Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 3 Feb 2005

Vol. 179 No. 4

Waste Disposal.

I thank the Minister for coming to the House. I have an interest to declare in that I am a director of a company that imports equipment and materials for the tyre remoulding industry. I hasten to add that I do not receive any payment for it. I, like many others, am very concerned about the disposal of waste tyres. There has been a great increase in the number of cars and other motor vehicles in the country, which naturally means there has been a great increase in the number of waste tyres that are not suitable for recycling and which are at the end of their lifespan.

I am very glad to note how concerned the Minister is about waste tyres. I read with great interest a press release issued by his Department on 29 October 2004 before Hallowe'en which stated:

"The uncontrolled burning of waste tyres must stop," said Dick Roche T.D., Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government today [29 October 04]. The Minister was commenting in advance of Halloween night where thousands of waste tyres will end up on bonfires all around the country. "The Halloween Bonfire is a great Irish tradition going back to our very earliest times. However, this tradition does not give us licence to burn wastes which give off toxic smoke" said Minister Roche.

The uncontrolled burning of tyres produces dense smoke and toxic fumes polluting air, water, soil and vegetation. Many of the toxic fumes released have the capacity to cause a genetic mutation that can lead to cancer in future generations. It is thought that the uncontrolled burning of tyres is 8 times more likely to cause genetic mutation than the burning of plastic.

In addition water used to control these fires can cause pollutants to be washed into the ground and watercourses. Waste tyres can also provide breeding grounds for mosquitoes and vermin.

The Minister is also quoted as having said that he was very concerned over our failure to dispose of many of our waste tyres in an appropriate environmentally friendly manner. He pointed out that it is clear from EPA figures that very few tyres end up in local authority landfills. It has been illegal to put tyres in landfills since 2003. Tyres are still disposed of on farmyards, for example, where there are considerable numbers of tyres. They may be burnt or disposed of in another inappropriate manner or may be left lying around in unauthorised stockpiles, which can be a hazard to people and the environment. The Minister also pointed out that his Department had been engaged with the Irish Tyre Industry Association to try to get the tyre industry to take proper care of waste tyres. He said he is making progress in that area.

Another point raised by the Minister through the press release appears to have caused some confusion: "I also have concerns about the "environmental levy" that some tyre retailers are charging for the disposal of waste tyres." The levy is being paid for by the customers who bring the tyres to the retailers. There is really no environmental levy on tyres for retailers. It is the person who sells the tyres who is supposed to dispose of them. There will be a disposal charge for the collection of these waste tyres. There are licensed waste tyre collectors and therefore the retailers have no excuse for saying there is nowhere to get rid of them. There is a facility in Dundalk called Crumb Rubber Ireland which will take the tyres and convert them to a form in which they do not represent an environmental hazard.

A great number of tyres still seems to be taken, perhaps by tyre collectors, to farms. This number is surely in excess of that needed on silage pits, for example. In Northern Ireland, a farmer with over 250 old tyres on his land must pay £750 every three years for a waste exemption permit licensing him to hold them on his farm. This amounts to £250 per year. What does the Minister propose to do to address the waste tyre issue in the Republic?

I thank Senator Henry for raising this issue. I wondered at the outset what her interest was and I am interested in the point she made. She is right to say that it is an issue of concern to me.

I have publicly stated my concerns on possible inappropriate practices in the management of waste tyres several times recently. It is imperative that waste tyres are not put to inappropriate uses such as unauthorised burning, uncontrolled disposal or the formation of indiscriminate stockpiles. I agree with Senator Henry on all those points. These practices are not acceptable as they can cause nuisance, pose environmental and health hazards and infringe waste and other environmental legislation.

The Waste Management Acts 1996 to 2003 place a general duty of care on the holders of waste to ensure it is disposed of in a manner which does not cause environmental pollution. In addition, under the Air Pollution Act 1987 the occupier of any premises or land is prohibited from causing or permitting an emission in such a quantity or manner as to be a nuisance.

An estimated 35,000 tonnes of waste tyres are generated in Ireland each year, an astonishing figure. They are not in themselves a hazardous waste, but have the potential to cause environmental pollution if disposed of incorrectly. Tyres when burned produce deadly compounds, including carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and most seriously of all, dioxins, for which there are no safe levels of exposure. People who are concerned for example about proper control of incineration in the waste process often seem careless or unaware of the evident dangers from burning a large quantity of tyres in bonfires.

The enforcement of waste and air pollution legislation is primarily a matter for the relevant local authority and my Department has no direct function in the matter. However, the Department has written, at my request, to local authorities asking them to carry out inspections of tyre outlets with a view to improving current practices in the management of waste tyres. The inspections are to be carried out as part of the local authorities' enforcement action plans for 2005. I am considering ways in which better awareness of the issues surrounding the uncontrolled burning of waste can be created as part of the Race Against Waste campaign. I have issued several leaflets in the past two months, one of which deals with inappropriate backyard burning and its attendant dangers. It does not deal specifically with tyres.

My Department has also written to State bodies with large vehicle fleets and to the tyre industry asking them to review their practices as to how they manage this particular waste stream. The internationally recognised waste management hierarchy places re-use and recycling ahead of other forms of disposal. Re-use, however, will not necessarily provide the best practicable environmental option in every circumstance. This depends ultimately on national and local circumstances, taking account of both the impact on the environment and resource use.

Use of tyres in small quantities on silage pits, as fenders to protect the sides of boats, as engineering material in landfills to assist in holding the leachate drainage layer in place or in children's playgrounds is a beneficial use in the following circumstances — where human health is not endangered and the process does not cause harm to the environment; the use of tyres is suitable for the purpose and is limited to the extent which is strictly necessary; and the tyres replace other materials which would have been used for that purpose, thereby conserving natural resources. Although tyres are frequently used on clamps that is not a major problem.

The tyre industry should co-operate with all stakeholders to achieve more effective management of this waste stream so that any unacceptable practices are eliminated. In response to the reduced availability of traditional disposal and re-use routes for tyres my Department is holding discussions with the Irish Tyre Industry Association with a view to establishing a producer responsibility initiative. I expect to put the necessary arrangements for such an initiative in place later this year.

Senator Henry mentioned the so-called environmental levy which surprised me because no public authority raises such a levy. Some people who sell tyres charge up to €2 per tyre saying that it is an environmental levy. Consumers are not concerned because this seems to be a good thing but in my view it is sharp practice and I have drawn it to the attention of the Director of Consumer Affairs. I also intend to establish whether these levies have been paid by any of the people who supply tyres to the State and, if so, I will look for the money.

It is important to deal with this problem on a partnership basis but if the desired co-operation is not forthcoming I will not hesitate in bringing forward regulations with a view to tightening controls in this area. I share the concerns expressed here today and I am determined that proper controls and management systems for waste tyres are put in place as early as possible.