Cabinet approves landmark Bill that will introduce world-leading moves to reduce waste and influence behaviour

30 Mar 2022

eamonryan

Circular Economy Bill will pave the way for use of CCTV to detect and deter illegal dumping and littering

The Circular Economy Bill, which has been published by the Government, will underpin Ireland’s shift from a “take-make-waste” linear model to a more sustainable pattern of production and consumption that will instead minimise waste to help significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

In a circular economy, waste and resource use are minimised. The use and value of products and materials is maintained for as long as possible. When a product has reached the end of its life its parts are used again and again – to create further useful products, instead of being discarded which is an all too familiar pattern now.

Detecting and preventing unsightly and illegal dumping

A significant action provided for, under the proposed new legislation, will see Local Authorities empowered to use GDPR-compliant technologies such as CCTV to detect and prevent unsightly and illegal dumping and littering, among other measures. This will help to discourage “fly-tipping” which is a blight across the country.

With this Bill, over time, a range of single-use disposable products will also be phased out. Among its targets is to make Ireland the first country in the world to eliminate the use of disposable coffee cups, nearly half a million of which are currently sent to landfill or incineration every day, amounting to 200 million cups a year.

This process will begin with a ban over the coming months on the use of disposable coffee cups for sit-in customers in cafés and restaurants, followed by the introduction of a small charge on disposable cups for takeaway coffees that can be avoided completely by using a keep cup. This will operate in the same way as the existing Plastic Bag Levy, which has been so successful in reducing plastic bag litter across the country.

Minister of State with responsibility for Communications and Circular Economy, Ossian Smyth TD, said:

"This bill aims to stop the wasteful pattern of using valuable resources once and then just binning them. From discouraging the use of single-use items, to improving the process for allowing recycled materials onto the market, this legislation will support the development of sustainable products and business models across the economy."

He added that Ireland had led the way 20 years ago with measures that dramatically curbed the use of plastic bags and the associated litter that they caused.

Re-use of resources and reduced consumption

The Bill builds on the Government’s commitment to achieving a circular economy, as set out in the 2020 Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy and the 2021 Whole of Government Circular Economy Strategy. This Bill now places that strategy on a statutory footing, putting the re-use of resources and reduced consumption at the heart of the Irish economy.

The Bill also effectively calls time on coal exploration by ending the issuing of new licences for the exploration and mining of coal, lignite and oil shale. This follows-on from Programme for Government commitments to end new licences for the exploration and extraction of gas, which was in line with the previous 2019 decision to end oil exploration and extraction.

Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Eamon Ryan TD, said:

"The publication of this Bill is a landmark moment in this Government’s commitment to making the circular economy a reality in Ireland. Through a mix of economic incentives and smarter regulation we can achieve far more sustainable patterns of production and consumption that move us away from the patterns of single-use and throw-away materials and goods that are such a wasteful part of our economic model now. We have to re-think the way we interact with the goods and materials we use every day, if we are to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, because 45% of those emissions come from producing those goods and materials."

The Bill:

  • defines the Circular Economy for the first time in Irish domestic law
  • incentivises the use of reusable and recyclable alternatives to a range of wasteful single-use disposable packaging and other items
  • re-designates the existing Environment Fund as a Circular Economy Fund, which will remain ring-fenced to provide support for environmental and circular economy projects
  • introduces a mandatory segregation and incentivised charging regime for commercial waste, similar to what exists for the household market. This will increase waste separation and support increased re-cycling rates
  • provides for the GDPR-compliant use of a range of technologies, such as CCTV for waste enforcement purposes. This will support efforts to tackle illegal dumping and littering, while protecting the privacy rights of citizens
  • places the Circular Economy Strategy and National Food Loss Prevention Roadmap on a statutory footing, establishing a legal requirement for Governments to develop and periodically update these two policies
  • streamlines the national processes for End-of-Waste and By-Products decisions, tackling the delays which can be encountered by industry, and supporting the availability of recycled secondary raw materials in the Irish market
  • consolidates the Government’s policy of keeping fossil fuels in the ground – by introducing prohibitions on exploration for and extraction of coal, lignite and oil shale

Circular Economy – Background

Delivering a circular economy will have positive environmental, economic and social impacts. A well-designed circular policy framework can identify co-benefits, so that environmental improvements also provide economic and social opportunities, and vice versa. Across Europe, countries are moving towards and adopting circular economy practices. The EU is pursuing its ‘European Green Deal’ strategy, which has the circular economy at its heart. In March 2020, the EU launched its Second Circular Economy Action Plan. At the national level, Ireland published its first Whole-of-Government Circular Economy Strategy in December 2021 to ensure policy coherence across the public sector and to outline the Government’s overall approach to the circular economy for stakeholders and the public.

