Thursday, 28 November 2019

Ceisteanna (6)

David Cullinane


6. Deputy David Cullinane asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment his plans to provide public water fountains as a measure to combat the use of single-use plastic bottles; the cost of such a project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49223/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (7 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Communications)

This question is on single-use plastics and the need to reduce their use. More specifically, to facilitate that reduction, I am asking about plans to provide public water fountains. Some local authorities have them and others are beginning the roll-out of such fountains. Does the Department have plans to facilitate, help and fund local authorities to enable an expansion of this initiative?

The Government is committed to leading the way in reducing all single-use plastics and is working at national and European level to tackle the problem. In this regard, the Government has agreed that Departments and bodies will no longer purchase single-use plastic cups, cutlery and straws. We have also strongly supported new EU legislation on single-use plastics, which will ban straws, cotton bud sticks made from plastic, plastic plates and cutlery, plastic coffee stirrers and plastic balloon holders. That is due to be transposed into legislation by 3 July 2021 at the latest. A clean oceans initiative has also been commenced and the Government is legislating to ban microbeads.

These measures are intended to bring a concentrated focus on the reduced prevalence of single-use plastics and on quality recycling throughout all Irish organisations, public or private. Many organisations are taking steps to improve their resource use and all public bodies will be submitting a report shortly on the progress that they have made as a result of the decision made last January. My Department provides direct funding for the local authority prevention network, managed by the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA. One of the initiatives funded involved approximately €150,000 being provided to 17 local authorities in 2018-19 to provide public drinking water fountains in public buildings, including schools and leisure centres, at events and on greenways to reduce single-use plastic consumption.

The local authority prevention network will shortly publish a handbook on providing public water stations, based on the experiences of local authorities to date. Further consideration of measures to tackle single-use plastics will be undertaken in the context of Ireland's waste action plan. A full public consultation on the development of the plan will be launched before the end of this year.

I welcome the Minister's response. There is support for these practical initiatives across the House. Focus is often devoted to macro issues, such as the need for more renewables and a reduction in our carbon footprint derived from the use of fossil fuels. However, practical things can be done. Based on my experience, some local authorities have, temporarily provided access to water for the public at major outdoor public events. What we are talking about is putting in place permanent infrastructure so that people fill up reusable flasks with water instead of buying plastic bottles of water in shops.

I welcome the Minister's comments on the local authority prevention network providing funding in this area. How much has been spent by local authorities so far? It is fine if he does not have those figures, he can send the information to me in a note. I would like to see how much money was made available for this purpose and how much was drawn down. I welcome a handbook being made available. I assume that is to inform local authorities about how to access the available funding and how this these fountains can be rolled out in a coherent manner. I welcome the progress but more is necessary because the more of these practical measures that are put in place, the more people will recognise that the State is engaging with them and providing alternatives in the context of reducing our carbon footprint and strengthening our environmental protections.

I agree with the Deputy and that was one of the reasons we included other requirements of public bodies, in addition to banning single-use plastics. I refer to the inclusion of a report by the end of this year on resource use in areas such as water waste and energy. It is important that public bodies start to think about how they can reduce the extent to which their staff, clients or customers rely on plastic bottles when there could be alternatives. As far as I know, the €150,000 was all spent, but I will inquire further. Many other organisations, other than public bodies, should also engage in this initiative. I would love to see more private sector organisations getting involved in similar schemes. It is encouraging to see many supermarkets, for example, signing up for plastic pledges. It would be helpful to see fountains in supermarkets and shopping centres. There is, therefore, significant scope to roll out, as part of our waste management plan, some of these ideas that have been rightly identified by the Deputy.

Would the Deputy Cullinane like to make a final comment?

No, the Minister has responded.

We turn now to Question No. 7. Deputy Jack Chambers is attending a committee meeting and has received the permission of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle to ask his question and he will be given time if he comes into the Chamber in the next half an hour. He also informed the staff. I am willing to give him that time, if I can have the assistance of the House. Is that agreed? Agreed. I think anyone in committee has to get a chance. Deputy Stanley is also not here at the moment. We will move to Question No. 9.

Question No. 8 replied to with Written Answers.