Tobacco companies will have to pay part of the State’s multimillion-euro street cleaning bills from New Year’s Day under new Government legislation prompted by European Union moves to cut plastic waste.
Last year, €85 million was spent by local authorities on street cleaning, including €36 million in Dublin. Cigarette butts account for half of all litter and are “the biggest litter scourge”, according to the National Litter Pollution Monitoring System.
From January, tobacco companies will be liable in arrears for part of the costs, though the full size of the bill will not be set until data is collected on the contribution cigarette butts made to the litter toll during 2023.
The levy is part of legislative changes made by Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan in July 2021 to comply with the European Union’s single-use plastic directive, which bans plastic straws, cutlery and other disposable plastics.
From January, a statutory company overseen by the Department of the Environment is to be established ensuring that producers contribute or redesign their products to abide by the Brussels directive.
Targeting cigarette butts first, the legislation will later focus on fishing gear, balloons and wet wipes under extended producer responsibility schemes that are to be established by all European Union member states.
Under the change, producers become responsible for the entire life cycle of products, including end-of-use costs. Existing examples include Repak for packaging and WEEE Ireland which helps to deal with electrical waste.
“It forces companies to rethink what they’re putting on the market and the costs involved – if they have to pay for litter clean-ups, if they have to pay for recycling,” said Bernie Kiely, a senior environment official in circular economy materials management. “What you are doing is putting that whole of life cost back on the producers who put it on the market in the first place.
Tobacco companies are liable because cigarette filters are largely made of plastics.
The Government’s Circular Economy Act has targeted plastic waste, though the State was issued with infringement action by the European Commission this year over its transposition of the plastics directive, along with 10 other member states.
The commission is concerned that some countries have failed to communicate measures necessary to implement the directive. The Department of Environment has submitted a “comprehensive reply”.