailer nor the customer can afford to pay a levy at that level. If the retailer paid the levy at that level, he would typically pay more for each transaction than the profit the company makes from the transaction. There would have to be £10 worth of goods in each bag to break even, and that is clearly over the top. On the other hand, if the customer paid the levy, it would add dramatically to the cost of his or her shopping and to inflation. Even if people were prepared to put up with it, which I doubt, it would have an immediate negative effect on inflation, and a sizeable one at that. Some bags may only contain £1 worth of goods, and paying the 15p levy would add 15% inflation to the cost.

On the face of it, the measure is well designed to create the effect intended by the Minister. I congratulate him on the incentive and wish him success with it. That said, the success of the initiative will depend on certain practicalities being addressed. They fall under two headings. The first practicality is that all retailers and all retail outlets must be treated equally under the law. If the working of the scheme gives a competitive advantage to one retailer over another, that will create an intolerable position which will fatally undermine the scheme. The second practicality is that a line must be drawn correctly and realistically between bags liable for the levy and those which are exempt. Clearly the Bill gives the Minister the right to do this, but I do not know that it has been thought through. The Bill provides for the Minister to make regulations exempting certain classes of bag from the levy. It is critical to the success of the scheme that the line between exemption and non-exemption is drawn correctly and realistically.

I will deal first with the issue of treating all retailers equally. This is important. There are certain retailers who use plastic bags unnecessarily but it does not matter a great deal. I think of shoe retailers, for example. A pair of shoes comes in a box and the box is then placed in a plastic bag for the customer to carry home. In an ideal world, the levy would be slapped on the bag and one would do one's best to collect it. However, in the real and practical world, it does not make much difference if shoe retailers are ignored or are left for another day. There are not that many of them. I would not object if shoe retailers were not subject to the levy.

However, there is another sense to the wording of the Bill which concerns me. Section 8(2) empowers the Minister to make regulations raising the levy on plastic bags "in or at a specified class or classes of supermarket, service station or other sales outlet". The problem is that, as written, the subsection does more than empower the Minister to leave shoe shops out of the equation, which is fine and with which I do not have a prob lem. It also gives the Minister the power to discriminate between different classes of supermarket or different types of grocery shops. That is a recipe for disaster.

If the Minister lumps us all into the same boat, we will be happy to knuckle down and get on with the job of making the legislation work but if the effect of the regulations is to burden me with the levy while leaving exempt a smaller grocery outlet or a more specialised one, we are heading into major trouble. Given the financial burden the levy will place on a shop's operations, it would be a major competitive advantage for a shop next door selling the same type of goods to be exempt from the levy. If that position were to apply, there would be immediate implications in terms of competitive legislation. There may also be constitutional implications. It is a law that would clearly discriminate between citizens doing the same type of business. I trust and hope the Minister will be as reluctant as I am to go that route.

There is a further problem I must highlight before moving on from this issue of inequality between different retailers, and that relates to the collection method. It is clear from the Bill that the Minister has in mind a collection system akin to the manner in which rate collectors work. Collection would be outsourced with payment on a commission basis. That is the way I understand it. We must consider the potential for unequal treatment between retailers arising from such a system. A collector of levies will have a strong incentive to collect from large, highly visible firms and a much weaker incentive to collect much smaller amounts from smaller businesses from which it would be much more difficult to collect. In this way, the collection method could introduce a systematic bias against the larger retailer which could have the same effect as the Minister exempting smaller shops through the regulations he makes. If these measures apply to everyone with no opting out, they will work. It is completely unsustainable for a situation to pertain where the levy will apply only to large shops or certain types of shops.

On the issue of what bags will be covered by the levy and what bags will be exempt, we must not make the mistake of labelling all plastic bags as environmentally unfriendly. For instance, we sell a thick-gauge bag that is clearly intended for reuse. Encouraging the use of such bags will obviously be part of any strategy we adopt, and one never sees this sort of bag littering bushes and highways. It would be counterproductive to put a levy on such bags, and I assume they would be automatically excluded.

Let me explain the distinction between bags used to pack goods at the checkout and those used to pack goods inside the shop. Bags packed at the checkout are self-explanatory. I will come back to those. Bags packed inside the shop fall into two different categories. The first is bags used to pack what I call wet fresh foods – meat, fish, bacon, delicatessen items and a few others. What they have in common is the need to put an effective barrier between them and other goods for health reasons. In the case of some goods there is a major food safety issue involved. For instance, the Food Safety Authority will state that it is of primary importance to keep cooked and uncooked meats strictly apart to avoid cross-contamination between the two. That is a really serious food safety issue. Clearly, packaging plays a key role in avoiding cross-contamination. Hence, the case for exempting the bags needed for that is unanswerable. There is a less strong but still compelling argument in regard to other wet fresh foods. On hygiene grounds, there needs to be a barrier between food that can seep blood, such as fresh meat, and anything else in the shopping bag. The same applies to fish, bacon and delicatessen items such as cheese.

There is a slightly different situation in relation to what I call dry fresh foods. Food safety is not involved, nor is hygiene. What is involved is a long-standing merchandising practice of allowing people to choose their own fruit and vegetables, put them into a bag, weigh them, have them priced, and bring the sealed bag to the checkout. To change that set-up would cause an enormous amount of disruption to supermarkets and particularly to customers' choice. The disruption caused at checkouts will be more than enough to cope with, at least in the early stages. It would be unrealistic and impractical to expect supermarkets totally to revamp their way of selling fresh fruit and vegetables while they are focusing on the elimination of plastic bags at checkouts. All they would do is put the fruit and vegetables into some form of bag – it would probably have to be plastic – and, therefore, it would not solve the problem.

With this in mind I propose that, at least in the initial stages of implementing the Bill, the Minister should make regulations that impose the levy only on bags that are used to enclose goods that are already inside a package. This would exempt, at least for the moment, all packaging that is used to enclose raw goods of any kind but penalise secondary packaging, that is, bags used to package things that are already packaged. If we can eliminate plastic bags for secondary packaging, we will have removed most of the environmental problem that is the foundation of this Bill.

I am not sure whether I have explained that well enough. Let me touch on the detail. This Bill could be put into operation in such a way that all bags would be levied. That means that if a person buys cooked ham or raw meat, the bag used to pack it will be levied. That would create an impossible burden on inflation, on customers, and on food safety. My proposal is that if the product that is already in a package is put into another bag, tax is levied only on the other bag. I hope that is understood. If I have not explained it well enough I apologise to Members. I apologise also if I have taken too much of the time of the House explaining in such detail a rather technical subject. However, it is important to air these issues because they are the heart of the success or failure of this Bill when it is implemented.

I welcome the Bill. It can be made to work. However, we will have to make sure it is well thought out. This is empowering legislation and, with those objectives, it can achieve what it sets out to.

I thank Senator Quinn for sharing his time.

I want to make two points. The first relates to the Minister's assertion that this Bill does not in any way undermine local government. This is the most important underlying issue in the Bill. He should have said that it does undermine local government. There is no doubt about that. The Minister can interrupt me if I am wrong, but this transfers the waste management plan from local government to the Executive. What we have to decide is whether that is a good or a bad thing. It takes away one of the strongest powers of local government, but that it is a very good thing. The Minister should not have been so disingenuous as to say he was not undermining local government. He should have said he was undermining local government because it has misbehaved in this area.

As someone who was in local government, I thank God I am out of it—

And so say all of us.

—because when I was on Wicklow County Council issues like this were impossible to confront. Any honest local councillor would agree. I represented Bray in local government. If someone had proposed that a landfill site should be put in Bray, it would have been political suicide if I had made an objective decision and agreed that was the place to put it. Nobody has done that. I challenge the Minister or anybody in this House to say they have ever suggested that a landfill site be put in their backyard. The logic of that is that there should be no waste disposal anywhere in country, and that there is nowhere suitable. That is just not the case. It is illogical to suggest that local government county councillors or urban councillors are in any way qualified to make objective decisions of this sort. They are not. They will put themselves straight out of office the moment they make an independent decision.

I congratulate the Minister for undermining local government. I wish he would say he is doing that and why. He mentioned two cases – I think they were Clare and Galway – where local representatives were defying the regional plan. What else does he expect them to do? He would not expect them to destroy special areas of their own counties. It is, therefore, important that we should say that county councillors – and I was one and I am exactly the same as everybody else – have proved themselves totally unfit to deal in this matter because their knee-jerk reaction to the suggestion that a dump be put in their area is to say "no". They will say their area is unsuitable and invent reasons for not putting it there.

It is the halting site syndrome all over again. I came across one objector to a halting site who objected to it on behalf of Travellers. He said it was not suitable for them, that they would get cold in winter or wet when it rained and so on. He did not give two hoots about the Travellers. The only thing he cared about was himself and his constituents.

That is the reality in relation to this kind of issue. There are certain issues on which local politicians should not be asked to judge. It is quite obvious that they cannot judge these issues. I congratulate the Minister for doing this, and make no bones about it.

The Minister is doing something else which is good, but it is probably not enough. Senator Quinn dealt with it more than adequately. The objective here is to change behaviour patterns. Undoubtedly the Minister's proposal to put levies on plastic bags is an effort to get people and supermarkets not to use them any more, and if they do to pay for them. That is fine in principle. I did not understand the difference between different plastic bags until Senator Quinn made this point, so I am talking only about a general principle. As a general principle, it is very good to guide things in this direction. However, this is probably not moving fast enough.

What we really need is a radical approach, although I know that will be difficult to achieve at national level. By a radical approach I mean that we will have to make a firm and final decision about recycling and incineration, and we will have to stick to it. There is no great problem about recycling, which should begin at home. Every individual should be given six or seven bins in which to separate waste materials, and it should be an offence not to do so properly. That would be a simple method to adopt and such discipline governing the separation of waste materials would be in the interests of every citizen. Instead, however, we all put our waste into one bin and expect someone else to take it away. Recycling is not a big task and it should be introduced as an initial step.

I do not know enough about incineration and even though I have listened to the arguments on either side, and have been lobbied by both sides, I cannot make up my mind about it.

The Senator is like a local councillor.

It is unusual for a politician to say that, but I cannot make up my mind whether incineration is a good thing. I really do not know because I do not understand it all, including the final chemical reaction. As a first step, however, we cannot do harm by having a rigid and compulsory recycling system, including fines for offences.

I agree entirely with the final point made by Senator Ross in his estimation of how local councillors function, although I am not quite sure that I agree with all the elements of what he said. When local democracy works well it is efficient, but when it does not, action must be taken. That is what is happening in the context of the Waste Management Bill which became law in 1996. In the intervening four years, local councils have had ample opportunity to respond to the requirements of the Act. Some did so without wasting too much time, some dithered before doing so and others buckled under local pressure and did not do it at all.

When I hear all the "olagón-ing" about local democracy, I have to ask what its purpose is. Local democracy is there to serve the citizenry of the community, not its own members. There is a strong self-serving element by members who refuse to promote or adopt waste management plans in their local areas. Local democracy is only as good as the members who exercise their responsibilities through the powers that are granted to them. When people abdicate those responsibilities the issue must be confronted for the greater good which is the public need.

As a country we are being totally irresponsible in dealing with waste. We are generating more and more of it every day so that mountains of waste are accumulating and multiplying. Yet, when one travels around the country there are signs everywhere stating "No Dump Here" and "No Incinerator Here". Where do people expect the waste to go? In this case, leadership has to come from central Government. If there is a fault to be found in this legislation it is that it is long overdue. It should have been introduced before now because we are dealing with waste in a reckless manner and there will be a price to pay later. For a country that is so dependent on tourism and its image as a producer of healthy food grown in clean soil, we cannot be so cavalier about the quality of our soil and fresh water. Neither can we afford to be cavalier about the damage that inevitably accrues from badly designed and badly managed landfill sites.

There has been much debate about air emissions from incinerators and I have no quarrel with those who wish to unravel the issue by teasing out all the implications. That is the correct thing to do, but I hear of few equivalent efforts to tease out the damage that is being done to soil and water quality from badly designed and badly managed landfill sites. Waste has to go somewhere and we must apply ourselves to the key principles of the Waste Management Act to deal with it.

I have no expert knowledge of the incineration process but I am open-minded about new technology. I am not afraid to introduce change if it is for the overall good of communities and the country at large. A hierarchy of activities were provided for in the legislation, including waste reduction, recycling, re-use and disposal. We have failed miserably to reduce waste, and may not even have attempted to do so. Day after day my office is flooded with paper of all shapes and sizes. Anybody who thinks I have the time to read all this material is overestimating my capacity to deal with such a volume of paper. Even if I had the time, I would not necessarily have the expertise to interpret it in any useful way. We must be serious about waste prevention.

In his speech, the Minister said he was bringing forth a comprehensive policy statement on waste prevention. Nothing works better than good example and the House could set such an example. An annual target ought to be set for every Department for reducing its output of paper by 10%. When computerisation was introduced I thought the flow of paper into our offices would be reduced because we would be able to access information in an environmentally friendly way. However, after going to the trouble of learning how to use a computer, I still find that the same flood of paper comes into my office every day. In conjunction with publishing a policy document, the Minister should set standards for those of us who work in the Houses of the Oireachtas. He should begin by asking Departments to examine their outflow of material, including duplication. They should examine how the computer system, including websites, can be used to reduce paper output, while adhering to annual waste reduction targets which could be monitored and policed on an annual basis. I am certain such steps would yield useful results. By doing that, we would be providing some leadership and setting an example for the rest of the country to follow.

The Irish Pharmaceutical and Chemical Manufacturers Federation issues a monthly publication called Horizon. In the most recent issue I was advised that the federation would no longer be sending me paper-based copies of the publication because it can now be accessed on a website. I recommend that model to Departments because it would cut down greatly on the amount of waste paper for disposal.

