The alternative to the waste crisis

Socialist Voice June 2003

There is a waste crisis. It is not an inevitable consequence of a growing economy. The problems stem from years of inaction by successive governments and the lack of political will to deal with viable alternatives to waste management.

The Minister for the Environment has massive powers to target waste at source, but instead of exercising these powers, the government merely altered the law, to give un-elected County Managers the right to site dumps and now incinerators wherever they like. Rather than listening to the very real problems experienced by residents living near dumps and planned incinerators, get them rammed through anyway and ignore the alternatives.

Ireland is the most dependent country on landfill in the EU. In 1998 91% of waste was landfilled. More stringent environmental controls, the expiration of existing dumps and greater community awareness and opposition to new sites, has reduced the number of dumps in existence. Out of the problems with opening new dumps, incineration is often put forward as a " quick fix " solution. Burn it and it will go away, eliminating the need for landfill. This is completely false - the waste is merely turned into a potentially more dangerous cocktail of dioxins etc. with dangerous environmental and health consequences. The enormous capital cost of building and running an incinerator means it needs more and more waste in order to be economically viable. This directly contradicts a policy of waste reduction and re-use.

Householders are not polluters or waste producers, we are waste receivers. Household waste is a tiny minority of the overall waste produced in society - 1.2 million tonnes out of a total of 80 million. We do not ask for all the packaging that accompanies our purchases. Experience shows that if recycling facilities are made available they will be used. Bottle banks are bursting to capacity and the green bin is widely used.

Real solution

There needs to be a total change in the way waste is dealt with. Rather than investment concentrated on waste disposal, policies implemented at dealing with reducing waste at source, and reusing materials, must be introduced to minimise the need for disposal. Over 85% of waste is recyclable or reusable. Providing facilities to separate and treat these materials must be introduced. The remainder should be eliminated from the waste stream through government legislation or prohibitive taxation.

Community action and political pressure aimed at preventing the opening of new waste disposal facilities, while agitating for real alternatives, is the only way to ensure that waste is dealt with comprehensively and not to the detriment of our health and environment. The political establishment is guilty of criminal negligence on this issue. Don't let them away with it.

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