Reduce, re-use and recycle is the antidote to illegal dumping

‘Reduce, re-use and recycle’ is the antidote to illegal dumping. Evening Herald 28th March 2001.

“No Superdump in Fair Fingal”, “Toxic Incinerator No Way”. At times it seems like every corner of the country has banners on display objecting to waste being dumped on its doorstep. The discoveries of illegal hospital waste dumps in West Wicklow and North Dublin in recent days have shocked us all. We are slowly waking up to the challenge of managing the enormous waste mountain that we are creating.

Ireland came late to the ‘throw-away society’, but we have embraced it with enthusiasm. From plastic cola bottles to takeaway burger boxes the trappings of a disposable culture surround us. It seems like everything is used once and then dumped. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Why was there no outcry when dairies got rid of reusable glass milk bottles? Why isn’t there a ten pence (or should we say cents) refundable deposit on drinks containers? This would encourage recycling. What ever happened to the proposed tax on plastic bags? The answer seems to be that waste is not an issue until it lands on our own doorstep. Hopefully the discovery of illegal waste dumps close to home will motivate our politicians to take action. However it seems more likely that the threat of prosecution from Europe will concentrate their minds. Last summer, Brussels warned the Irish Government that it faces prosecution over its failure to translate European Waste Directives into Irish law. After the recent discoveries of waste dumps this now seems even more likely.

Last year the Government allocated £11 million for recycling, but Noel Dempsey, the Minister for the Environment now tells us that only £3 million of this has been spent. Clearly something curious is going on. The Minister may argue that County Councils have dragged their heels in producing Waste Plans, and this is part of the problem. However it has taken five years for the Minister to introduce regulations under the Act controlling waste licensing. This delay has allowed unscrupulous waste operators to run rings around the spirit and the letter of the law. Without the regulations provided for in the 1996 Waste Act it has been difficult to prosecute many of the rogue waste operators. This illegal dumping has apparently still not completely ceased. County Managers have failed to investigate hundreds of illegal dumps around the country. How is that these dumps are only coming to light now? All those who turned a blind eye to this activity should be pursued. It seems that an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ attitude’ has prevailed. Councils must devote more resources to prosecuting offenders.

We must provide a seamless chain of responsibility in the handling of our waste. From hospital boards to waste firms to ourselves as citizens we must all take full responsibility for our waste. We have to ensure that people learn the “three R’s” of proper waste management. “Reduce, re-use, recycle” is the key to tackling this important environmental issue. Incineration has been proposed as part of the solution, but even a ’state of the art’ plant in Frankfurt, Germany was shut down recently for excess emissions.

New regulations are also required. We should bring back the traditional glass milk bottle and thus reduce the amount of rubbish going to landfill sites. Our laws should encourage reusable containers. Manufacturers should be made responsible for the recycling of their products. Designers should think about re-use when products are at the drawing board, rather than when the rubbish starts piling up. Architects should specify more recycled materials in their buildings.

County Managers and Councillors must also encourage waste reduction. Dublin Corporation is set to introduce a reduced waste charge for those who opt for a smaller wheelie bin. Other Councils such as Dún Laoghaire Rathdown should follow their example. All householders should be offered recycling facilities on their doorstep, instead of being forced to travel long distances to bottle banks. Local Authorities should also employ more Environmental Enhancement Officers. Their job is to encourage and educate everyone in how to reduce the amount of waste that they produce. This is a better approach than washing their hands of their responsibilities in waste management.

The hospital waste issue demands a full Inquiry. The Dáil should ensure that a full criminal Investigation is held into of the circumstances that created all of these recently discovered hazardous waste dumps. Our waste management laws must also be reformed. This would ensure that hospital and other waste is minimised and treated by safe modern non-incineration technology as close to its source as possible. This should halt the creation of more illegal dumps. We must insist on implementing waste minimisation plans. We need full traceability and accountability for all waste. However when the disposal of hospital waste leads to a flagrant and systematic breaching of the law for over twenty years it is time for action. As the saying goes, ‘Wilful waste makes woeful want’. ENDS

Evening Herald 28th March 2001, this page updated 10th January 2018