Tuesday, 3 February 2004

Ceisteanna (9)

Joe Higgins


139 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the reason it is intended to spend a total of €1,539,348 on the production and airing of a television advertisement depicting householders as responsible for a waste crisis when, in fact, householders account for 15% of waste going to landfill.

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (28 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

Excluding private/industrial landfills, which are largely dedicated facilities provided in conjunction with certain types of industrial installations, the report shows that a total of 3.1 million tonnes of waste was accepted at local authority landfills in 2001. Of this, 1.25 million tonnes, or 40%, was household waste, with a further 0.53 million tonnes, or 17%, being attributable to the commercial sector.

The extent of waste from these sectors which is consigned to landfill reflects low rates of waste recovery. The recovery rate for the municipal waste sector as a whole, although rising, is only 13.3%. Within that category, the recovery rate for the household sector is only 5.6%. These compare unfavourably with the recovery rates of other sectors. For example, the database shows over 25% recovery in surveyed industrial sectors, with some 65% recovery recorded in the construction and demolition sector.

Because of these low recovery rates, the correspondingly high volumes of waste landfilled, and the environmental difficulties associated with trying to manage mixed municipal waste, the Race Against Waste campaign focuses, in particular, on householders and small businesses. The campaign does not seek to apportion blame, rather it aims to heighten awareness in relation to the need to improve recycling rates and provide useful information on how to do this. The campaign is timed to coincide with a significant increase in the recycling infrastructure, which is now coming on stream, supported by significant resources which I have allocated from the environment fund.

The reaction to the campaign so far has been overwhelmingly positive. This is unsurprising given the findings of research carried out last year, which shows three out of four people in favour of the Government spending money on environmental campaigns. I look forward to the continued roll out of the campaign in the months ahead.

Would the Minister agree that spending €1.5 million on an advertisement showing ordinary households being responsible for a waste apocalypse is an outrageous misuse of taxpayers' funds because it is fraudulent advertising? Householders account for only15%, or one seventh, of what goes to landfill.

They do not.

I have studied this.

The figure is 40%.

Thanks to the Minister, I had four weeks of leisure to study it in the autumn.

I am glad the Deputy did so. There is always a silver lining somewhere.

According to figures from the Environmental Protection Agency, one seventh, or 15%, of what goes to landfill comes from households. In view of that, would the Minister agree that the advertising is fraudulent? Would he agree it is incredible that 955,000 tonnes of paper and glass went to landfill in 2001 from households and commercials — some 78% of the total that went to waste — all of which is recyclable? Would the Minister agree that if the investment for recycling and composting was installed in all areas, and the infrastructure was put in by the local authority, then diverting all glass, paper, plastic, aluminium and organic material would reduce at a stroke the amount going from commercials and households to landfill by 70%? Would the Minister agree that local authorities now have the power to implement by-laws requiring that this takes place? The fact that it does not and has not taken place points to an abject failure by the Government over the last seven years.

Would the Minister agree therefore that the television advertisement, Race Against Waste, is a crude propaganda attempt to cover the Government's abject failure to divert significantly from landfill and secure that diversion? It is also a crude propaganda film to attempt to justify rapidly rising bin taxes on taxpaying households, which the Minister, Deputy Cullen, is trying disgustingly to force on households, while giving the real polluters — big business — massive tax breaks.

I am glad to see that, perhaps for the first time, the Deputy has informed himself about the facts and figures of recycling. I am glad also that he is so supportive in encouraging everybody to take the recycling route.

I have been doing so for 20 years.

I reject absolutely the Deputy's first point regarding the use of the environment fund. When he asked about 18 months ago why I was not conducting a national awareness campaign, I said it was a good idea and something the public wanted. Of course, when I embark on the campaign, the Deputy is dissatisfied.

Yes, because it is a fraud.

For the Deputy's information, what the campaign contains was not my decision. We went out and asked the public what they thought would get the message over. In various parts of Dublin and around the country, we did much research as to the type of campaign that should be run. I did not dream it up in my head. The public told me what they thought should be in the campaign, what they would respond to and what they thought would get people to change their ways. What is happening is a result. This is only a small part of the campaign, which also concerns what is going on in the commercial sector.

It may come as a surprise to the Deputy to know that 20,000 people have used the Department's website — I understand they are called hits — seeking hard information on how to recycle more waste. Some 11,000 of those hits were in January 2004. If the Deputy accessed the website he would see that people anywhere in the country can find where their local waste facilities are and how to use them. The public welcomes all of this and I am glad the Deputy supports it.

Will the Minister acknowledge that the problem is not the willingness of the vast majority of people to recycle, but the lack of an infrastructure being rolled out by local authorities? How does the Minister respond to the fact that local authorities can now implement by-laws so that not a single piece of glass or paper should go into general waste?

We must proceed to the next question.

Look at this polystyrene tray for some sausages. It is from a supermarket next door to Leinster House.

I am solving that one for the Deputy.

Why does the Minister allow this kind of carry on?

The Deputy knows well what I am doing about that.

This is the real problem — a lack of will on behalf of the Government.

Deputies cannot display items in the House.

I wish to respond briefly to the Deputy, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

We will proceed to the next question.

It is a polystyrene tray for a few sausages.

I know. There are health and food safety issues but the Deputy would ignore those directives. The problem is that people like Deputy Joe Higgins think Ireland is one big carpet and that we can lift the green fields and sweep all the rubbish underneath.

The Minister wants to make it one big car park.

That is his policy. It is not mine and neither is it that of the Government. It is not what the people of this country want.

We will proceed to Question No. 140. As Deputy Gilmore has come into the Chamber, his Question No. 138 will be taken as the last one during Priority Question time.