Mr John Gormley T.D., Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government addressed the Recycling and Waste World Conference on the theme of 'Generating Energy from Residual Waste'.
The conference - which took place in the Radisson Hotel, Dublin - examined the range of technologies available to generate energy from residual waste, which could assist in achieving Ireland's diversions targets under the 1999 EU Landfill Directive, while also contributing to our renewable energy needs.
"On Tuesday I presented new figures - drawn up by experts in my department - to my Government colleagues at Cabinet, on the potential of alternative technologies and the use of thermal treatment" - said Minister Gormley.
These figures show that, based on predicted waste arisings, planned waste minimisation, recycling, composting, MBT (Mechanical Biological Treatment) and current and emerging technologies, the existing regional waste management plans provide for a very substantial over-capacity for incineration. The calculations would suggest that, with a developed MBT system, the quantity of residual waste requiring disposal other than landfill, would be reduced to some 400,000 tonnes by 2016. The existing regional plans and proposed private industry thermal treatment plants provide for over two million tonnes of incineration capacity.
When the Minister presented the latest figures to his cabinet colleagues, he also brought forward the proposals for the international review on waste management policy. This review will be one of the most comprehensive pieces of research ever on waste in Ireland. It will cover a wide range of issues - including how best to promote alternative technologies such as MBT and what standards should apply.
It will identify how best to proceed with further efforts to reduce waste levels and improve recycling rates and will also advise on how best to regulate the sector and what reforms may be needed in this regard.
In addition, it will also address the social and societal issues surrounding waste management - including waivers, recycling costs and universal service.
The Minister's officials will be establishing a steering group in the coming weeks and it is hoped that the review - to be carried out by independent consultants - will be underway by early next year. Other measures - including the proximity principle and the power to direct waste - will also be examined in the review.
"In dealing with our waste, we have made considerable progress in some areas in the last decade. We have closed down many of our older and poorly-run landfills. We have increased our recycling rate from near zero - ten years ago - to 35 per cent last year. Through pay-by-weight and other measures, we have also ensured that growth in waste volumes has begun to taper-off. In short, we have embraced the mantra of reduce, reuse and recycle - but, we have huge challenges ahead" - said the Minister.
Outlining the challenging targets contained in the Programme for Government in relation to waste management, the Minister stated that - "the fundamentals of waste management policy are unchanged. The cornerstones of prevention, minimisation, re-use, recycling and final disposal, will still apply. But, incineration is no longer the cornerstone of our national waste policy. I aim to ensure that we have a waste policy that works and ensures a sustainable society and economy in this country" - Minister Gormley added.
"Previous policy and its over-reliance on incineration - exemplified in many regional waste management plans - is not working. It has not delivered the necessary infrastructure. But I am positive that the shift to alternative technologies, such as composting and mechanical biological treatment, is the way forward" - continued the Minister.
Despite the excellent progress in recent years, the Minister noted that meeting the targets to divert biodegradable waste from landfill - required under the 1999 EU Landfill Directive - and avoiding the risk of infringement proceedings before the European Court of Justice, with the potential for fines, is one of the key challenges that Ireland faces in the coming years.
"Under the landfill directive, we are we are committed to reducing the amount of waste going to landfill by 2010. It will mean reducing - or finding alternative treatment for - at least 700,000 tonnes of waste by the end of 2010" - said Minister Gormley.
The Minister also noted that, while all technologies have a part to play in an integrated waste management system - "I firmly believe that we can achieve our diversion targets without an over reliance on incineration. The Programme for Government copper-fastens this move away from a dependence on incineration or landfill, by aiming for world class standards in terms of recycling levels and greater emphasis on technologies to mechanically and biologically manage our waste".
Finally, the Minister expressed confidence that, by working together, the Government, the local authorities and the private sector can continue to deliver the solutions that are required to deliver a world-class integrated waste management system - while also contributing to our renewable energy needs and the necessary steps needed to mitigate the effects of climate change.