I want to refer to the mania that has come over people in terms of delivering reports, position papers etc. The shelves in my office are clogged up with all sorts of documents that I do not have time to read. I intended to bring samples of those I wanted to speak about but I could not requisition a wheelbarrow. However, I picked the following at random: four reports from the Law Reform Commission, two of which were issued in March of this year and two in December; a report entitled The Variation of Trust; another report entitled The Rules against Perpetuities and Cognate Rules; a consultation paper on homicide, The Mental Elements in Murder – I wanted to murder whoever sent it to me; and a report on the statutes of limitations, Claims in Contracts and Tort in Respect of Latent Damage. I do not envisage that I will ever have reason to read any of those reports in any greater detail than I would if I had to go to the Library to access specific information about any one of them. That is the way research is done. People who want to do research go to the library.

In conjunction with cutting down on this flood of paper and transferring information to websites we should seek to develop and expand the Library services in Leinster House. There is no need to send all this detailed information to numbers of people. Perhaps I am the only person in the House who does not read these publications in detail but if I wanted that kind of specialised information when I worked in another discipline, I went to the library to do my research. I did not need to have all these publications on my shelves. We must cut down on the inflow of paper because where does all that waste paper go? Some of it is recycled, some of it is not and far too much of it goes to landfill. I am certain of that.

Other issues nettle me also. I think I will be a crank in my old age because I have taken to writing about ten letters a week asking people to take me off their mailing list. A huge amount of unsolicited and unwanted circular material comes through my letter box every day which I do not use. It fills up my waste paper basket. I have found out that about three quarters of the contents of my wheelie-bin is made up of paper because there is no recycling service to facilitate me where I live in Cork. I do not need or use most of that paper and nobody has ever consulted me about it. I have taken to writing to these people asking them to take me off their mailing list, and I would recommend every householder to take an hour off every week for the next six weeks to examine the material that is thrust into their letter boxes either by the postman or by people who do the deliveries, and to send it back.

The Germans are great about these issues. For years they unwrapped the products they bought in supermarkets and left the packaging behind them for the owner to deal with. There was a philosophy behind that. The obligation to dispose of that packaging was put on the person selling the product. When people send me notices about where I can get Chinese food or a cheaper type of Pampers, that is taxing my patience beyond breaking point.

I ask the Minister to embark on a major programme of waste reduction and prevention and to start that programme in this House. We should give good example. In politics we always say that votes come one by one but if the Minister starts his programme of waste reduction here he will manage this issue place by place. Certain com panies and industries are good at in-house waste prevention but Departments are not. We ask other people to do it but we are not prepared to do it ourselves. That is a gross lack of leadership and it has to be addressed.

I get the most elaborate, beautifully produced brochures, which I am sure create a great deal of employment, from groups like the Combat Poverty Agency. The Combat Poverty Agency gets taxpayers' money to be put towards the relief of poverty, yet that money is spent on producing these elaborate brochures. They are more elaborate than those produced by some golf clubs. That nettles me and I have written to the agency about that. The production of those brochures is eating up taxpayers' money that is voted for the relief of poverty but that money is not filtering down to those for whom it was intended. I gave the Combat Poverty Agency brochure as an example. I could give 21 examples but I do not have the time. We should tackle the problem of junk mail. We should have the courage to tell these people that we do not want their junk mail. We do not want our bins and our shelves clogged up with these publications and papers which is only putting more waste paper into landfill etc.

In respect of recycling, we have failed miserably to make inroads into that area. We have not cultivated a culture of recycling. Senator Quinn talked about changing people's attitudes. We have failed to do that but we cannot afford to fail from now on and we must give leadership in that area. I and all my neighbours would gladly present our paper for recycling if the facilities were available and accessible. There has been gross under-investment in the infrastructure to make recycling a reality and that has to be tackled if we are serious about managing our waste intelligently. Putting an aspiration on paper does not make things happen. The money has to be made available and the facilities accessible and then people have to be encouraged and motivated to present material for recycling.

The price of paper fluctuates and it is not always economical to recycle paper but we need Government intervention. We say recycling is a public good but saying it and supporting it are not always the same. We should put up the money to enable recycling to become habitual in households. As for composting, it intrigues me that intelligent people whose children get numerous points in the leaving certificate and who get the best paid jobs in the country will go to a gardening centre on a Sunday afternoon and buy the most expensive fertiliser to feed their plants and flowers when they could make their own compost. We have to make that practice fashionable. We have not developed a strategy towards the way we manage our waste.

I am overwhelmed by the spirit shown by people here in tackling foot and mouth disease. I am overwhelmed by the patriotism of people and the way they have made sacrifices at a cost to themselves. If we could generate that kind of spirit in relation to waste prevention and recycling, we would have fewer problems in terms of dealing with waste.

We have to tackle the scourge of plastic bags up and down the country. On fine days they can be seen caught on the hedges. I was interested in the point made by Senator Quinn, which I expect we will revisit on Committee Stage.

This is a long overdue amendment to the Waste Management Act, 1996, which I fully support. There is also a need for an amendment to the Litter Pollution Act, elements of which are unenforceable and have to be looked at. I will talk to the Minister about that later. On Committee Stage of that Act, which I worked on, many things were let through, such as signposting, putting up notices for meetings etc. These fellows who feel so passionate about Kosovo, Afghanistan, North Korea, South Korea and everywhere else do not give a damn about despoiling their own city, town or village. There is a loophole in the litter law that enables them to do that. In amending the Waste Management Act we have to look at its sister Act, the Litter Pollution Act, in the light of the experience we have gained since it was enacted to make its implementation more practicable on the ground.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Dan Wallace, to the House and I know he is listening very carefully to what we are saying. I am disappointed that the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, did not stay, because I consider this leglislation extremely important in relation to the changed nature of the Minister's stance towards local authorities. I say that because the Minister was secretary of LAMA and he was very proactive in wanting to give more powers to local councillors. As a member of LAMA I heard him state that many times.

I would like to read from the General Council of County Councils' briefing document on the Local Government Bill. It is very important and I know the Minister will take this on board. It states, as a point of principle, the county is the primary unit of local government but what is more important and relevant to this Bill, the primacy of the elected member. It is stated here that the entire concept of any new leglislation should respect the primacy of the elected member as the representative of the people. All other legislative considerations follow from this starting point. That is where I am starting. I cannot understand the Minister's panic reaction. He is almost at the end of his tenure as Minister for the Environment and he has attacked local councillors.

As a member of Limerick County Council I was responsible with other local authorities within the region for adopting a waste management plan. How do I feel? We have done it, as have other local authorities. Our one proviso was that in two years we would revisit it to review technological advances in relation to gasification and any future technological advances with regard to incineration. This is extremely important in relation to what the Minister said today in response to Senator O'Dowd. We were being very open-minded. We were not saying no to everything but we should not jump at options at this juncture. I do not accept that incineration has to be the be-all and end-all and go back to my premise which I stated the other evening in Private Members' time. If we do not put sufficient resources into reducing, re-use and recycling as Senator Quill said, we can forget about any way of dealing with waste management.

Fine Gael policy is that the idea of establishing a national waste management authority is extremely positive. I know that the Labour Party also accepts that and has its own policy in relation to it. It is important because that authority would implement a national programme of recycling, re-use and waste management in conjunction with, not independent of, local authorities. It would oversee the development of private sector waste management infrastructure as referred to by Senator Feargal Quinn. There would be full accountability by the authority to the Dáil, which there is not in respect of the National Roads Authority. Senators on both sides have been critical of the independence of the National Roads Authority. In this Fine Gael is being proactive in stating that local authorities who fail to meet their legal obligation under the 1996 Waste Management Act shall be fiscally penalised through the local government fund. We are not telling them to go away and do something about it. We are providing for accountability but we are also insisting that if there is failure action will be taken.

I would like to give some facts and figures in relation to recycling. In 1998 some two million tonnes of municipal waste were generated, of which 91% went to landfill, with only 9% recovered for recycling, of which the household proportion was just 3.2%. We should have from the Minister at least a three year lead-in period of positive action in relation to recycling as they have had in Denmark. Let us think then of alternative ways of dealing with our waste. Here the Minister is putting the cart before the horse – incineration and then recycling. This is absolutely crazy.

I have gone through much documentation, presentations and papers from countries in Europe as well as Canada and the United States and they all have one thing in common, that one starts with reduction, re-use and recycling followed by segregation and then deals with the residue. The Minister is not taking that approach and should not be out of kilter with countries that are already using what I would consider proper ways of disposing of waste.

I can hear a Senator saying it is an integrated plan, but it is one with the dice loaded on inciner ation with absolutely no debate in relation to health hazards—

(Interruptions.)

The facts are here. The national objective is stated as being between 35% and 50%. In order to retain this level of recycling there needs to be a serious business-like response, not words, based on commercial principles of economic viability. That is straightforward. We know the recycling market is subject to fluctuation and instability in prices. The reclaim value will often not be the main factor for funding recycling. That is the kernel of the problem.

What would Fine Gael do? We would embark on a major capital investment programme in re-cycling infrastructure. Senator after Senator from all sides of the House has stated that the money is not there. Currently there are no bring-back facilities for recycling plastic, which is the biggest enemy. There is little or no newspaper recycling and no plant to recycle metal from cans. At least £80 million would need to be invested in providing the manufacturing capacity and effective collection systems to deal with the recycling process needs of the economy. I could say more on that but I want to get on to other aspects.

The Minister has looked for co-operation. Another positive Fine Gael proposal is to commission a detailed, definitive international health and environmental study on the impact of an incineration programme in Ireland. The general public is entitled to get the facts. I am weary from listening to one particular consultant, who is the consultant for all the authorities and who is at every conference throughout the country. We are getting a one-sided debate. I could sing the song of that consultant every time I raise the area of health. We are asking for a debate. We are entitled to it. Fine Gael is asking for the commissioning of this detailed, definitive health and environmental international study on the impact of an incineration programme – that is not too much to ask – and that a health study be commissioned at the direction of the Minister for Health and Children from the health reseach board, using the best available bio-chemical and toxicological expertise to review the international evidence – of which I have an enormous amount in my possession – on the health risks of the dioxins emitted by modern incinerators. That is not too much to ask.

I wish to refer to a paper from the National Academies – which comprises the National Academy of Science, the Institute of Medicine, the National Academy of Engineering and the National Research Council – the executive summary of which states:

Whether incineration is an appropriate means of managing waste has been the subject of much debate in this country [the United States]. A major aspect of the debate is the potential risk to human health that might result from the emission of pollutants generated by the incineration process. Some of these pollutants have been found to cause various adverse health effects. Although such effects have generally been observed at much higher ambient concentrations than those usually produced by emissions from an incineration facility, questions persist about the possible effects of smaller amounts of pollutants from incineration facilities, especially when combined with the mix of pollutants emitted from other sources. The possible social, economic and psychological effects associated with living or working near an incineration facility have also been topics of concern.

We cannot rubbish the contents of reports of this nature and say forget about the United States and Canada, they may have done their research but it is not applicable to Ireland.

I considered the situation that obtains in one small town in Canada called Guelph, which has a population of 95,000, where local communities successfully set about operating a three way waste separation and recycling system coupled with an advanced system of composting. Those involved discovered that using this method led to a 60% reduction in landfill waste. They began utilising an integrated two-stream wet-dry system on a citywide basis in November 1995 and by 2000, 55% to 60% of dry waste and 60% to 65% of wet waste was being diverted from landfill.

These are positive developments and the Minister must take them on board. However, the debate has developed in such a way that he is stating we should ignore the research carried out by Europeans, Canadians and Americans. The Minister referred to these people in a quite derogatory fashion. We must be allowed to listen to the evidence they can offer and then decide how to proceed. I suggested that Limerick County Council should invite outside experts to put forward their point of view in order that we might have a balanced debate.

The Minister referred to the establishment of a super-dump at Slieve Feighlim in the mid-west. It is proposed to establish a dump, for which an EPA licence is awaited, in this scenic area which is situated 1,000 feet above sea level, which is seldom visited and which would be a good location for pony trekking and hill-walking. The head waters of the River Mulcair and its tributaries, which flow into the River Shannon, are located in this area. It is no wonder that the people of the mid-west are holding meetings about this matter on a regular basis. I attended a meeting earlier in the week in Castleconnell where people voiced their protests against the ludicrous proposal to establish a super-dump at Slieve Feighlim. The people to whom I refer were not consulted about this matter. It was again a case of the consultant employed by the Department saying, "A beautiful site, nobody lives there. To hell with the envir onment, we will put it in place and everyone will be satisfied."

I have been a councillor since 1985 and I have never witnessed such a one-sided debate. The Minister has indicated how he intends to resolve our problems. We are meant to forget local democracy and approach the manager of the county council. The manager of Limerick County Council has decided to take early retirement and I do not know what will be the views of his successor. However, he or she will not be familiar with what has happened in recent years.

I do not know what the Minister is seeking to do. He would have been far better off if he had thought in terms of allocating resources to reduce, re-use and recycle. I sympathise with Senator Quinn because it is not easy to make head or tail of the proposed 15p tax on plastic bags. To what bags will the tax be applicable and will it be collected at the point of exit? Fine Gael councillors and Senators last week received delivery of paper bags they had cause to have produced, at considerable personal expense – £300 for 1,000 bags – and I have never seen such a positive response from the general public. People are delighted that someone is seeking to protect the environment and rid us of plastic bags.

The Minister could have got rid of plastic bags without introducing a 15p tax. What does he intend to do with the money that will be collected? If he intends to allocate it towards reduce, re-use and recycle initiatives, he should have done so four years ago when he entered office. Had he done so, he would have received our full support.

