Report by Heike O’Sullivan
Regular readers of the Kenmare News, your favourite free monthly magazine, may have seen my report published in our April issue where I gave out about Kerry County Council’s nonsensical decision to introduce charges for many of the recyclable materials we drop into our local Waste Transfer Station (WTS) because government grants towards recycling costs to the authority have all but dried up. Other European countries do their utmost to encourage people to recycle; in Kerry we are now made pay for paper and plastic when we hand-deliver it to our bring centres. You just couldn’t make it up!
When Kerry County Council’s John Breen, Director of Sustainable Communities and Quality of Life presented our democratically elected Councillors with the fact of these newly introduced charges on 27th March last, the opposition they voiced at that Council meeting fell on deaf ears. Councillors then wrote to Environment Minister Denis Naughten TD about the issue, via the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government but to date, no reply has been received from Minister Naughten. At the following Council meeting held on 24th April, Killarney based Councillor Michael Gleeson highlighted that “the public are not receptive to those charges”, adding that he is looking forward to the Council’s review of the recycling charges in October. Unfortunately, by then the many tourists to our beautiful part of Ireland will already have seen (and hopefully not photographed) the waste and litter caused by the County Council’s ill-timed charges.
Since Kerry County Council introduced bring-centre recycling charges on 3rd April last, not just I have noticed an increase in littering along on roadsides. Main tourist roads such as the scenic ‘Tunnel Road’ between Kenmare and Glengarriff have been seen to sport the odd burst waste bag, contents strewn around by wind or crows. I’ve also seen such terribly unsightly rubbish on the stretch of road between Clonkeen and Glenflesk on the main Killarney road, currently travelled by thousands of tourists. Councillor Maura Healy-Rae told me that she is contacted “on a daily basis about illegal dumping in the area”.
Whilst Minister Naughten has cut grants to local authorities towards the cost of recycling facilities, thereby causing the introduction of Kerry County Council’s recycling charge and indirectly contributing to littering not just in our county, the Irish Times reported on 29th May that he has announced to spend €1.3m “to crack down on the growing problem of illegal dumping”. Huh? According to the Irish Times, Mr Naughten raged that “illegal dumping is environmental and ecological treason. It has a huge impact on communities. The funding being used for clean ups could be used elsewhere.” Say, for instance, on recycling grants to local authorities? Only saying…
Speaking to the radio show Newstalk Breakfast, Minister Naughten said the extra funding would enable extra monitoring through CCTV, drone technology and public awareness campaigns. Although the Green Party does not enjoy any great support in Kerry and especially those of us engaged in farming activities are rather wary of the party’s environmental policies, I was happy to learn that – whilst Denis Naughton plans to take to the skies to prevent littering – Green Party leader, Eamon Ryan TD has his feet firmly on the ground. Although I’m almost sure he didn’t come across the April issue of the Kenmare News where I suggested that Ireland should introduce a bottle deposit system, Eamon launched his party’s Waste Reduction Bill 2017 on 15th June last which, if passed, would introduce a deposit refund scheme for glass and plastic bottles. After publication of my report back in April, I’ve heard from several locals that a glass bottle deposit system existed in Ireland many moons ago and – by all accounts – worked well. Indeed, the system was reportedly invented by an Irish company, A&R Thwaites & Co, in Dublin in 1799 who paid two shillings a dozen for returned soda water bottles. Today, the vast majority of European countries have long passed so called Container Deposit Legislation into law, with the UK apparently being a notable exception.
It is high time, in my opinion, that Ireland catch up with the rest of Europe on the recycling front. It’s not exactly rocket science; we would just have to copy what is working well elsewhere. At a time when our Government claims to work hard on job creation, the establishment of a properly organised waste and recycling industry has the very real potential of generating many, many jobs as has happened elsewhere in Europe. Personally, I continue to be exasperated when I hear politicians referring to the ‘Polluter Pays Principle’ when they lay the blame of rubbish generation at the end consumer’s door. Like I said back in April, the proper term for this is ‘Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)’. EU legislation already provides for it and it moves the main responsibility of dealing with waste to the producer/manufacturer. What part of ‘producer’ do our politicians not understand?
In the context of packaging waste, for instance, almost twenty years ago (Sept. 1998) the then Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Noel Dempsey TD wrote in his Waste Management Policy Statement that the Waste Management Act 1996 “clearly reflects the importance which must be attached to waste minimisation and recovery”. He noted that the Act imposes the obligation on the manufacturing industry to prevent or minimise waste production and “provides considerable regulatory powers in support of this objective”. Yet, almost twenty years on, the Government still permits, for instance, black plastic moulded trays be used to package a wide range of groceries from biscuits to meat and poultry to vegetables. According to Kerry County Council, these are not considered suitable for recycling and must not be placed into their EcoSense recycling bags which we now have to use and purchase for the princely sum of €2 each. Well, then why are we forced to buy these trays together with our food? Why aren’t they simply prohibited? What nonsense!
Bring-centre recycling charges? I think it’s a load of rubbish!