Naughten accuses environment committee of ‘greenwashing’ waste reduction Bill

Blog posting comes after committee voted down Minister’s amendment on compulsory ‘deposit and return’ of drinks containers

Denis Naughten: Some committee members had put politics before dealing with the problem of plastics. Photograph: Collins

Denis Naughten: Some committee members had put politics before dealing with the problem of plastics. Photograph: Collins

 

Denis Naughten has accused members of the Oireachtas Environment Committee of “greenwashing” after it voted down his controversial amendment on introducing a national deposit-and-return scheme on plastic bottles and aluminium cans.

In a blog posted on Tuesday evening after the committee signed off on the Green Party’s 2017 Waste Reduction Bill, the Minister for the Environment said: “What happened today . . . 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.”

The Minister claimed some committee members had decided to “put politics and the next general election before a genuine attempt to deal with the problem of plastics in our environment”.

The Bill calls for a compulsory deposit-and-return scheme (DRS) on drinks containers and a ban on single-use plastics, but the amendment Mr Naughten suggested altered the thrust of the DRS move.

It would have given him “the discretion to introduce a DRS” and “time to carry out the necessary research into a model that may be fit for purpose in Ireland and does not increase costs or have effects on the existing kerbside collection system”.

Green party leader Eamon Ryan said the amendment, if adopted, would have effectively killed the Bill. It envisages a 15 cent consumer deposit on aluminium and plastic bottles and increased industry charges for recyclables to pay for the DRS.

Mr Naughten said he had been working with committee members to try to move the 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”.

The Government has the option now of allowing it to proceed to committee stage or killing it by issuing a “money order”.

Mr Naughten added: “There was just one issue which would not allow me to ensure this Bill went to the next stage, and that was the compulsory nature of introducing a DRS. I am not opposed to a DRS in principle, but because it would cost approximately €116 million of taxpayers’ money to implement, I need to be absolutely positive it would work and be effective.”

Without a complete understanding of 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,” the Minister said.

He rejected Green Party analysis presented by leader Eamon Ryan. “The impact could be as low as a 1 per cent increase in the amount of household recycling. The introduction of a DRS may increase plastic bottle recycling rates to 75 per cent (currently it stands at 70 per cent) – and a total plastic recycling rate of 36 per cent (currently at 35 per cent).”

Spending €116 million to increase total plastic packaging recycling rates by 1 per cent while imposing a cost of an extra €1 per lift on a family’s recycling bin “would be reckless”, he said.

He had proposed a pilot DRS in Cashel, Co Tipperary. “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,” he added.

Friends of the Earth Ireland director Oisín Coghlan said the amendment was a behind-closed-doors attempt to kill the Bill. “It’s staggering the Minister is trying to scupper proposals for a DRS for plastic bottles, given the public mood on plastic waste,” he said.

He added: “Denis Naughten appears to be adopting a cordial approach to action on plastic: dilute to taste. That’s to the taste of vested interests resisting change rather than the public who clearly want to see action.

“Worse, he’s trying to do it in private by pressuring the Oireachtas Committee to change their draft report before its made public . . . it’s a ‘clean hands, dirty beaches approach’,” Mr Coghlan said.

“We use over half a million plastic bottles a day in Ireland and only recycle between 55 per cent and 70 per cent of them. In countries where they have a DRS they recycle over 90 per cent. The EU is moving to have a 90 per cent target, and the only way we will be able to meet that is if we have a national DRS,” he added.