The Minister is on red alert because he only has a few months in which to have these matters dealt with. I have never – I am sure Senator Quill will agree with me on this – received so many glossy brochures from any Department as I have from the Department of the Environment and Local Government, a name which is a contradiction in terms. The Minister is panicking and running for cover. He expects us to pick up the pieces but we will not do so. The general public will not appreciate this Bill which seeks to transfer the powers of county councillors to county managers who, in many instances, do not live locally. I am concerned about what will become of councillors.

Having listened attentively to Senator Jackman's contribution, I have come to believe that Fine Gael has the answers to everything.

Hear, hear.

I thank the Senator for the compliment.

The Senator should come and join us.

Ms Ormonde: Fine Gael Members seem to think they have all the answers. However, we must not forget that they are in Opposition. It is very easy to knock others when one is in Opposition. This debate is degenerating into a knocking match. It is nonsense to suggest that Members on this side are not able to consider or discuss the concept of management plans.

(Interruptions.)

I did not interrupt the Senators opposite, but I would have liked to do so on many occasions. They should allow me to have my say and they can comment afterwards if it is possible to do so.

The waste management plan was introduced in 1996. It is now 2001 and what has happened?

Nothing.

Exactly.

It is a singular failure on the part of the Government.

We have taken an integrated approach which comprises several elements.

It is an integrated failure.

We have introduced the concepts of re-use, recycling and minimisation—

In the South Dublin County Council area. The council has introduced green bins and will shortly introduce brown bins. It has also introduced composting.

The issue at stake in this debate is what to do with residual waste. We have two choices: we either use landfill sites or thermal treatment. I sympathise with those local authorities who are concerned about this matter. However, we must consider where we go from here and put in place a vision for the future. We must show leadership and develop a plan with which we can move forward. A total of £100 million has been allocated in the national development plan for projects involving recycling, composting and re-use. However, the provisions of the NDP cannot be implemented until an action plan is put in motion. Members of the Opposition failed to mention this because to do so would be to give the game away. Matters are being delayed because local authorities, for their own reasons, cannot accept the proposals. What can the Minister do?

The Minister since entering office has devoted more time to local authority matters than any of his predecessors. I have been a county councillor since 1985 and I am aware of how the system works. In addition, I know what is the executive function of a county manager and what is his or her reserved function. I am also aware that, when that executive function must be exercised, county managers and councillors often work together to arrive at a satisfactory solution for both the council and local people. It is often the case that the county manager must exert his or her authority in relation to development plans, but it is always done after consultation with the local residents' associations and community councils. We have learned that we cannot introduce any plan unless there is consultation. That is the way a good manager will operate.

I am a long time in this game as I have been a county councillor for 16 years. Senator O'Meara might have joined this game a little later so she should allow for the fact that I have experience of the process. We are good at our job and we will not let the local people down. We will reflect their views and listen to what they have to say. Perhaps the problem is that we do not start to educate the public early enough about how this should be done and to explain thermal treatment. I have reservations about thermal treatment, but we must move forward.

We have seen the incinerators.

What about the dumps? The dumps are 90% full. How long more can we use landfill sites? No one is coming up with solutions, yet the Opposition knocks the Government when it tries to find a solution.

We gave solutions.

I do not like knockers. I like positive contributions and constructive thinking. There are many knockers of this plan. We must move forward and introduce measures to adopt the plan. We can then consider how to recycle goods for compost and thermal treatment. Modern technologies must be introduced. The Environmental Protection Agency must monitor this area and planning laws must be implemented. Licences must be given before modern technology is used. The public must be educated about such measures because this is the way forward. We must do something about the fact that 50% of our waste cannot be reused or recycled.

Senator O'Meara may shake her head but I have also read up on this issue. We can carry out a research study on this issue and come up with as many answers as scientific studies have done over the years. I know the Senator is educated and I am sure she will agree these are the philosophies of life. Researchers will come up with different answers. It is not good enough to suggest that one is right and the other is wrong. We should all move forward and see how we can solve this problem and how we can find a means to implement a new waste management plan. The Senator should give it a try because she has knocked everything else so far. We should allow the Minister to spend the money available.

I have problems with charging 15p for every plastic bag. However, perhaps it is an opportunity to focus our minds and for the public to look at alternative ways of collecting shopping in the supermarkets. I represent an area which has a beautiful linear park along the Dodder. However, it is littered with plastic bags every weekend. If the river floods, the plastic bags dot the brambles along the linear line. Something is not right when that happens. People often ask me why the plastic bags are not removed. However, why do they not remove them? We cannot solve this problem alone. We need the combined efforts of communities, residents' associations, the Minister and leaders. If we do not take the lead and educate the public to change their attitudes and behaviour, our beautiful environment will be littered with white plastic bags which will not be easy to remove. If the charge of 15p per bag helps to focus minds, I welcome it. This charge could be linked to inflation, but what is the alternative? How do we educate the public?

There are three schools in the area I represent. A link was developed between the local authority and the secondary and primary schools. It was decided to hold a lecture before lunchtime so parents and the public could be made aware of how to prevent litter. Within half an hour of that lecture, the area around the schools was covered in litter. Where are we going wrong? Is that also the Minister's fault? What must he do to get the message across that we need a management plan and money for recycling and composting and then a debate on how to eliminate our 50% unavoidable waste? That is the $60 question.

We should consider the research which has been carried out and examine modern technology to see if thermal treatment is suitable. I am afraid to say incinerator in case it is said I support toxic ash blowing everywhere. I do not want that. I want a plan which will work. The Government is taking the lead and the Opposition should stop knocking it. Why can we not work together? I will not work with a county manager who walks rough shod over me. I, not the manager, will have a voice.

If the Senator passes the Bill, she will not have a voice.

The manager will have to ask for my opinion and I will make the decision with my colleagues.

The manager will make the decision for the Senator.

I guarantee the Senator the manager will know better than to dictate to me.

The county manager is being given the power.

I and the county manager will meet the residents' associations to discuss what is happening. The county manager will tell the public what must be done. If we do not have consultation, no one will be in business.

We had four and a half years of it.

It is all about consultation. The plan should be adopted and given a chance to work. If it is proved wrong in four years' time, I will be the first to admit it. However, I know I will not be wrong on this issue.

I acknowledge the presence in the Gallery of a former distinguished Member of this House, Jimmy Mulroy, and his wife. I am delighted to see them here.

As a colleague of his on the county council who did not pass the waste management plan, I want to be associated with those remarks.

Acting Chairman

I also welcome Mr. Griffin who is in the Gallery, although I am not sure if he graced this House.

I wish to share my time with Senator Norris.

Acting Chairman

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I acknowledge the presence of the other members of local authorities in the Gallery today. I am sure they would agree this is a sad day for local democracy. The Minister for the Environment and Local Government is asking Members of this House, the majority of whom are elected by members of local authorities, to reduce their paltry powers further. I listened carefully to Senator Walsh and, considering his stewardship of the Local Authority Members Association, hoped he might echo what he said on his local radio station. Then he condemned this legislation. He criticised it because it diminishes the powers of the elected member, the person elected by popular mandate to serve.

It is a disgrace. This is shameful legislation. It is a disgrace that any Minister would stand over a situation where, in a fit of pique, because no local authority members, exercising their democratic voice – I stress that – acted in a particular way, he is taking away their powers, taking away everybody's powers and giving them to an unaccountable manager. As Members of Seanad Éireann, we should acknowledge that by stating that this is shameful legislation.

There are two issues in the Waste Management (Amendment) Bill, 2001. One is the way in which it ravages local democracy and the second is that it, once again, fails to deal with the crisis of waste management, to which I will return. I made my view clears on the diminution of local democracy, but I have more to say.

The role of the manager was pointed out by Senator Ormonde but where in this legislation does it say that the manager has to consult anyone? He does not have to. If Senator Ormonde is lucky enough to have a manager who meets a residents' group, that is wonderful. However, there is no requirement on a manager to do that, and he will not do so in many places. He might delegate an official to meet a residents' association or insist on meeting a small delegation behind closed doors. It is rare in my experience for local authority officials to meet groups in public.

This not only undermines democracy but it creates an invidious relationship between local authorities and communities. As local authorities, we are being barraged with better local government, strategic policy committees, inclusion of the community, hearing everybody's point of view, transparency and, I forgot, accountability. Where is the accountability in this legislation? There is none.

I am a member of a local authority which adopted a waste management plan yet I will support to the bitter end the right of any local authority not to adopt such a plan. The last I heard, we live in a democracy, we have choice, but this takes away choice.

Several Members referred to the many anti-dump, anti-mast and other environmentally related campaigns, and did so in near contemptuous terms. I object to that. They are representative local groups. We live in a democracy where people are entitled to come together and object, to say they have a concern, whether it be about a small landfill, a super dump, a mast or anything else. People have a right to express their concerns about their own health, the environment they live in, the environment their children are being raised in, the water they drink and the air they breathe. These groups come together – and I am a member of one of the largest – because they have lost trust in the institutions which are supposed to protect them. They form groups because they do not trust a local authority, unfortunately, nor any other institution. They feel they must protect themselves. That is why these groups are proliferating.

It is a sad comment on our democracy and on the fact that people believe they are not heard that they feel forced to form these groups. They have every right to do so and, again, I will support their right to do so to the bitter end. I will never speak about them in terms of near contempt, particularly in this House of elected representatives. I want to make that clear.

Will this Bill generate trust in local government? No, it will not. It will have the opposite effect. I am involved in two issues locally in north Tipperary. Both involve executive decisions by the manager and one relates to waste management. In both cases, it has engendered such distrust between the community and the local authority that it is worrying, so worrying that I raised it at last Monday's local authority meeting. This is a bad road to travel and this legislation will make it worse.

How does it serve a local authority not to have the trust of the community? It does not. Senator Ormonde can talk about consultation from here until kingdom come but, as we all know, when local authorities are given executive functions they will exercise them and there will be less inclination to consult. This is a sad day because it diminishes the power of the elected members of the authorities and so diminishes local democracy itself and the voice of the people.

I predict that it will increase the number of groups formed outside the process to object to decisions and who feel that their voice is not heard. Increasingly local authority members cannot say that we represent people, that our voices will be heard in a local authority meeting. It might be reported in the local media but the manager can say it is an executive decision and he is deciding.

The Minister commented that these groups emerge because this issue is led by misinformation. It is not, because people can get their own information and they do. Fair dues to them for that.

The Minister and the Administration have failed over waste management. We have heard fine words for years about recycling. Tipperary North Riding County Council, of which I am a member, adopted the waste management plan. When doing so, I specifically asked the consultant from the company which advised a number of local authorities about the targets for recycling, which we all welcomed. I wanted to know how to meet these targets on our own. He answered that we could not. I asked our own engineers the same question. They too said we could not do so. These waste management plans are empty. Local authorities, whether acting regionally or locally, collectively or individually, cannot deliver on the recycling targets, much as they want to.

People talk about re-education but the public is very well educated. It wants to recycle, to have a kerbside collection system of separated waste. I know that from speaking to people. How many Members of this House have a composting scheme in their own gardens? I would like to know. As Senator Quill pointed out, composting is an effective way of reducing the amount of rubbish going into the bin. So is segregating waste. Senator Quill put it best when she said there has been a gross under-investment in the infrastructure of recycling. The question is, of course, by whom, and she answered that it needs Government intervention.

Unless there is a Government programme of investment in centres of recycling, private companies involved in waste management will not get involved in recycling. Unless there is genuine recycling at national level, not at a small ring-centre level, we will not reach the required targets. The Minister should initiate such a programme, but more policy statements are not necessary as we have had enough of them. We are up to our ears in recycled paper from policy statements and are sick of them, so we want action instead.

If we fail to develop a national recycling infrastructure, recycling will not happen. This Bill has reiterated my clear opinion that the current Administration, including the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, is determined to proceed with incineration. They will meet huge resistance, which is why they are giving power to county managers. Local representatives will make their resistance known at community level, and rightly so. What should we do except represent people? It is our job as members of local authorities, in case the Minister has forgotten. It is what we were elected to do, and we are failing in our duty if we do not articulate the concerns of local residents. I agree that local authorities must provide leadership. A number of local authorities have swallowed their reservations and accepted waste management plans, even though the plans were presented on a take it or leave it basis. The local authorities decided to move forward and try to meet targets by seeing how they get on, one step at a time. We have effectively not been allowed to do that.

The Minister first spoke of putting a levy on plastic bags three years ago. At that time, the levy was intended to be 2p, a sum which increased to 5p and then 10p, and it is now 15p. I urge the Minister to ban plastic bags instead of introducing this unimplementable levy. Plastic bags should be banned and people urged to use paper bags or boxes instead. Supermarkets are full of cardboard boxes because things are delivered in them, so it would be simple to allow customers to use such boxes to take goods away. Let us have paper bags or reusable bags instead of mountains of plastic ones. The Minister should take his courage in this hands and ban plastic bags, thereby doing the environment a favour.

I condemn this Bill and I will strenuously object to it at every level. I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for his leniency.

I thank Senator O'Meara for sharing her time with me, which was a wonderful example of good management of resources. I could have come in sooner, but Senator O'Meara and I negotiated and found a satisfactory and co-operative method. I will not take the same line as Senator O'Meara, however, as I understand and am sympathetic to the Government's difficulty. Although the question of local democracy is relevant here, the matters of the national good and the importance of the environment also arise.

In his speech, the Minister made it clear that regional waste management plans have not been adopted uniformly. His legal advice is that these plans must be generally adopted by county councils if they are to be effective and sustainable. Otherwise, they may not be legally valid. All authorities must adopt the plans on the same substantive basis, or none will be considered to have a valid plan.

