Politics rather than solving plastic problems were a bigger priority for Environment Committee

In Blog, Environment by Denis Naughten

I was disappointed this week that some members of the Environment Committee decided to put politics and the next general election before a genuine attempt to deal with the problem of plastics in our environment.

I have been working with the members of the Committee to try to progress the Waste Reduction Bill to the next stage of the legislative process because there are good proposals in it, which could have a real impact on reducing waste and plastics particularly.

There was just one issue which would not allow me to ensure that this Bill went to the next stage and that was the compulsory nature of introducing a Deposit and Return Scheme (DRS).  I am not opposed to a deposit and return scheme in principle, but because it would cost approximately €116 million of taxpayers’ money to implement, I need to be absolutely positive that it would work and be effective.

Without a complete understanding of the cost implications on the taxpayer, on household bin charges, on employers, on retailers and on families it would be financially reckless of me to proceed with its introduction without proper scrutiny and using an evidence-based approach.

Based on figures presented to the Committee by Deputy Ryan the impact could be as low as a 1% increase in the amount of household recycling. The introduction of a DRS may increase plastic bottle recycling rates to 75% – (currently it stands at 70%) – and a total plastic recycling rate of 36% (currently it stands at 35%).  Spending €116million to increase total plastic packaging recycling rates by 1% would be reckless.

However I had suggested to the Committee that I would conduct a pilot on a deposit and return scheme in Cashel.  This would provide evidence and therefore help inform future decision, while we were implementing other important measures in the Bill to reduce the amount of waste being generated, particularly non-recyclable plastic.  If it had significant impact I would look at rolling it out throughout the country.

But instead of agreeing to this, opposition members wanted to force the spending of €116 million on a scheme to improve recycling rates by 1% while imposing a cost of an extra €1 per lift on a families’ recycling bin.

Furthermore when such a model was looked at in Spain they found that the extra transport involved in a deposit and return scheme would lead to a carbon negative footprint which is something identified by Environmental Protection Agencies across the EU.

What happened at Committee is a practice known as greenwashing. Greenwashing is where a measure is more focused on giving the impression that it is green rather than being a real and substantive measure to improve our environment.

Opposition members of the Committee were not happy with an evidenced-based approach and voted accordingly.  The minimal impact on plastic bottle recycling rates, the likely increase in household bin charges (which would actually reduce recycling rates) and the increase in the overall carbon footprint generated by a DRS scheme didn’t matter when they voted.