What are the main challenges facing waste management companies in the year ahead, given the state of the economy?
As with all businesses in the current difficult economic climate, the focus is on managing costs and securing jobs. For the waste industry there is the added difficulty of considerable uncertainty around Government waste policy that undermines many planned investments.
What are the challenges to meeting EU legal requirements?
Ireland has already shown it is more than capable of meeting EU waste targets and challenges, not least in the areas of WEEE and plastics recovery, where we have already passed EU targets. Some areas will remain a challenge, for example end-of-life vehicles (ELVs), as noted in the recent Environmental Protection Agency’s National Waste Report.
In many instances, targets set at EU level fail to take into account the social, cultural and economic factors of individual member states. It is important that the Irish Government understands and communicates the particular characteristics of the Irish waste market, ensuring there remains flexibility in achieving targets. At EU level, the Irish Waste Management Association (IWMA) inputs into the process through FEAD, the European federation of waste management associations.
How does the waste management sector plan to face these challenges?
Our success has been a result of close co-operation between the various stakeholders: consumers, producers, waste management companies, Government departments and agencies. We must continue this co-ordinated and inclusive approach if we are to continue to meet, and even move beyond, future challenges that are likely to come from Europe.
What will be the IWMA’s role in all of this?
The IWMA provides a single voice for the waste management industry in Ireland. It has more than 10 years’ experience working with Government departments and agencies, providing a single voice for the industry and bringing to the table the vast experience of our members.
What was your reaction to the publication of the Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) 2011 Bill?
The IWMA was concerned that the maximum levy rate could be applied from an early stage. This would be extremely disruptive to the waste market, resulting in an immediate increase in waste charges rather than encouraging a gradual transition to a range of alternative waste options.
The IWMA is firmly opposed to the imposition of additional levies under the current system that simply increase costs for business. In our submission, we set out proposed levies that are more likely to protect the consumer and provide the necessary driver for the development of alternatives while driving waste up the waste hierarchy.
What do you think about what the Bill is proposing for levies? Do you think it is right that incineration levies are set at a comparable level with landfill levies?
Unfortunately, the draft text of the Bill did not provide any indication of the structure or rate of the levies. It did provide for an increase in levies by €50 (£43) per tonne per year, but in the absence of any structure or timeline, this poses an unacceptable risk to the waste management sector. A phase-in timetable is needed to provide the necessary long-term certainty to the waste management sector required for investment in key waste infrastructure.
The IWMA’s submission set out proposals for the introduction of landfill levies, including implementation dates and differentiated levies on untreated municipal solid waste (MSW) and stabilised biowaste. Our proposals on incineration levy rates are based on throughput/capacity.
What effect do you think implementation of the Bill will have?
As I mentioned earlier, the draft text of the Bill did not provide any indication of the structure or rate of the proposed levies. However, in line with Ireland’s Landfill Directive targets, there is a clear and immediate requirement for levies to provide the right signals that encourage the reduction in the amount of untreated MSW disposed of to landfill. The rates and structure of the levies can help to ensure that options higher in the waste hierarchy - such as prevention and preparation for reuse and recycling - are not put at a competitive disadvantage compared with options lower in the hierarchy.
The levies can encourage energy from waste ahead of landfill, but not at the expense of recycling, re-use or prevention. The levies can be designed to encourage behavioural change while mitigating the cost of waste management for consumers and industry.
Some people say that the current landfill levy is too low and out of sync with Europe. Do you agree?
Some would say they are too high! A simple comparison with Europe does not adequately reflect the characteristics and reality of the Irish market. The IWMA’s position has always been to recognise the important role of levies in directing waste up the hierarchy, with support dependent on certainty and long-term clarity.
What is your stance on the Poolbeg incinerator?
We have consistently argued that what is proposed at Poolbeg is simply too big. Incineration is part of the solution to Ireland’s waste management but must be appropriately sized in the market. We believe that an incinerator of 300,000 tonnes would be the right size for the Dublin region.
Do you think the councils will be able to provide enough waste to make it viable?
Each of the four Dublin local authorities [Dublin City Council, Fingal County Council, South Dublin County Council and Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council] has contracted to send waste to the Poolbeg incinerator. Now it appears that two of these councils will no longer be in control of municipal waste and, in accordance with a High Court judgement of December 2009, neither will they have the authority to direct the private operators to deliver this waste to Poolbeg.
One of Ireland’s successes has been in its collection of WEEE. How do you think this has been achieved?
Initial success was built on early engagement with all stakeholders, including the IWMA. Continued success has resulted from ongoing engagement, monitoring and input from industry.
What is your take on the decisions currently being made in Europe about increasing WEEE targets? Do you think it is better to set a target of kg collected per head of population or as a percentage of whatever is placed on the market?
More challenging targets can be achieved, but must reflect economic reality. It’s also important to ensure the implementation of existing legislation/targets before introducing higher targets.
What are IWMA’s plans for the future?
Efforts will focus on ensuring the new Government quickly introduces a much-needed national waste policy. In recent years it has been investment by the private waste operators that has delivered a better waste management service at a lower cost. Further investment is needed. To secure this, some degree of certainty on national waste policy is essential.