The Minister also made clear that we are being squeezed by Europe, as the Commissioner has taken a case against Ireland. A judgment in that case may shortly be forthcoming, and will not be in Ireland's favour. The Minister was a little disingenuous when he said that the proposed changes will not affect the substance of the waste management plans adopted by the majority of local authorities. Although that may be true, a principle has been breached and a question of judgment and balance hangs over democracy. In my opinion, the future proper management of the waste disposal facilities is a more important priority and must be given precedence.

The questions of incineration and landfill were raised. Technology is changing all the time and anybody who reads the correspondence to The Irish Times will have been thoroughly confused by the whole business. Experts were quoted and then the experts themselves wrote to qualify or contradict what was said. The average punter simply does not have a chance to understand the matter, and has to rely on the best appropriate advice. The kernel of what I have to say is that we should opt for zero waste, which would require a complete change in our thinking. I will elaborate on this later.

Plastic bags are a specific and particular problem – we have said time and again that they are an abomination. Anyone who walks on Bull Island will see them, or along the banks of the Dodder, as Senator Ormonde said. I have seen them in Nuweiba on the Gulf of Aqaba, which shows that even the most isolated places are vulnerable. The Minister says he will extend this measure, which I would like to see and which I would encourage. He should extend it immediately to cover the clearly identifiable styrofoam boxes and wrappings from burger joints like McDonald's, Abrakebabra and Burger King on O'Connell Street in the centre of Dublin. They are a real nuisance and the Minister should extend the capacity of litter authorities to challenge them, as he says he is considering.

I am interested in sustainable waste management, a topic which is the source of many misunderstandings. I have been briefed extensively by Earthwatch, which I praise for its marvellous work in helping ordinary people to understand what is going on. Sustainability should be our goal, but it is incorrect to suggest that incinerators and landfills are sustainable in normally understood terms. Landfill is not sustainable as it entombs potentially recoverable materials which can be used to the benefit of the whole economy, as has been done in other jurisdictions. A massive cultural shift is needed in terms of the enormous amounts of waste, which have multiplied manifold since I was young, that are being generated. We need to rethink our attitude towards waste and instead of seeing things as needing to be shoved aside and got rid of, we need to see them as resources to be re-exploited.

In the United Kingdom it has been calculated that for every tonne of product made, ten tonnes of material have been used to manufacture it. Imagine the amount of waste involved. The world's resources are being over-exploited and materials are not being returned having been used once. The balance between the developed and the developing world is inequitable, as 20% of the world's population uses 80% of the world's resources. The other 80% exploits only 20%, which is a complete inversion. It is like an enormous resource iceberg.

Research has shown that if all the world was to live in the manner of North Americans, two more planets would be required to sustain everyone, and three more if the population were to double. If worldwide standards of living were to double over the next 40 years, as is possible, 12 more Earths would be needed to sustain us if we lived as North Americans do. We need to very seriously address this matter and look on waste materials not as a problem but as a resource.

To show that this is not just theory and can be done, let us take the example of Canberra, a major Australian city with a policy of eliminating waste by 2010, which is just nine years away. Canberra is developing an infrastructure to meet this policy and is breaking its waste stream down into resource streams, including building materials, demolition materials, paper, cardboard, organic materials, garden waste, hard and soft plastic, glass and textiles. These resources are then publicised to attract and develop new industry. Canberra has achieved a 66% diversion from landfill of domestic waste, which shows that the targets in this Bill are modest. I notice that an adviser is shaking his head and perhaps the Minister will reply to this point, but this is the information clearly in front of me.

Those who dismiss this as an idealistic dream are challenged by Michael Whiteman, project officer of the "No Waste by 2010" programme of the Australian Capital Territory. He says that the goal is achievable as it is unambiguous and clear. He also said that the no waste option is the only option; it is a 100% solution. The development of a secondary materials economy where the materials found in waste and dumps is exploited—

Acting Chairman

The Senator is on extra time.

The Acting Chairman surprises me.

Acting Chairman

I know it is difficult to understand because the Senator is in full flight and it is very absorbing.

There are case studies from all over the world. Computers go out of date rapidly and they are thrown into skips. However, they can be reused in a proper system. Potential donors usually do not know where they would find grateful recipients. A body could be established to do that and it could wipe sensitive information from the hard disk.

Other Members referred to compost but newsprint can be used an animal bedding. There are projects in Pennsylvania in the United States in this area and it can also be turned into fertiliser. Brunswick in Australia has turned newsprint into housing insulation. Nova Scotia has used news print to make wall board and a recycling plant there was built from recycled material.

I agree with the thrust of the Bill because action must be taken. Ireland has a legal difficulty with the European Union, but our whole attitude should change. We should start regarding waste as a resource that can be exploited not only in terms of domestic composting but community composting. This has been shown to work for cities and large corporations.

I also welcome the Minister. I have listened with interest to the debate and it is unfortunate that the Bill is necessary. However, action must be taken because some local authorities are unable to bite the bullet and make decisions. This means that other local authorities are held to ransom and this is most unfair. Many local authorities were responsible and took decisions. They were progressing waste management and regional policies, but three other local authorities held them to ransom. This is unfortunate.

There is much to be done regarding waste management and the removal of waste materials. Many people have come up with solutions, but how was waste disposed of in the past before landfill areas and refuse collections were available? I recall a time when people burned most of their waste in furnaces in their homes and all that remained to be disposed of was the ash. This did not appear to cause any health problems at that time. However, environmentalists and groups now say that ash from incinerators would be dangerous and toxic. I need to see statistics before I am convinced in that regard.

There is a great need for local authorities and the public to be more educated about recycling and separating their refuse. I was in Europe recently where most people have three bins in their homes, one for bottles, a second for paper and a third for other household waste. These bins are collected once a month or every two months. This is the way forward and people should be more conscious about such issues. There should be greater education in the school system because much can be done in this area. I recently separated cardboard materials in my household waste. One would be surprised at how much cardboard is used. The bin was only a quarter full at the end of the week and there is a lesson to be learned in this regard. An enormous amount of paper goes through the system and this should be separated from the ordinary refuse. Much can be done with this paper if it is recycled.

I compliment the Minister on the new levies on plastic bags. The statistics he gave earlier highlight the problem. He said it was a conservative estimate that approximately 1.2 billion plastic shopping bags are provided free of charge to consumers at retail outlets annually. This equates to 325 plastic bags per head of population each year, a frightening statistic. If the 15p charge is introduced, message bags will reappear. In the past, the same bag was brought to the grocery store for years and if a hole appeared, it was repaired. We may have to return to using such bags.

Many speakers complained about thermal treatment and incinerators. However, we are in the good position where we can learn from the experience of other countries that have incinerators and thermal treatment facilities. It is more effective in some countries than in others. Guernsey Island has a very small population and it established recycling operations. It now manufactures more paper and creates more compost than it can use. It has a problem trying to dispose of the compost it produces because the agriculture sector there does not want to use it. It is afraid that it might contain unknown additives. This shows that when one problem is addressed, another is created.

I have visited incinerating and waste disposal operations where refuse was separated and material composted. As I said previously, my local authority runs such an operation. There is one landfill site but the composting project is working efficiently. We intend to develop a small incinerator and to generate electricity from other waste material. The lifespan of the landfill site in Kerry is only another nine years so we must look forward. It will take four or five years to establish a new landfill area or find ways of disposing of waste. We are already planning for the future in this area.

I understand the most effective operations in Denmark, Holland, Germany and elsewhere in Europe dispose of up to 16% of total waste through ordinary recycling and means other than incineration. Countries which have incinerators only dispose of 60% of the total amount of waste in that way. This means they must deal with the remaining 40%. I understand the most effective operation is in Nova Scotia. I am a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Environment and Local Government which discussed this matter recently. Representatives should visit Nova Scotia. The Minister and departmental officials were meant to go there and I would like to see a report on the operation. I understand it disposes of approximately 92% of its waste. As Senator Norris said, some of the components of the thermal treatment plant were recycled materials.

I was taken aback today by the Green Party which demonstrated outside Leinster House with massive billboards stating that it is opposed to incineration or the thermal treatment of waste. I would like that party to introduce a policy on how to deal with this problem.

There is a crisis in Britain in regard to the outbreak of foot and mouth disease. We are lucky we have not the same problem. I compliment the Government and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development on their response to this problem. Would we dig massive graves to dispose of animals such as the numbers being slaughtered in the UK? There is now a problem in relation to the waterways there. These mass graves may have to be dug up and the carcases moved elsewhere. Given that we had to slaughter animals with BSE, we should build a massive incinerator close to a power station so that people would benefit from the energy produced. I am reliably informed that these incinerators are quite safe and I would welcome a policy statement from the Green Party on the issue.

I listened with interest to the contributions of my Labour Party colleagues. I understand they favour MMT or modern metal technology which is used in the United States. I do not know a lot about the method but I believe those using the facility are under investigation for massive fraud. What happened was akin to the three card trick and I would like to obtain more information on the matter. Perhaps that party could bring forward recommendations on the disposal of refuse. I welcome anyone who can put forward solid policies.

If we decide that landfill sites are the answer, we must worry about our waterways. There are signs in place in every by-road throughout the country stating that landfill sites, refuse dumps and so on are not wanted. If waste is not disposed of it will begin to pile up. This recently happened in Galway where there was a problem with private contractors. Rubbish was piling up on the streets and there was a public outcry about what the Government or local authorities should do.

There is currently a problem in County Clare where the landfill site will close within months. They must ask a neighbouring county to temporarily take the refuse which would tide them over for up to five years or whatever the case may be until local objections are dealt with. County Kerry was anxious to facilitate west Clare, which is quite close to the Kerry coast, but suddenly a local picket was placed on the landfill site outside Tralee protesting that refuse should not be taken from outside the county. A High Court order was necessary to remove the pickets because refuse was piling up in Tralee, Killarney and so on. Of course, people have a right to protest and walk up and down O'Connell Street, or any other street, because many people fought for the freedom which we now enjoy. However, we must get on with living and disposing of refuse. There is now much more refuse because more people are working, more houses are being built and more people are coming to live in this country.

People now demand better infrastructure such as roads, water supply and refuse collection, to which they are entitled, but someone must make decisions in this regard. The Minister is biting the bullet because he must comply with EU regulations while dealing with the issue nationally. It is unfortunate that some local authorities did not agree with him. Tough decisions must be made. As a member of a local authority for 21 years, I am aware that no one wants to live near a dump or landfill site. Over the years, I have lived just three, four and ten miles from small refuse sites. There is a dump on the banks of the River Feale, the second best salmon fishing river in the country and fourth or fifth best salmon fishing river in Europe. There was a dump for years on the side of the road just outside Tralee on the way to Dingle. It has been closed down. There were dumps in Killarney and Dingle, which were eyesores, with papers and plastic bags blowing all over the place. My local authority dealt with this problem and it is unfortunate that other local authorities did not do likewise. We put a recycling programme in place and moved in the right direction. The landfill site in Kerry will be filled within a couple of years when we will again go through the same problem.

The Minister is correct in what he is doing because we must look to the next 40, 50 or 60 years and not just four or five years down the road. The Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development should get together with the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to introduce a couple of massive thermal plants which will generate electricity and feed it into the grid so that people can benefit from it. I welcome the Bill.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I cannot say I welcome the Bill, which I suppose was a last desperate throw of the dice because something had to be done. It is regrettable that local democracy has to be eroded in this way. However, I do not know what the Minister could have done because some local authorities were not going to adopt a waste management plan. Given that the European Union was about to fine us for our lack of compliance with the various directives, there was nothing the Minister could do but introduce the Bill.

Executives of local authorities rather than elected members will now make the decisions. Unfortunately, this will not make the objectors go away. They will object just as much to executive decisions as to decisions made by local councillors. Therefore, I do not expect any great improvement in the system in the near future.

I hope Senators have read the Environmental Protection Agency's millennium report. This is an excellent document which we received at the end of last year. Chapter 6 states:

Waste Management remains one of the most challenging areas of modern environmental management. The latest figures show clearly that waste quantities are continuing to grow in Ireland. Almost 80 million tonnes of waste were generated in 1998, of which over 64.5 million tonnes originated from agricultural sources, mainly animal manures.

This means the Bill does not address more than three-quarters of the waste produced. The report goes on:

Over two million tonnes of municipal waste were generated in the same year. A comparison of waste collected by or on behalf of local authorities between 1984 and 1998 indicates an increase of over 100 per cent in 14 years.

It is fine to say that the increase in waste has taken place at a time when there has been a great increase in economic activity, but this is totally unacceptable. I would not describe the document Changing Our Ways as timely because it is probably ten years late. The report continues:

Between 1995 and 1998 there was a 47 per cent increase in the amount of industrial waste generated, from 6.2 million tonnes to 9.1 million tonnes.

While our economic activity has been splendid, it has created another dreadful problem for us. There has been an increase in hazardous waste of 13% between 1996 and 1998. The amount of construction and demolition waste in 1998 was estimated at 2.7 million tonnes. We are very lucky to have these figures from the EPA because in the past we had great problems trying to find out the amount of waste we had, particularly in the construction and demolition area. This report goes on to state that given the unprecedented level of construction activity in Ireland in the past five years and the likelihood that this activity will grow, this waste can be expected to continue to grow. We have a very serious problem. While the EPA is there to fulfil the legislation, it is up to us to say what we want done with the waste. Local authorities in many areas carry out the requirements, but unfortunately some did not bring in a plan.

