Bottle return scheme could be catastrophic, says Environment Minister

Green Party Bill proposes ban on plastic cups, plates and cutlery

A beach strewn with waste. One million plastic bottles are bought every minute around the world. Photograph: Getty

A beach strewn with waste. One million plastic bottles are bought every minute around the world. Photograph: Getty

 

A deposit and return scheme for drinks containers could turn into a financial catastrophe because of the potential cost of implementation, Minister for Environment Denis Naughten has said.

The Green Party Waste Reduction Bill proposes a ban on plastic cups, plates and cutlery and a scheme whereby drinks bottles and containers could be returned to retailers by consumers for the repayment of a deposit on the purchase.

There was overwhelming support for the legislation which the Minister has agreed to allow go to the Oireachtas environment committee for scrutiny.

Mr Naughten said however that although Green Party leader Eamon Ryan suggested the deposit scheme could cost €276 million, a study investigating the introduction of a similar project in the UK put the cost at €790 million a year.

“These are enormous amounts. I believe that before we spend even a fraction of this on its introduction we need to ascertain what the benefits would be.”

Labour leader Brendan Howlin said that in a number of EU countries a drink bottle deposit return scheme worked and recycling averaged more than 90 per cent. He said Ireland recycled only 40 per cent of plastic bottles.

Coffee cups were recyclable but there is no recycling plant in Ireland capable of recycling them.

But Mr Naughten said that Ireland has one of the highest drink container recycling rates in the EU. “Glass is at 86 per cent which means only 14 per cent of glass is not recycled. Over 84 per cent of plastic – 237,000 tonnes was recovered and recycled in 2015.”

He added that based on Mr Ryan’s costs and Mr Howlin’s recycling rates “we will spend €276 million to collect an additional four of out 100 glass bottles and six out of every 100 plastics.”

The legislation was introduced in the Dáil as a Private Member’s Bill in cooperation with the Labour Party,who allowed it to be discussed during their allocated debate time.

In raising questions about the costs of implementing the Bill, the Minister referred to a 2009 waste management policy review, commissioned by then minister for environment and Green party leader John Gormley.

The report did not support a scheme because the costs could not “be said to unequivocally justify the benefits”.

The Minister said he was looking at a scheme under consideration in Scotland where the cost would be over €88 million at a minimum.

He said it would be “financially reckless” for him to proceed with its introduction without proper scrutiny of the cost implications for the taxpayer, employers, retailers and customers. “I will not create another Ppars or another e-voting machine fiasco,” he said of the €55 million cost of controversial voting machines and their storage, which were eventually sold for €77,000.

The Ppars scheme was a controversial computer payroll system for the health service that cost an estimated €113 million including €70 million for consultants.

The Minister acknowledged the need to reduce the amount of plastic waste in the environment. One million plastic bottles are bought every minute around the world, he said.

Mr Naughten also said Irish people discard “an incredible 80 per cent of what we produce, after a single use”. He said two million disposable coffee cups go into landfill every day.