Waste management to be overhauled as part of move to circular economy, committee told

State to act on reduction of food and construction waste as part of new Bill

Transitioning Ireland to a circular economy will have far-reaching consequences for manufacturing and lead to major changes in waste-management practices, enabling scale up of recycling and reuse of materials, the Oireachtas on Environment and Climate Action Committee has been told.

Tied into a national circular economy strategy due to be announced shortly and the Circular Economy Bill 2021 will be a move to reduce food waste by 50 per cent by 2030, big reductions in construction waste and an ending of new licences for exploration and mining of coal, lignite, and oil shale.

Outlining the thrust of the approach, Leslie Carberry, principal officer at the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications said the transition would replace the linear "take, make, waste" economic model with a much more sustainable one – the committee is undertaking pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill.

“The circular economy has the potential to significantly reduce dependency on primary resource extraction and complex global supply chains, thereby strengthening State and business resilience in the face of supply shocks,” he underlined.


"Meeting our climate targets also requires a transformation in the way we produce and use goods. Therefore, making less – or making with fewer resources – will play a key role in climate action," Mr Carberry added.

The Bill would include new powers to introduce environmental levies on single-use items and to prohibit the placing on the market of environmentally harmful products, he confirmed.

Waste enforcement is to be strengthened, including allowing local authorities to deploy technologies such as CCTV more widely to tackle illegal dumping and littering. The Bill will help drive better segregation of waste in the commercial sector, where EPA statistics indicate 70 per cent of the material placed in the general waste bin should be in recycling or organic bins, he said.

Richard Bruton of Fine Gael underlined the immense significance of the legislation in cutting materials that have negative environmental impact from supply chains. But it needed firm targets and a budget commensurate with the challenge. That should range across the construction, retail and food sectors, he believed, backed by clear sectoral plans and timelines to deliver results.

Senator Alice Mary Higgins (Ind) said that while the Bill had a strong focus on better waste management "and hope that consumers will change", there was not enough emphasis on "reduction", while implications for manufacturing and design must be made clearer.

Senator Lynn Boylan (SF) strongly endorsed the need for statutory targets, as her experience with the introduction of the Single Use Plastics Directive had indicated "industry was unwilling to change unless forced to do so". Ireland should follow the EU in not allowing "recovery" operations in the form of incinerators and cement kilns benefit from a new circular economy fund, she said.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times