In the three areas without a plan, incinerators were suggested. I have some sympathy for those areas in resisting the building of an incinerator in their areas, not because of what I think incinerators will do, but because none of them produced enormous amounts of waste. An incinerator should be built in an area where the most waste is produced.

The Bill is disappointing in many ways. Under a Waste Management Bill like this we should have gone the whole hog and set up a national waste authority. For the amount of waste here, however bad it might be, it would have been better to address the problem on a whole country basis. The trouble we have had in bringing in the management plans may be replicated in a few years' time if any variation or changes are made, even though it seems that under the Bill councillors will not be allowed to do this. All the technical advice we have been able to get over the years appears to indicate that a national waste authority is needed. I have read speeches by Paddy Purcell, the Director General of the Institute of Engineers in Ireland and Dr. Mary Kelly of IBEC suggesting that a national waste authority would be best.

The landfill directive requires that we make huge changes in how we deal with waste. There is one thing this Bill does not do, it does not provide for the streaming of waste. I thought that was one of the most important issues regarding waste and one which we should have addressed in this Bill. Maybe this can be done on Commit tee Stage. Landfills need to be made safe. An enormous amount of the municipal waste produced here is biodegradable and I gather that that is considered one of the most unfortunate things to put into landfills because it is responsible for the production of methane and is unstable.

The construction and demolition industries are huge users of landfill, as outlined in the Environmental Protection Agency's report, and £15 per tonne is not much to ask them to pay. They are making an enormous amount of money and we will not get them to recycle more of the materials that come from demolished buildings unless there is a heavy tax on putting those materials into landfill. Unless the tax on those producing the waste is high, it is no good. We have been talking about the polluter pays policy for about ten years and I have seen little progress on it in the construction and demolition areas.

Waste prevention and minimisation is the top of the pillar. I strongly support what Senator Quill said about the amount of waste produced in the Houses of the Oireachtas. For example, the speech by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government is written on one side of the paper only. Almost all speeches which come into this House are written on one side only. At committee meetings all the information is on one side of the paper only. The Minister's words are there for posterity and are of the greatest value, but they would have been of equal value if they were printed on both sides of the paper. The Department of the Environment and Local Government should take the lead on this issue. I have raised this matter for years and I eventually managed to have recycled paper used for all the photocopying in these Houses. I have asked that Cahills, which prints the Order Papers, Bills etc. should use recycled paper. I am not sure if they have done so.

Unless we take a lead, we will get nowhere. Do all Members of both Houses have to get all the proceedings of both Houses and of every committee meeting sent to them in bound form? Does every communication from the Houses of the Oireachtas have to come out in an A4 or foolscap envelope? Sometimes one gets a single sheet of paper. I cannot believe that it is those who are administering the system who insist that those enormous envelopes are used. There is a recycling box for large envelopes in the General Office and some of us put envelopes in there. However, I have been told that some Members do not like to receive documentation in reused envelopes. This is patently ridiculous.

I suggest that the Minister for the Environment and Local Government request the Joint Services Committee or the Ways and Means Committee, or whoever is responsible, to ensure that the Houses of the Oireachtas make a proper start on this. I hope this is the last time I ever get a Minister's speech produced like this. We are well able to turn over the page and read on the other side. It might be a good idea if speeches were not given out to us because then we would really have to listen to them. Nothing is more irritating than people reading the speech ahead of the speaker.

Recovery programmes are operating satisfactorily. Corporations are very good at collecting goods – I do not know what they do with them. Bottle banks are excellent and there has been a huge improvement in the amount of glass that is collected. Waste paper collection has gone down the tubes recently because nobody would use the waste paper. On the Continent, in a country like Italy, for example, in towns and villages there are central points of collection for waste paper, bottles, cans etc. and these are used by the people living in the area. I cannot understand why we cannot do that here.

We have run into trouble with wheelie-bins in part of the area I live in because people cannot, or do not want to, bring them through their houses and drag them across nice clean kitchen and living room floors. Planning permission is not needed to have them in front of houses. This could be solved by having collection points fairly close to the houses. We should continue to improve the recycling of items other than glass. Although there are bring centres, it can be difficult to find them and better signposting of those is needed.

Recovery programmes can mean not only an improvement in our environment, but also a reduction in costs of, for example, base metals. The successful continental collection of aluminium has led to a reduction in the price of bauxite.

Composting will have to be dealt with on a communal basis and this is very important in the separation of our domestic waste. This Bill does not make sufficient provision for the separation of waste and what will be acceptable to go into waste. We need to thrash this out when we get to Committee Stage. For example, the issue of biodegradable waste is very important. We need to have a statement in law about that.

I am interested to see that the Minister is putting himself in charge of the environment fund. I thought he had plenty to do without being in charge of that. There is provision for the setting up of a committee. I would have preferred a different name, for example, the waste management fund, and for it to be spent in a more direct way on minimising the amount of waste we produce and on meeting the cost of recycling. Calling it the environment fund is not a good idea. It would be better to have this as the fund of a national waste authority.

The directive that must be fulfilled by the autumn defines the measures we need to take on liquid and hazardous waste. The Bill does not address these. In 1999, the EPA published a proposal for a national hazardous waste management plan. I have seen nothing more of that, but maybe I missed it.

Waste is a very messy business and a difficult matter to deal with. The plastic bag issue was very well dealt with by Senator Quinn who pointed out that there are different sorts of plastic bags. The plastic bags all of us are talking about are the sort that one is offered in a small retail store for one packet of crisps or a newspaper. The Bill as it is currently framed will not get it through to the consumers of those products that they are the ones paying the tax. It seems to me that either the retailer or the retail staff are responsible for the tax at present. The Bill should stipulate that the cost of the plastic bag tax appears on the customer's bill. This would mean that if one takes three plastic bags, the bill will feature a plastic bag tax of 45p after VAT. It is vital that this message gets through to the person at the end of the chain. The customer must know he is paying the tax so it must not be absorbed in the price of goods.

There has been a lot of discussion regarding incineration. Senators are greatly concerned about the matter. My only concern is that we will build too many incinerators, because they are so handy for burning things. I would like to see only one incinerator built although I do not propose to find the site for the Minister. I suggest, however, that it is located on the east coast so that the prevailing wind will at least blow any emissions out to sea. I also suggest putting it near the area that produces the greatest pollution, which we all know is Dublin. The Dublin area would also produce the greatest number of objections and the greatest electoral effect. I look forward to seeing how that issue is addressed. The big problem with building multiple incinerators is that we will move up a stage from landfill to incineration in the belief that we can burn everything.

There is great concern about air pollution and much has been said about its role in causing asthma. I recently read an interesting article on asthma comparing 12 year old boys in the Traveller community, many of whom lived in very substandard accommodation on the side of the road or on halting sites, with 12 year old boys in the settled community. It showed a much lower incidence of asthma in the 12 year old boys in the Traveller community. The suggestion was that central heating and too many carpets and curtains were important factors in the development of asthma. Particulate matter in the air from cars may be an even more important factor in the great increase in the incidence of asthma than running a modern incinerator.

Dioxins can be reduced as well by lowering the amount of chlorine in waste. This would require the separation of the waste and the removal, in particular, of a huge amount of plastic. That might be a good idea. A certain amount of the environmental fund could be used to finance the separation of waste and recycling because these measures will cost us money.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Your final minute has extended to three already.

I am sorry about that. I will add a last few words. People have to pay for my advice a lot of the time, especially about asthma and similar matters.

There is much talk about generating energy from waste and it does look very attractive. In relation to the production of dioxins from incinerators, I believe that they produce a temperature of between 700º and 1100º degrees Celsius, although I am sure the Minister's officials are much better informed than me on temperatures. The same amount of dioxins is produced during the cooling process when energy is retrieved but if we dispensed with energy retrieval, we could cool the incinerators more quickly and reduce dioxins by half. That needs to be taken into account when consideration is being given to retrieving energy.

It is disappointing that the Minister has introduced this Bill, which is both too small and too big. I would like it to have been broader and to have taken the form of a national waste management Bill. It is too big from the point of view that it takes a lot away from local democracy. It will solve the situation for the moment, but I doubt its efficacy further down the line because we will have the same objectors with the same problems. Thank you, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, for your indulgence.

I welcome the Minister to the House. This is a very contentious Bill. There are two aspects to it, the separation of waste and waste management with all its implications and the separation of powers over waste management with all its implications. I will deal with the latter first.

The Minister's decision to remove local authorities from the decision-making process is a retrograde and autocratic step. Local authorities must strike rates every year and if they do not do so, the Minister has statutory power to abolish them. I understand that only three or four local authorities failed to adopt a waste management plan. In County Mayo where I come from, we adopted a plan after considerable debate. Now we find that the powers over waste management will be taken away from local authorities. I can tell the Minister that irrespective of what it says about the local representatives it elects every few years, the public has no faith or trust in the executive of local authorities. The transfer of powers within local authorities to the executive will create more opposition to proposals.

I emphasise that we in the local authorities have been debating the erosion of our powers for years. Now we have arrived at the situation where another element of our powers is being taken away in the name of a waste management plan with uncertain prospects of success. If implemented, much of the plan would go a long way towards alleviating current waste management problems. Having said that, I cannot overstate the importance of that aspect of the Bill which erodes the powers of members of local authorities, who have been completely removed from the planning process. The public will soon ask what we are doing as members of local authorities. We do not have any function relating to waste management or planning. What will be the next area in which we will be deprived of power? Those questions are already being asked.

We are light years behind the rest of Europe in our approach to waste management and the effective disposal of waste. I examined a state of the art complex in Groenigen in Holland dealing with the waste management problem in that province of some 500,000 people. It is very impressive to see state of the art equipment dealing with a modern problem. There was an incinerator there which was silent for the two days I was there. I was told only 9% of waste is incinerated. Their recycling processes are so good and effective that incineration has been reduced to that percentage. We also visited all the recycling and composting systems they had set up. It reinforced my view that we are light years behind and it is from that base we work.

I visited the site in Kerry three years ago. Kerry County Council was first out of the traps in Ireland with the aid of £1.5 million to £1.6 million from Europe for a pilot scheme. I was impressed by the site and I am sure the council has leaped ahead of the rest of the country since in its approach to waste management. Senator Dan Kiely referred to the progress made in that regard.

It is a question of starting and finishing. I have no great ideas on incineration because I do not have the technical knowledge nor have I read many of the reports on the pros and cons of incineration, although I have read some. I am sure the country can accommodate one incinerator located somewhere. Seán Dublin Bay Loftus discovered an island or rock adjacent to the coastline, and perhaps an incinerator could be located there. However, it is another matter whether we decide to proceed with an incinerator.

There is a bad history and record of mismanagement of waste disposal in Ireland which has led to an atrocious mess being made in many counties. Thirty or 40 years ago, local authorities bought stretches of bog outside towns, usually the worst little hole they could find, and dumped rubbish there. No cover was placed on it originally because no topsoil was available. The refuse consequently blew around neighbouring parishes. About 20 years ago, we became conscious of the need to cover the refuse with clay at least to stop it from blowing away. Some of the more progressive local authorities built into their specifications for landfill care and maintenance the requirement that all refuse would be covered. Some operators did that and some did not. I have seen those landfill sites and was on one a few weeks ago. It has improved considerably since it was purchased 30 years ago. Nevertheless, what has built up in the public consciousness is an image of complete neg lect and irresponsibility when it comes to local authorities dealing with waste. It will be difficult to remove that image from the public mind and have to focus it on the new technology and state of the art facilities available and working effectively throughout Europe.

I said previously that I visited Holland and was impressed with the progress they have made and with the attitude of people to recycling and waste disposal. I could not see any major problems. I spoke with people, visited them locally and visited local shops to see if there was any adverse reaction to this state of the art equipment being in their vicinity, and there was none.

The Minister has a contentious issue on his hands. There is widespread public unease and concern about the direction waste management systems are taking. This may be due to a lack of appreciation of what is available, and the public must be informed, as opposed to educated, as to what is available and what the ultimate result will be. I have reservations about incineration and serious reservations about the separation of powers in implementing these proposals.

The levy on plastic bags is unworkable. The Minister should have the courage to abolish plastic bags completely and let people and retailers deal with the issue. I can see a myriad of problems with charging 15p per bag. Neither the public nor retailers will accept it. It is not viable for a retailer to buy bags at that cost. The answer is to abolish all plastic bags.

There are many good elements in the Bill as well as many bad ones. I have dealt with many of the bad ones. The Government has done a poor job of public relations by failing to inform the public, and there is such a legacy of mistrust and neglect in this area that it will take a long time to refocus the public on the new art form of dealing with waste. The Government has a major task on its hands. I, along with my party, will vote against the negative measures in the Bill, especially the removal of powers from local authorities which is a retrograde step.

I welcome this legislation, and the Minister and his Department are to be commended on finally tackling a problem which is getting out of hand. The country is being swamped with a mountain of waste, and all our protestations about this being a green and clean island which attracts tourists and produces green and clean food are empty rhetoric in the context of what we see in the countryside and in towns.

I met an American tourist by chance last year when on holiday in the west. He was a senior executive in one of the multinational companies located in Ireland. I asked him his impressions of the country. He was very impressed by Ireland, by our economic performance, the quality of the countryside and the friendliness of the people. However, there were two things he could not come to terms with, the amount of smoke in public houses and the amount of litter in the country side. I told him I did not think there was much I could do about the smoke in public houses because that is almost a cultural institution but that I hoped we could do something about the litter. I have just come back from a weekend trip to the west and there is nowhere, not even the most remote places, where plastic bags are not in evidence, not just black plastic from silage covers, which is plentiful, but the bags from local supermarkets, take-aways and so on. They can be seen in the most beautiful and remote places. Something must be done to deal with that and with how we regulate waste and waste disposal.

