Government policy on waste management is set out in the policy documents, Changing our Ways and Preventing and Recycling Waste: Delivering Change. The Government's approach is based on the internationally recognised waste management hierarchy of prevention/minimisation, significantly increased levels of recycling, energy recovery and, finally, utilising landfill as the last resort for residual waste that cannot otherwise be recovered.
Local authorities were asked to identify and fully assess the various issues involved, with a view to identifying the nature, scale and mix of facilities which, at a regional level, appear to offer the best balance between maximised recovery of materials or energy and minimised environmental emissions, at reasonable cost. In addition, the EPA's national hazardous waste management plan which is also based on the application of the waste hierarchy calls for the provision of thermal treatment and landfill capacity to treat this particular waste stream.
With regard to the perceived impact of thermal treatment, the EPA's inventory of dioxin and furan emissions to air, land and water in Ireland for 2000 and 2010 was published in December 2002 and it provides a useful indication of the relative significance of various emission sources for dioxins. In relation to the nine hazardous waste incinerators in operation in the year 2000, the report estimated these to have contributed a fraction of 1% of national dioxin emissions to air — tables 1 and 4.2 of the report refer. By comparison, dioxin emissions from the transport sector and from uncontrolled burning processes were estimated to be over 140 times higher and some 3,800 times higher, respectively.
Even assuming that 1 million tonnes of municipal waste might be managed by way of incineration in 2010, the report projects that dioxin emissions from waste incineration would account for less than 2% of total dioxin emissions to air at that time, less than half the emissions attributable to the transport sector and some 46 times less than those emissions attributable to uncontrolled burning processes. A paper published by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland in 2003 concluded that properly managed incineration facilities will not contribute to dioxin levels in the food supply to any significant extent and will not affect food quality or safety.
Regarding the proposed development of a thermal treatment facility at Ringaskiddy, neither my Department nor the relevant local authorities are involved in the procurement of the facility. As with any such development, the proposed project is subject to the requirements of the planning and waste licensing codes. As Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, I am specifically precluded from exercising any power or control in the performance by the planning and environmental licensing authorities of these functions in particular circumstances.