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Full steam ahead?

An Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) 2011 Bill was published on 11 January, only weeks before the Irish general election was held on 25 February. Only time will tell if the new Fine Gael-led government will pick up the Bill but, even if it does, it will probably take some time to do so.

The only certainty the Department of the Environment would give at time of going to press was that it would increase the landfill levy by €5 by April, in line with current legislation.

Under the Bill, ministers would be allowed to introduce levies for incineration facilities of up to €120 a tonne of waste disposed of by means of a waste recovery facility. Such levies would then be payable to the local authority. The Bill also provides more flexibility in the setting of landfill and plastic bag levies.

Publishing the Bill, then minister for the environment, heritage and local government John Gormley said it would contribute to ending an over-emphasis on residual waste management and help drive waste in Ireland up the hierarchy towards recycling and re-use.

“We would support a significant landfill tax increase because we cannot compete with a hole in the ground”

Reaction from stakeholders within the waste management industry has been varied. Recycling company Panda director John Dunne is “delighted to see the appropriate levies coming down the track, which will make higher order recovery/recycling projects viable, creating jobs and helping to save the planet we live on”.

He says technology has developed to the point where, if the will was there, nothing needs to be dumped or burned: “Everything can be recovered, re-used or recycled - everything. But each at its own price, and that is where the levies come in. The higher the levy, the more we divert from landfill or incineration. There is a limit, though. We need to stay competitive within world markets if we are to maintain exports and incentivise foreign investment.”

Dunne believes the only way to drive waste up the hierarchy is through the responsible use of levies, with incineration levels being set at a lower rate than landfill levies “because it is a better solution than landfill”.

“If they were to increase the levy to an amount comparable with the UK, we would immediately announce 50 new jobs”

If the new Government does go ahead and implement the Bill, he believes it will result in increased investment in waste recovery and recycling processes. “It will probably stop the proposed incinerator at Poolbeg in Dublin city, which should be stopped because it is over-sized and in the wrong place,” he says.

Covanta, the US waste firm behind the proposed 600,000-tonne a year energy-from-waste (EfW) facility at Poolbeg, did not wish to make a comment.

Indaver Ireland, which plans to build incinerators in Co Meath and Co Cork, gave a guarded welcome to the Bill’s proposal to introduce a levy on waste going to incineration. But it says the public debate about the planned legislation, which concentrated on the effect it would have on the proposed Poolbeg incinerator, had ignored the problem of low-cost selling of waste to landfills.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is investigating 16 infractions by local authorities and other landfill operators over the sale of waste at what it believes are unsustainably low prices. Under the terms of their licence, landfill operators must charge enough to cover the cost of maintaining the plant for decades after it stops accepting waste - up to 30 years in many cases.

More than 1.6 million tonnes of waste were land- filled last year at 48 open sites across Ireland. The EPA launched its probe amid concerns over a sudden fall in gate fees being charged by some landfill operators.

Indaver’s €140m EfW facility near Duleek, Co Meath, is under construction and the firm is planning a similar facility in Ringaskiddy, Co Cork. The 200,000 tonne a year plant in Co Meath is due to commence operation in June this year.

Jackie Keaney, Indaver Ireland’s commercial director for municipal waste, says: “We would be very supportive of a significant increase in the landfill tax, the reason being we cannot compete with a hole in the ground. The price of landfill has gone so far that a bigger-than-anticipated landfill tax is now needed to balance the other infrastructure.

“Because there was excess landfill capacity, the price of landfill went down. It started at €200 and went all the way down to €25 or €30, and now they need a tax to bring it back up.”

Indaver has mixed views on incineration levies, however, and would not like to see them introduced until there is “sufficient waste-to-energy capacity”.

“Taxing landfill and incineration equally is completely meaningless,” says Keaney. “There has to be a significant enough differential. The only reason we would have objected to an EfW tax was if it was brought in during the first year of operation and if it was brought in at a rate that was far too high.”

Greenstar welcomes the proposal to increase landfill levies as an incentive to increase recycling. Head of strategic planning Margaret Heavey says: “However, we share the reservations of the Irish Business and Employers Confederation and Ireland’s Government policy advisory board for enterprise and science (Forfas), both of which consider the timeframe for the introduction of the levies to be overly short and harmful to national competitiveness.

“We agree that the landfill levy increase should happen over a period of, say, five years, which would be more affordable for businesses and householders and more in line with how similar levies were introduced in the UK. We would welcome higher landfill levies on those landfills with sub-optimum greenhouse gas management than on those which implement good gas management.”

Greenstar also welcomes the proposal to introduce incineration levies. “We believe the introduction of such a levy is necessary to ensure that recyclables are not drawn to incineration and that recycling and re-use have priority over incineration,” says Heavey.

Greyhound Recycling & Recovery is hoping that the new Government will increase the landfill levy immediately by €40. “We need to get a bit of clarity in the industry to move forward,” says Greyhound director Michael Buckley. “Everyone wants to invest and move forward in recycling and recovery, but the below-cost selling and the Government’s inaction in putting up the landfill levy is putting a lot of jobs at risk.

“There is an opportunity to create a lot of green jobs here. If they were to increase the levy to an amount comparable with the UK, we would immediately announce 50 new jobs. We need to go up by €36 to be on a par with the UK.

“We’re actively looking at the moment at importing waste from outside the Republic of Ireland - that’s just to try to keep our facilities going - because the material that should be going into our facilities is going into landfill.”

A Dublin City Council spokesman says the council welcomed any legislation which attempts to properly regulate the waste business, “but feels that elements of the Bill are unfairly targeted against waste-to-energy facilities, particularly those involving waste recovery rather than waste disposal”. A system of levies which realistically reflects the relative position on the waste hierarchy of the various methods of dealing with
waste is required.

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