I commend the Minister for dealing with that and with the question of devolved powers to which many speakers have referred. As a member of a local authority I can say with certainty that, without exception, where powers have been devolved to them, they will not use them. Powers were devolved to local authorities in respect of taxis and hackneys. My local authority considered this for months on end and would not make a decision. No local authority members will say they want an incinerator in their area – without exception that applies to every local authority. That being the case, and given that this is a national problem, we must have a nationally-based solution. If local authorities are not prepared to take the responsibility and tackle the problem head on, the Minister is right to do what he has done. The problem requires a national response, a national hands-on policy. Our reputation as a tourism centre, as a source of clean food and with a clean environment is at stake and is being irreparably damaged by what is going on at the moment.

According to what I call Dardis's law, which I have enunciated on several occasions at local authority meetings, the average family travelling in the average motor car at average speed consumes one take-away while travelling a mile and a half. My residence is a mile and half from the town of Newbridge, and I was able to test that hypothesis on Christmas Eve last by collecting from the roadside hedge in a large plastic refuse sack all the waste from the take-away which had been deposited along a stretch of about 150 yards outside my premises. I half-filled the bag with plastic bottles, styrofoam containers, McDonald's drinks containers, cigarette packages and other nondescript items, some of which it would probably be better not to describe.

There seems to be total rejection of any degree of personal responsibility in this matter. It is regarded as the Government's responsibility to clean up the mess. However, the mess should not be allowed in the first place. That is why the Minister is right to increase fines for litter louts. It would be no harm if litter wardens could go outside the towns and villages where they operate effectively and into the countryside to stop cars and fine people on the spot in the same way as is done in relation to speeding and other motoring offences.

The so-called tax on plastic bags is a step in the right direction. Rather than banning plastic bags there should be a disincentive to their use that is powerful enough to encourage people to find other ways of carrying their groceries home. It is done in America where paper bags are used. In France it would be very unusual to see anybody using plastic bags. People bring shopping bags to the shop. They do that because there is a compelling reason to do it, a financial incentive or a financial disincentive. I welcome the measures that have been taken in this respect. Every Sunday morning when I go to my local newsagent, the very helpful assistant behind the counter offers me a plastic bag for my newspaper, which I refuse, but when I come back on the following Sunday the same assistant, out of a desire to be helpful, again offers me a plastic bag and, once again, I refuse. What the Minister is proposing is correct.

No matter what system of waste disposal we have, landfill, incineration or other, there will be pollutants. It is the nature of waste disposal that there will be some side effect. We need to ask ourselves which is the least damaging to the environment. In my experience the most damaging is landfill. There is a large landfill site near the town of Kilcullen, Silliot Hill, which is operated by Kildare County Council. It is within a mile and a half of the River Liffey, which is a source of drinking water. A few years ago people had to be evacuated from houses within a few hundred yards of it because gases being produced by the landfill got into the fissures in the rocks and leaked into the houses. The people in question had to stay out of their homes for a considerable amount of time and, subsequently, the local authority had to buy those houses. Now the gases are flared off and, if the wind is in the right direction, it is possible to smell them from three or four miles away. Are we saying that is a desirable way of disposing of waste? It is not. It would be preferable to do it by incineration.

Everything I hear about international standards suggests that the degree of harmful emissions from incineration is very low or non-existent and that modern plants can be operated at very high temperatures without serious risk to the environment or to individuals. However, if one tries to sell that message at a public meeting, people are not prepared to listen. They trot out some expert from America or somewhere else, brought in at great expense to make the counter-argument and people who are not technically as expert as they are have difficulty in refuting their argument. It comes back to the precautionary principle. It is easy to claim that there is something in the air that will cause damage, but it is very difficult to rebut that claim. It is similar to the argument about nuclear energy. If it is suggested that nuclear energy is safe, all one needs to do is suggest the possibility that something might go wrong and, automatically, everybody will be against that option. Incidentally, I am not and never have been in favour of nuclear energy. I use the example merely to demonstrate that it is easy to find a vehicle for suggesting that something should not happen. It just goes on and on, the situation gets worse and the waste mounts up.

A distinction needs to be made between harmful waste and waste in general. I have never heard anybody mention incinerators which were not toxic waste incinerators. To most people, all incinerators are toxic waste incinerators. There is a huge difference between a toxic waste incinerator and a waste incinerator, but that distinction never seems to be made when it comes to an argument about it.

There is also the question of the gases that emerge from landfill sites and the groundwater pollution that takes place. We line landfill sites, but it is only recently that we started to do that. Within very close proximity to the Silliot Hill landfill site, there is another which is operated by a private company called KTK. Only commercial waste goes into that, rubble and so on, but not organic matter from households. Nevertheless, it is a model of how such facilities should be run.

I recently asked the assistant county manager of Kildare County Council what the greatest potential source of foot and mouth disease in the county was, but he could not say. I suggested that it was the landfill site in Silliot Hill because one very stormy day not long ago, the cover of the landfill was not properly put in place overnight and litter and rubbish were blown all over the place. When one thinks of what goes into a landfill site, including waste meat, by-products and other bits and pieces, that was the biggest potential source of a foot and mouth outbreak, yet it never occurred to anybody. Everybody thinks that one has to walk on a farm to spread foot and mouth, but the way in which the landfill site at Silliot Hill in County Kildare was being mismanaged was a potential source of the disease.

It is a huge disappointment that the recycling of newspapers has been so unsuccessful. As I understand it, by far the largest single element going into landfill, not only in terms of volume but also of waste, are waste paper products, including cartons. If we could tackle that issue it would have a huge impact in reducing the volumes concerned.

I bring my empty bottles to Kildare County Council's recycling site which is an easy facility to use. Many such recycling facilities are not visible, however. I was coming through Mountbellew the other morning and I saw a good example of how such a facility should be sign-posted. It is located on the side of the main road approaching Mountbellew, so no one entering of leaving the town could be in any doubt as to where the recycling plant is.

Deputy Connaughton lives there.

Senator Dardis, without interruption.

I would be absolutely delighted to give Deputy Connaughton the credit for that recycling plant if, indeed, he was responsible for it.

I have no doubt he was.

Acting Chairman

Senator Dardis, without interruption.

It is an example that such facilities must be visible, readily accessible to the public and properly maintained. One such recycling facility is located in the car park of a local supermarket near my home, but after Christmas one would not want to have dumped waste there because it was overflowing.

Illegal dumping must be tackled. I could cite several examples where dumps continue to be operated illegally. The local authority and the Environmental Protection Agency seem to bounce the ball back and forth to one another, and probably also to the Department of the Environment and Local Government, yet the dumping goes on and on. Injunctions are served, yet they do not seem to be complied with. The illegal dumping appears to be interminable and I do not understand why that is the case.

While it is symptomatic of the national disease, the River Liffey is regarded by local authorities, and perhaps even by the Government, as a source of drinking water for Dublin City and a place to dump waste. In other words, we take as much water as we can from the head waters of the Liffey, thus reducing the flow in the river with all the environmental impact that has on natural habitats. We then erect a sewage treatment works and put phosphate-rich effluent from those works into the water. We then take more water out in Leixlip and expect people in Dublin to drink that after the phosphates have been put in at Naas. There may have been a time when there were reasons for doing that, as the population was lower and the loads were fewer, but I do not understand why it happens any more.

I know where the water can be obtained, and I have said so on many occasions. It was not until the consultants reported on the greater Dublin water supply that it was acknowledged that the water could come from the Shannon. We can at last achieve de Valera's dream by draining the Shannon.

Drain the Shannon into Dublin.

People will ask how can one obtain the way leave, and get the pipe from the Shannon to Dublin. The source is the canal and, as public property, a pipe can be laid alongside it.

I am glad to hear speakers on the Government side of the House talking about such a positive use for the River Shannon and the cleanliness of its waters. I agree completely with the points Senator Dardis made about the Liffey, and the same things could be said about the River Shannon. These include the lack of waste water treatment plants and the way in which effluent enters the river at one point while drinking water is taken from it elsewhere. It is simply unacceptable and must cause great damage to people's health.

As a teacher I must say that we have failed as a nation to educate people in managing their own waste. The debate on waste management is the best possible reflection of the lack of personal responsibility, the intrusion of the State in people's affairs and people's inability to take decisions for themselves. I have often asked myself how I would deal with waste management. I would stop all waste collections for six months to make every household responsible for its own waste. In that way we would see how they tackled waste disposal by taking soundings each month. If people recognised the extent of the problem they might also be more amenable to accepting appropriate, practical and healthy methods of dealing with it. There is no completely acceptable method of dealing with waste because it is filthy, and neither is there a culture of dealing with it in this country.

I could replicate all the examples cited by Senator Dardis. Our house is one and a half miles from the main road. On a recent trip from the local shop to our house, my wife managed to fill a bin-liner bag with 40 bottles, 40 cans and as many discarded food containers from take-away outlets. Our hedges and ditches are weekly recipients of old beds, television sets, chests and cars. On many occasions I have gone through the waste trying to find to whom it belonged. Once I had the great pleasure of loading it all into the boot of my car before dumping it into somebody's front garden whence it had come in the first place. More people should respond like that because illegal dumping is disgraceful.

Politicians, including all of us, have not covered themselves in any great glory in addressing this issue. Local charges have been confused with personal and constitutional rights, and there has been much high minded vocabulary attached to the debate. If something has a price on it, however, it cannot be related to a principle. People who talk on the one hand about a major principle and the cost of it on the other hand are contradicting themselves.

Recycling is not impacting on Irish culture. It is not happening because people are not practising it. Some reasons have been advanced as to why this is. Fingal County Council has gone to much trouble to put recycling points in that area but unfortunately they are not used at the busiest times of the year. In the week after Christmas I drove across the country and saw that every recycling point was overcrowded with bottles. Therefore, the recycling service was not matching the peak demands at that period. Schools have tried to get young children interested in recycling and there is no doubt that there is a better recycling culture among youngsters than among older people. It is rare to see older persons taking a strong stand on waste, including cans and plastic bags. We have a huge job before us in making people aware of this.

Given the choice of an incinerator or a landfill in my back yard, I would opt for an incinerator. I have read all the things that can be done with landfills but I have never seen them in operation. There are occasions during the year when weather conditions will scatter landfill waste to the four winds. This can be seen everywhere and it happens repeatedly. Ideally, I would like to see an incinerator to which waste could be drawn by rail. There would be a dropping off point away from that to where the waste would be brought on covered rail carriages into an incinerator. The facility would be spread out over a number of areas and would be seen to be a clean facility in that way.

The question of the local authorities is a crucial one. We have to have a national system of waste management. There can be no other way of dealing with this issue. It has to be European but as far as we are concerned the State has to have a national policy which has to be implemented locally. How does that interface with local democracy? Local democracy is about giving people power locally which should be discharged locally and which should be responsible. Everybody will agree on that point but the next point is also important. If the local authority does not discharge its responsibilities, then somebody has to intervene. I disagree with the Minister's approach but I do not disagree with what he is trying to achieve. I ask him to listen carefully to different views.

I am not 100% sure of the precise interpretation of the legislation as it stands but it appears to me, although I stand to be corrected and I will listen carefully to the Minister's response at the end of Second Stage, the Minister is saying that because a number of local authorities are not taking the decision which they should take, he is intervening in the plan for the whole country and is therefore taking responsibility back from the local authorities.

I would accept one of two things. I would accept the Minister intervening to put in place that part of the national plan at a local level on which the local authority has refused to take a decision. In other words, where the local authority has not taken on responsibility and has not put its piece of the jigsaw in place, the Minister should and could intervene at that stage. I do not believe anyone can disagree with that. I would go further and equate the importance of that with the importance of striking a rate. I would even go as far as to say that this is a national issue and where a local authority did not come up with a plan which was compatible with the national policy and which is part of the European plan, it should stand threatened with dissolution. In other words, somebody would have to take control of the authority at that stage. To me the situation is that serious.

There are people at local level playing the lowest form of politics with this issue. I do not say that about anyone in this House. Listening to the debate I hear absolute conviction on both sides of the House and I do not want anything I say to be a criticism of earlier speakers. I disagree with points that people make but I have heard much passion in the debate. That is good and I hope we can move the argument forward in a democratic way but I ask the Minister to re-examine his proposed method of intervention. Let us see how much consensus we can find and if we can agree that every local authority should take a decision and accept responsibility and, where they do not do that, that the Minister should then intervene. We can then decide on the form of the intervention. If we got to that point we would be disagreeing on much narrower ground. To move the argument along to that point would be a politically responsible approach to try to bring the sides closer together and then argue about the form of intervention. We should also recognise that many local authorities have taken difficult decisions in this area, and they deserve to be singled out and praised for doing what was required of them.

There is now an opportunity to do that in the few days before Committee Stage is taken. That is one of the reasons we asked for some time between both Stages. I ask the Minister to consider moving forward with cross-party support for intervention but not the form of intervention he has in mind in this legislation. If I have misinterpreted the legislation I look forward to being corrected in his response to Second Stage.

There are two sides to the argument. We need to have a waste management policy and that policy has to be implemented at local level. There can be many things in between but there has to be a national policy and it has to be implemented locally. Where national policy is implemented locally, it is the best form of participatory democracy. The Minister has responsibilities nationally and they go in two directions. He has to look to Europe in one direction and locally in the other. He has to be the bridge in between. Having done that we then ask the local authorities to put in place their policies. They take the decisions that are required of them and having done that, the pieces of the national plan jigsaw fall into place. We then get to those recalcitrant local authorities which do not discharge their responsibilities, and everyone would agree the Minister should intervene at that stage. That is my point. There surely would be agreement across all parties and Independents on that point.