The Circular Economy Bill 2022, will go further – by translating this policy approach into a statutory requirement. It will also provide the necessary statutory underpinning to a range of actions that will strengthen waste enforcement in relation to illegal dumping and littering, such as allowing for the GDPR-compliant use of CCTV and other technologies in enforcement actions. The Circular Economy Strategy provides a national policy framework for Ireland’s transition to a circular economy. This Bill places that Strategy, and the commitment to a circular economy, on a clear statutory footing. The forthcoming National Circular Economy Programme (operated by the EPA) will be placed on the same statutory basis.

Tackling illegal dumping and littering

In the context of waste enforcement the Bill will advance a number of provisions, including the GDPR-compliant use of technologies such as CCTV, for waste enforcement purposes. They will ensure that the processing of personal data may be carried out by local authorities tasked with enforcing litter and waste law, thus providing an important deterrent in relation to littering and illegal dumping. At the same time it is essential that the privacy rights of citizens are fully respected through robust safeguards; this Bill does that.

Environmental levies

The national Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy sets out the commitments to introduce new environmental levies for more responsible waste management behaviour. These will be implemented after the Circular Economy Bill is signed into law.

Phasing out disposable coffee cups

We send nearly 200 million coffee cops to landfill or incineration every year in Ireland. This is entirely avoidable waste. We want to encourage people to prevent it occurring by enjoying their on-the-go drink in a reusable cup.

We are introducing a small charge on disposable coffee cups to incentivise people to choose to re-use.

It will work in a similar way to the plastic bag levy, with the proceeds ringfenced in a Circular Economy Fund for projects relating to environmental and climate action objectives. It is not a revenue raising measure; it is about effecting behavioural change. If we manage to effect that change, then revenue will disappear within a short space of time – as people make the switch.

Ultimately, the ambition is to make Ireland the first country in the world to eradicate disposable coffee cups. This is an important step in its own right but, more fundamentally, the coffee cup measures can also provide a way to get people thinking about other circularity steps they can take in their daily lives to lower resource consumption and contribute to climate action.

The first levies on disposable coffee cups will be introduced later this year.

Waste recovery

Waste recovery involves waste being sent for incineration or for what’s known as ‘backfilling’, essentially filling in quarries or providing hard surfaces for landfill sites. It means that materials that could, in some cases, be re-used or recycled are either incinerated or buried in the ground. This is poor way to treat potentially valuable resources.

The Bill provides powers for the Minister to impose a levy on waste recovery that takes place in Ireland, and also on waste exports from Ireland for recovery elsewhere in the EU and outside of the EU.

Introducing this levy will further improve the economic rationale for recycling and re-use to be the default first option for dealing with waste in this country. It’s based on the model of the existing landfill levy which, again, has been extremely successful.

Like the environmental levies on single use items, all proceeds of the recovery levy will be ringfenced into the Circular Economy Fund.

The details of the levy, including the rate, will be set out in regulation after the Bill is passed and will be subject to public consultation.

Segregation of commercial waste

The Bill introduces a mandatory segregation and incentivised charging regime for commercial waste, similar to what exists for the household market.

At present, it is possible for commercial premises to dispose of their waste through a single, unsegregated, bin. This will no longer be possible under the changes being introduced by the Bill, forcing premises to manage their waste in a properly segregated manner. Better segregation and incentivised pricing, with recycling bins having lower charges than general waste bins, should also ultimately save businesses money.

Ending the exploration and mining of coal, lignite, and oil shale

The Programme for Government commits to ending new licences for the exploration and extraction of gas, in line with the 2019 decision in relation to oil exploration and extraction. This follows on from the announcement by the previous Government, in September 2019, to prohibit exploration for oil.

This commitment has been given statutory effect through the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021.

The Bill extends this policy to other fossil fuels, by ending the issuing of new licences for the exploration and mining of coal, lignite, and oil shale. There is currently no prospecting for these minerals in Ireland and the mining of these fuels is negligible.

Supporting the increased use of recycled or reused materials in the Irish market

The Bill will help streamline the process for decisions made by the EPA on what are known as End-of-Waste and By-Product applications.

These two processes allow, under strict environmental conditions, materials which might otherwise be treated as waste to be recycled or re-used in other applications. This can only happen where it’s safe to do so and where there is a genuine use that the recycled/re-used materials can be put to in the market. The Bill will allow the EPA to improve the application processes, so that it can avoid delays in decision making due to issues like incomplete information being provided in applications.

For example, in the construction sector, there’s significant potential to reduce the need for mining aggregates, things like crushed rock and sand and gravel that are used in concrete, by re-using what might otherwise be treated as waste material from demolition. This has to be done in a way that’s safe, in terms of the environment, human health, etc. The End-of-Waste process is the means by which we can provide those safeguards.