One of the themes in the discussion about the Poolbeg incinerator is that it is perfectly in line with the official waste policy of the Department of the Environment while being firmly opposed by the Minister of the Environment. The Minister has now submitted a new Statement of Waste Policy for consultation.
The Statement is rather short, 26 pages (with only 13 pages devoted to policy measures), and not very specific in most places and often ambiguous if not muddled. Presumably, this means that the new waste policy is still some years into the future, and may not be ready during the term of the 30th Dail Eireann.
The Statement is firmly based on the Eunomia report, and does not even acknowledge the existence of the Gorecki report.
The first four policy measures aim to strengthen the role of the state, the counties, and the private sector (at whose expense, one wonders); to decrease costs and increase quality (always a great plan); and to achieve cost-efficacy by imposing additional constraints (a mathematical nonsense).
There is a proposal for the separate collection of six, perhaps seven streams of household waste: clothes and perhaps glass would collected at the kerbside (in lieu of the current bring banks); paper, aluminum, and plastic would be separated at sources (instead of mixed); and brown bins (for food waste) would be rolled out nationwide.
There is to be an arbitrary cap on residual waste (black bins), with financial penalties for counties that do not meet these targets (on average). County councils may respond by tacitly encouraging people to stuff their waste in green, brown, yellow, red, blue and purple bins instead. (There will be a tax credit cq supplemental benefit for the colourblind.)
The Statement reiterates the plan to raise landfill levies by 150% between now and 2012. As there is an EU-imposed cap on landfill, a system of tradeable permits would have been a better choice of instrument.
The Statement invokes the polluter pays principle and calls for an (unspecified) incineration levy that is unrelated to its emissions. There will be another attempt to declare incineration ash to be hazardous waste (it is not). In a separate proposal, there will be an arbitrary cap on incineration.
There will be arbitrary targets for recycling, but no policies to ensure that these are met.
Producers will carry a greater share of the cost of waste management. Newspapers and magazines are mentioned as an example.
There will be an awareness campaign to convince people to waste less.
And plenty of jobs will be created, innovation stimulated, and we will all become terribly rich.
On the one hand, the proposal is an improvement as the Minister now follows the proper procedures of a parliamentary democracy, and some of the hare-brained ideas in the international review have been dropped. On the other hand, the Statement itself is weak. Little thought has gone into costs, incentives and practicalities. The Statement strictly follows the green dogma of the waste hierarchy, a lexicographic ordering of options for waste disposal.
There is also an opportunity missed. The current Irish waste policy is sound (at least on paper). The main exception is household waste collection, with duplication of services and private operators competing with public operators-cum-regulators. The International Review recommended that this be replaced with a system of auctioned concessions, one of the few recommendations that it shared with the Gorecki report. The Statement did not adopt this recommendation, offering only vague language.