How and under what conditions should the Minister intervene? There does not need to be bloodshed but we have to recognise what has been done correctly by those authorities which have taken the decision and then determine how to deal with those who have not done that. The way to deal with them should be to intervene in those authorities and, if necessary, dissolve them because I do not want to give sustenance to elected public representatives who believe they need not take an unpopular decision but who are then rewarded for that. Neither do I want a situation, which I understand is in this legislation, where people who have taken responsible decisions and who will suffer to some extent locally and electorally as a result, have all that hard work and decision making set aside by the Minister. That is not necessary. I ask the Minister to take those points on board.

The lack of a culture of recycling, the lack of understanding of how we deal with our waste and the lack of personal responsibility need to be tackled. That is not being done. In terms of local authorities, there is a strong case for having charges for the management of waste, otherwise people will believe it is somebody else's problem. That could be done in a fair way. It is not necessary to charge everyone; perhaps every household would be entitled to a certain amount of free collection and pay for anything in addition to that. There are many ways of dealing with this issue but there has to be some element of personal responsibility. There has to be an element of national policy, local implementation and education, all of which would bring some kind of cultural change to our attitude to waste. I look forward to the Minister's response at the end of Second Stage and I hope he will be open to modifications of the Bill on Committee Stage.

This is important legislation. In one sense it is welcome but there are sections that are most unwelcome. As a member of a local authority I am aware that this is a divisive issue at local level. There are a number of issues on which no political kudos can be gained by anybody in dealing with the questions of waste disposal, landfill sites or halting sites for the travelling community. These issues raise a lot of hackles and cause much contention. Local public representatives, and the majority of local authorities, have taken responsibility and made difficult decisions which in some cases would affect them electorally.

Unlike some other speakers, I believe that things are not as they are perceived to be. The attitude of the community at large to waste disposal over the past decade or so has improved dramatically. Because of the increases in consumerism and regulations on packaging, often emanating from European, dictating that items be wrapped, most of them in plastic, the amount of waste generated has increased dramatically. Regulations prescribe packaging for hygiene purposes, but its disposal becomes a problem.

There are different kinds of waste, domestic, commercial and industrial, and these categories have to be dealt with in separate ways. However, the bulk of waste generated is domestic and there is a need for an educative approach to be adopted. Segregation and recycling have not been promoted in any significant way. The Department of the Environment and Local Government is remiss in relation to providing incentives to local authorities to promote and support segregation and recycling.

I have seen different attitudes to waste disposal, particularly in Europe, and I also have had access to holiday homes which Europeans frequent. It is extraordinary that when a European, particularly from Germany or France, leaves a holiday home they leave very little waste after them. One finds one bag containing nothing but bottles, another containing nothing but papers, and only a small shopping bag of real waste that cannot be recycled. We need to educate and encourage people to segregate their waste in this way in their homes. This could be done very easily because people do appreciate the problem that is arising. Because of the debate on waste disposal, they are conscious of the difficulties they are generating in every county. It is important that this issue is addressed.

Commercial waste has caused a lot of problems, for retailers in particular, concerning packaging and cardboard and the refusal of local authorities to take this kind of waste from them. A buoyant economy generates this waste but it has to be disposed of. There is a real need for serious policy to be developed on segregation and recycling. We have had a situation where the recycling industry has not found it possible to survive economically. If this is the case, there is an onus on the Department of the Environment and Local Government to provide financial incentives to attract people into this industry so that they can make a living. We have a plastic bottle recycling facility in this country but all the bottles it recycles have to be imported. That is ludicrous.

The issue of industrial waste has to be monitored very closely. We just seem to apply the European regulations, but the reality is that we will have to deal with it at a national level. The Minister and various speakers mentioned incinerators. At this stage, we are so far removed from even considering incineration. We must consider more basic approaches first. An incinerator should only be considered when all other approaches have been examined and utilised. Until this is done, our credibility will be seriously in question. It is imperative that we adopt a proactive approach immediately.

We are supposed to be living in an age in which democracy is being devolved to the people and the powers of local government are being strengthened. This legislation is attempting to reduce the powers of local public representatives. Section 4 is one of the most draconian measures I have ever seen come before either House of the Oireachtas. Not only does it give the Minister specific powers in relation to enhancing executive function concerning the putting in place of a waste management plan, but it will remain a reserved function for four years after being passed, even if the local councillors do not agree that the manager can go ahead with such a plan. This is extraordinary.

Just because a number of local authorities have yet to reach an agreement does not mean that the Minister should come in here with that kind of draconian legislation. I believe it would be more appropriate for the Minister to consult the councillors and management in the local authorities in order to reach a consensus rather than treat the local representatives so badly. Anybody who has served on a local authority recognises the difficulties that public representatives face and the courage that the majority of them require when dealing with these issues. Public representatives recognise that responsibilities come with elections, some of which involve making choices on issues that will actually affect the local community and, in some instances, annoy certain members thereof. The Minister should be condemned for including this section in the Bill and insulting the majority of public representatives who have made decisions and taken on responsibilities. I hope that the Minister will address this issue at Committee Stage and recognise that this is not the ideal solution to the problem. This section gives such power to the manager that local public representatives might as well not exist. That is unacceptable because they represent the community.

Where it is proposed to establish a landfill site, transfer site or whatever, the Minister is going over people's heads and I hope he will see the error in his ways. If he intends to go down this route, the final decision should rest with him following an appeal system in relation to a manager's decision. To give such authority to one manager is extremely questionable, particularly when one realises from whom the manager will obtain directions. I refer here to consultants.

Clare County Council employed consultants who addressed meetings, presented recommendations about a number of proposed landfill sites, reached conclusions, did wonderful things and were paid, I am sure, handsome fees. I acknowledge that consultants have a certain level of expertise in their chosen areas, but they are not accountable. Consultants will advise managers to take particular courses of action. Therefore, managers will take the advice of faceless people while public representatives will be completely ignored. That is not democracy. Such behaviour runs contrary to the democratic ethos and it does nothing in terms of supporting local democracy or strengthening the role of local public representatives. It is also a serious insult to members of local communities, particularly in terms of making known their views and having them put forward by their local representatives. I appeal to the Minister to reconsider the position and see the error in what he is proposing.

With regard to the generalities of the Bill, we know that the Minister is accountable to the EU and must comply with various regulations and directives. However, we should not have to wait for the introduction of directives. Taking a common sense approach would provide us with an idea of how to proceed. We should be able to initiate measures without being obliged to wait for the appearance of directives. I hope the Minister will take such an approach in the future.

Various views have been expressed during this debate. One Member said that waste is a filthy thing with which to deal. I do not believe that is the case. If managed properly, waste is not a filthy thing with which to deal because over 75% to 80% of waste can be recycled. Only 15% of waste is filthy and must be disposed of either at landfill sites or in some other way. We must reconsider the way we view waste. This reconsideration must begin in people's homes and be carried on into schools, factories, industrial estates and so on. That is a fundamental point.

We do not take a proactive approach in terms of educating people about waste management. However, I take this opportunity to congratulate primary schools, a number of which are situated in my constituency, which have been very active in raising the consciousness of pupils in relation to waste and the environment. As a result, many young people are extremely conscious of the need to protect the environment and manage waste properly. If that was done on a wider basis in secondary schools and beyond, the future citizens of this country will be prepared to address the issue of waste disposal and management in a responsible way and there will be no need for draconian provisions such as those contained in section 4. I appeal to the Minister to reconsider the position and to withdraw that section.

Mr. Ryan

There is a great deal one could say about this Bill which would be intensely political in nature and I am sure I will do so later. However, I wish to begin by outlining what I say to students I teach on the issue of the future of our environment. The first question I usually ask is "What is waste?" That answer is that, ultimately, everything is waste. In my opinion waste is anything a company or an individual cannot sell. Another definition is that waste is anything one has to pay someone to remove. However, it is worth recalling that recycling or reusing materials merely extends their lifetime. Everything humans eat, drink and use eventually becomes waste.

Perhaps the most incorrect use of language ever employed by humanity relates to the concept of consumption or consumer goods. We do not consume such goods, we merely consume the service they provide and, when we are finished, dump them. It is the basic law of science – subject only to the rules of nuclear physics – that not a microgram of matter can be destroyed. We do not have any option with waste but to accept that it exists and try to do what we can about it. That is an important concept because for many years we were encouraged by economists to live in a world where waste was a free good. We were led to believe that the Earth was an infinite planet which could infinitely absorb everything for which we had no further use. If one reads some of the better and more farsighted economics textbooks, one will discover an admission that conventional economics led us up a false path where we could have infinitely growing consumption at zero cost. However, what no one mentioned was what is referred to in my profession as the "mass valence", namely, that everything that is consumed must emerge as waste. Even more waste may be produced than what was consumed, depending on the treatment involved.

It should, therefore, come as no surprise that we are in the throes of a waste crisis. Affluence, comparative in the past but now absolute by any international standard, brings with it the generation of vast quantities of waste unless a philosophical change takes place in society. Such a change has not yet taken place. Philosophical changes occur in two ways – either as a result of a grass roots movement or through leadership. The grass roots philosophical change that has happened in this country is an increasing distrust of what people used to refer to as "authority".

The alternative form of leadership occurs at national level. The rhetoric has always been wonderful and everyone is aware of the need to reduce, reuse and recycle, treatment disposal, etc. However, what has been done about the reduction of the generation of waste? For example, there has been a building boom in this country for the past seven years which has led to the generation of vast quantities of rubble. Virtually all of this rubble was dumped at landfill sites. Other civilised countries insist that such material should be reused in subsequent building programmes but we decided that we did not need to follow suit. We were either too rich or too lazy, but we let the building companies off the hook by stating that we would dig large holes into which they could dump their rubble and that they would only be charged a modest fee for this service and not inconvenienced to any great degree. We should have been more attentive, particularly when one realises that 40% of municipal solid waste is produced by the building industry.

What did we do in past six years in terms of reducing packaging and investigating the composition of consumer goods to make it possible to reuse them? What action did we take in respect of containers? Did we follow the example of our colleagues in Denmark who campaigned for a ban on beer cans and other cans and tried to have them replaced with bottles which could be reused five or six times and in respect of which a significant deposit would be paid on return? The answer is that we did not. Nor did we support our Nordic colleagues when they wanted to take such action. We uttered the rhetoric but we did nothing. We did not do what should have been done when we could see that we were rapidly colliding with the buffers and that the train would come to a sudden and unpleasant halt if we did not take action. This is separate from the Bill to which I will return.

For a long time at national, industrial and local authority levels we assumed it would wish itself away. There were individuals who believed differently but they believed it was simple. They believed we should build two, three or four huge incinerators and then carry on as before. I do not share many of the hostilities of others to incineration. Perhaps that is because I am a chemical engineer and I believe we can do these things properly. I would not have any problem living beside a properly run incinerator. I would have considerable problems living beside a landfill site because it is not properly run. However, I am sceptical about whether the political climate exists in which the type of trust could be generated and people would accept one. We have not been prepared to argue with the intensity and conviction of those who produce patchy dubious evidence about the risks involved and who do a con job in many cases in using half of a comparative risk. There is nothing without a risk. If someone wants to eliminate the generation of unpleasant toxins, he or she should use a bicycle because the car he or she drives will pump noxious material into the atmosphere, particularly particulate waste which will destroy the lungs of many people over a lifetime. I do not have a problem with incineration, although there is a political problem about it.

The problem of waste cannot be resolved by ignoring it at national level and either telling local authority members, individually or collectively, they must solve it or handing over the power to people who are not democratically accountable. Many speakers have adverted to the fact that we must have popular consent not for the difficult part of it but for the whole concept of the segregation of waste at source for domestic users, for a redesign of the way in which businesses transfer goods and services to customers and for a re-evaluation of the quantity of packing and packaging we take home from a supermarket every week and in the manufacture of consumer goods so they are maximally capable of being recycled where they cannot be reused. There are EU directives in this regard. However, it is about time we in this country, which will in the next two years become the second richest country in Europe in terms of per capita GDP, realised we can no longer follow the compromise positions of European directives and that we must be leaders.

We must recognise it is not cheap to protect our environment from waste. That is not to advocate huge charges for the disposal of domestic waste but to ensure the enforcement of high standards at every level of the supply chain. Sectors cannot be left out of this process. The two sectors which have done the most damage to our waterways, agriculture and local authorities, cannot be left out. One of the great myths is that industry is the cause of many of our problems. However, that is not the case. If one examines the figures for fish kills year after year, one will discover that local authorities and farmers have killed more fish than industry.

There is a legitimate fear about what is happening in terms of waste. Good politics would dictate that we try to understand those fears and deal with them rather than saying that because people who are accountable to those who are afraid will not deal with the issue, people who are not accountable to them can be made to deal with it. The fundamental issue is that our citizens are so frightened of what will happen to them they will not accept it. We are saying that because we have failed to convince them this is the correct way to proceed, we will now force it down their throats. However, that will not work because the level of popular resistance would become stronger and many of those to whom these powers are now being given have a patchy record of sensitivity either to environmental concerns or to public opinion. One example is the much discussed holiday home development in Courtown Harbour in Wexford. The local authority now admits it gave planning permission for it knowing that neither the water nor the sewage treatment services was adequate.

There is a long list of such cases. The Minister of State knows about the resistance of the officials in Cork Corporation to the disclosure of a consultant's report on the operation of the landfill on Kinsale Road. It took a section 4 threat from the members of the corporation before they were told what the consultants had said. One cannot win popular consent within that ethos, which has not gone.

There is a democratic alternative. The principle about waste has always been that one owns one's own waste. The basic application of that would be that if local authorities, collectively or individually, do not agree a proper waste management plan on a regional basis, each local authority is responsible for the waste within its own boundary and cannot move it outside it. If the Minister told every local authority, including the one in this city which has the convenience of dumping a large proportion of its waste in the neighbouring county, it had to deal with the problem within its own area of responsibility, its constituents would suddenly realise the alternative to dealing with waste is worse than any of the so-called threats of which they are afraid. However, as long as people believe there will be a solution which involves exporting everyone's waste to somewhere else, two-thirds of the people will agree and the people somewhere else will vigorously resist on environmental and transport grounds. There must be a negotiated agreement. Giving excessive or draconian powers, as Senator Taylor-Quinn said, to unelected officials will not win consent. This will not work without consent. It is not like Travellers' halting sites because it is too big and expensive and it impacts on too many people. It should be rethought even at this stage.

I am disappointed with the Bill and with the Minister's attitude. I deplore the Minister's decision to take powers away from local authority members and to hand them over to county managers. The Minister said that the "failure, until relatively recently, to develop comprehensive strategies for the modernisation of waste management services has left us with an unenviable legacy". The Minister should accept responsibility for what he said in his speech. For years we looked for debate on waste management. The Minister's speech and actions are built around incineration. This is the wrong approach. As a country, we did little or nothing to develop recycling.

This is proved by the company on the Cavan-Meath border which recycles plastic bottles but must import 95% of them from other European countries. In other words, Ireland is Europe's dumping ground for plastic bottles. The Government turned a blind eye to this.

Now that the Minister is at the end of his term, in his final few months, definitely the final 12 months of office—

It is a year and a half.

—he realises that he did nothing about the biggest problem facing the country, waste management. Local authorities received no funding for it. The Government, year after year, gave nothing to develop recycling, waste management plans or anything else. Regional policies were set up by consultants who said we will have a recycling unit here, an incinerator there and so forth, with no funds and no prospect of them.

Suddenly, when the Minister realises that his back is against the wall to do something about the waste problem, he drafts a rough Bill, introduces it in the Dáil and tries to rush it through this House. The Bill is to put a waste management plan in place by handing over all the control to county managers and set up incinerators throughout the country. That is the reality.

If we have incinerators, local authorities will send lorry loads of waste to them. It costs money to keep them going, so there will be no incentive of any kind to recycle. That is the end product. The incinerators must be kept going. This is the danger.

Our policy is to develop around recycling. The Government should establish recycling programmes which are profitably funded. Nobody today will go into recycling because it is not profitable. There is no market for recycled paper products. The only market is for plastic bottles, and 95% have to be imported. The Government developed nothing. Its answer now is a waste management Bill and a policy to hand over power to the county managers and put incinerators in place to burn rubbish. I am disappointed in the Minister.

In Canada, many provinces over the past five years have achieved 70% recycling. The onus is on local authorities to put charges in place which ring-fences the money to develop small recycling industries. What is left is incinerated. Provinces with bigger populations than here have one incinerator. There is no reason we cannot implement such policies. We did not do so and the Minister is at the back of the field in the race, trying to get to the front before he faces the electorate. That is his problem. This is not the only Bill he is having trouble with. There is the local government Bill also. He does not know what to do with that and he is running out of time. He has promised the sun, moon and stars to us as local authority representatives and elected representatives in the Oireachtas and to the public as well as to local authority representative groups, the Local Authority Members Association and the General Council of County Councils. Yet he has delivered nothing. That is why he is rushing through this Bill to take powers from local authority members and give them to county managers and to build incinerators.

I am disappointed in the Bill and the attitude towards waste management. A lot more could be done. Recycling should be given a proper chance. Incentives should be put in place. Grant aid should be available to recycling businesses. We should have a proper national recycling policy.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. D. Wallace): I thank Senators for their contributions. The primary objective is to have all the waste management plans made as soon as possible. The process was under way in some cases for over four years. We must implement them quickly to deliver a modern waste management infrastructure and improve services. Our waste arisings grow at a conservatively estimated rate of 3% to 4% annually. At the same time there is an increasing scarcity of disposal options as landfill facilities reach the end of their lifespan.

The Government is facing its responsibilities in bringing forward this legislation to allow implementation of the plans. The Minister rejects suggestions that the proposals are an attack on local democracy. It is proposed to make the least number of changes necessary to bring the current waste management planning process to a satisfactory conclusion. The changes will affect only the small number of local authorities who failed to make a waste management plan, or which pur ported to make a plan but whose decision was invalid by virtue of qualifications imposed.

The variation or replacement of a waste management plan remains a reserve function and will revert to the elected members after four years so as to allow a five year review as required. My belief in local democracy is as strong as ever. The Minister worked continually over the past three years to drive forward a major programme of local renewal, including the current Local Government Bill, 2000.

However, he believes that the role of the modern local council must be one of leadership. Sometimes it is necessary to look beyond the parish horizons and make decisions for the benefit of the broader community. As the Minister with ultimate responsibility for waste policy and sound national waste management, he must take tough decisions to ensure that there are no further delays in the provision of modern national waste management infrastructure. This is essential if we are to meet our national and EU commitments.

Many of the contributions against the measure centred on the proposals for thermal treatment in the regional plans. The EPA, which is statutory and independent in the performance of its functions, considers that municipal waste incineration, operating to the best modern standards and incorporating energy recovery, is environmentally preferable to landfill.

Senator O'Dowd stated that the Department of the Environment and Local Government paid for a German expert, Professor Dieter Schrenk, to speak to local authorities in the north-east. In fact Louth County Council invited Professor Schrenk to address a workshop for local councillors. Professor Schrenk is a medical doctor, a professor of food chemistry and environmental toxicology, a recognised expert in his field and has previously been involved with the World Health Organisation.

Senator O'Dowd referred selectively to a paper given by Professor Schrenk to the effect that there would be emissions by pollutants from an incineration facility. Of course there would be, but the issue is the levels of the emissions and their likely implications. Professor Schrenk pointed out that European authorities, including the national board of physicians in Germany, have addressed this issue. Based on strict regulatory controls that apply and actual emissions data, and taking into account modern incineration and flue-gas cleaning technology, many authorities have come to the conclusion that this type of waste treatment is not harmful to the environment or to those living in the vicinity of a modern incinerator.

Senator O'Dowd asked the Minister to request the Health Research Board to conduct a desk survey of available data and information regarding the public health implications of incineration and other waste treatment options. The Senator, with Deputy John Bruton, recently asked the Minister for Health and Children to commission such a study through the board.

We met officials from the Department and not the Minister.

The Senator was informed that the Health Research Board is an independent statutory body which can promote, commission, assist and conduct research and disperse funds for specific health and epidemiological research projects. The board decides, on the basis of submissions made to it, what projects are to be assisted or funded. The Senator and his party can make a submission to the board if they wish.

The Minister for the Environment and Local Government would have no difficulty with the Health Research Board funding or conducting such a study. He is prepared to consider commissioning a report which would attempt to summarise existing literature on the environmental and public health impacts of thermal treatments. I fear that the independence of any such consultants appointed by our Department, and the veracity of their findings, would be inevitably questioned.

Senator O'Dowd quoted from the fifth report of a House of Commons select committee on the United Kingdom's waste strategy. The report concluded that arguments about the health effects of thermal treatment are complex and based on incomplete knowledge. It criticised past regulatory enforcement and practices which have raised public anxiety levels and pointed out that lack of pre-separation of potentially hazardous materials increases the risk of exceeding emission limits. I do not wish to comment on past regulatory performance in another jurisdiction, but I have confidence in our Environmental Protection Agency.

It is significant that the report accepts that incineration, properly regulated and on a scale which does not limit recycling, has a role to play in the management of post-recycled waste. There will be an increase in the amount of waste incinerated in the United Kingdom, according to the report, so it is important that the implications of incineration are more effectively explained to the public. This is a point that I have already conceded and have indicated will be addressed in the coming months.

Senator O'Dowd referred at length to a specific company which is developing gasification technology, and to problems which occurred at its German facility. We hold no brief for this company, but have observed that the technical feasibility study referred to by the Senator indicated that gasification is an emerging technology which may have environmental benefits, as yet unproven. The study stated that incineration was proven to be environmentally acceptable.

Senator Walsh observed that an incinerator has a lifespan of about 20 years while a landfill could be closed down at any time if a better alternative came along. I remind him that landfills require a minimum of 30 years of aftercare and monitoring under the landfill directive. The strict control regime in the recently adopted European Council directive on the incineration of waste was largely anticipated under the licensing system operated by the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA may not grant a licence unless it is satisfied the activity involved will not jeopardise human health or the environment. Such facilities are also subject to development control under the planning system, which provides a formal procedure for public input into the decision making process.

The European Commission estimates that the implementation of the new directive will result in 99% reduction in emissions of dioxins from waste incineration relative to the period between 1993 and 1995. The Commission also expects the contribution of municipal and clinical waste incineration to be reduced to 0.03% of overall dioxins in Europe, assuming output from other sources remains unchanged. This is an indication of the significant improvements that have been made in emission control technologies compared with older waste incinerators.

Thermal treatment plays a significant part in the safe disposal of waste in many European countries, including Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands, countries generally recognised as having enlightened and progressive environmental policies. Other methods of waste disposal are necessary even where recycling is maximised. The Minister is satisfied that emissions from any proposed new thermal treatment facility, employing modern technology and complying with strict environmental standards, will not have any appreciable negative environmental impact, locally or nationally.

Criticism was made of a perceived lack of recycling, lack of funding and the absence of segregated collection services which are commonplace elsewhere. The Minister mentioned that there has been little recognition of the significant measures proposed to deliver a better recycling performance. Ongoing delays in making and implementing these plans is holding up the delivery recycling services, the development of recycling infrastructure and the investment advocated by Senators on both sides of the House. We have proposed integrated waste management services for the regions which will deliver a much higher recycling performance, recovering energy from waste which cannot be recycled and using landfill as a last resort for residual waste which cannot otherwise be recovered.

Exchequer and EU funding worth £100 million is available to implement these plans and to give direct support to the development of the requisite recycling and composting infrastructure. The Minister will ask local authorities in regional groups to prioritise the elements of the plans which deal with the delivery of segregated collection services and waste recycling infrastructure. A clear programme of action to bring these aspects forward as soon as possible must also be prepared. Not all waste can be segregated or recycled and there will be residual waste which needs to be thermally treated or put into landfill. No amount of aspiration or pursuit of zero waste strategies will change that.

Incineration and high levels of recycling are not incompatible. Regional plans prioritise the achievement of the highest recycling targets, typically between 40% and 50%. Only when such targets are met should we consider thermal treatment or landfill to deal with the remaining waste. Under these plans, the capacity of the proposed thermal treatment facilities is deliberately limited. The Minister is pleased that he has a statutory basis for further important waste management and anti-litter measures, including a new environmental levy of up to 15p on the supply by retailers of plastic shopping bags and potentially the extension of the levy to other problematic waste products.

The Minister is also considering a levy on putting waste into landfill at an initial rate of not more than £15 per tonne, the establishment of an environmental fund through which the proceeds of these levies will be disbursed to finance beneficial environment initiatives in a range of areas including waste management and environmental education and awareness; an increase in the on-the-spot litter fine to £100 and provision for future changes in the level of the fine; and technical amendments to the Waste Management Act, 1996, to bring legal clarity to licensing by the Environmental Protection Agency of certain waste activities.

Senator O'Meara proposed a ban on plastic bags. The position in this regard is clear. Under EU law, a member state may not unilaterally ban packaging such as plastic bags which are acceptable throughout the EU. Senator Norris referred to the Canberra zero waste policy and objectives. This is an aspiration and it has not been achieved. While Canberra succeeded in year one in diverting construction waste from landfill, which is a relatively easy matter, the authorities have not succeeded in the same way in relation to municipal and domestic waste. Landfill of these wastes continues at more or less the same level as when the zero waste initiative began.

The Waste Management (Amendment) Bill will provide a legal mechanism to satisfactorily conclude the stalled waste management process and to facilitate the delivery of improved waste services and the development of an effective and safe waste infrastructure. The Bill will also provide for a range of environmentally important and desirable initiatives to be undertaken in the near future. Accordingly, I commend it to the House.

Question put.

Bohan, Eddie.Bonner, Enda.Callanan, Peter.Cassidy, Donie.Chambers, Frank.Cregan, John.Dardis, John.Farrell, Willie.Finneran, Michael.Fitzgerald, Tom.Fitzpatrick, Dermot.Gibbons, Jim.Glennon, Jim.Glynn, Camillus.Kett, Tony.

Kiely, Daniel.Lanigan, Mick.Leonard, Ann.Lydon, Don.Mooney, Paschal.Moylan, Pat.Norris, David.O'Brien, Francis.O'Donovan, Denis.Ó Fearghail, Seán.Ó Murchú, Labhrás.Ormonde, Ann.Quill, Máirín.Ross, Shane.Walsh, Jim.

Níl

Burke, Paddy.Doyle, Joe.Henry, Mary.Jackman, Mary.Keogh, Helen.McDonagh, Jarlath.

Manning, Maurice.O'Dowd, Fergus.O'Toole, Joe.Ryan, Brendan.Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.

Tellers: Tá, Senators T. Fitzgerald and Gibbons; Níl, Senators Burke and O'Dowd.
Question declared carried.
Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 10 April 2001.

I was attending the Committee on Foreign Affairs meeting in Committee Room 2. By chance I looked at the monitor and noticed that a vote was taking place but the bells did not ring. The same thing happened last week and two weeks ago. Surely the bells should ring in the committee rooms.

The monitors were not even on the previous week.

The matter will be investigated.