Environ Conference Token reference to Circular Economy

Minister Denis Naughten TD,  addressed the attendees at Environ 2017, AIT Athlone, today April 10th 2017. The Circular Economy was not high on his list of priorities.

In his rambling speech he offered just a single reference to the Circular Economy.  We re-publish his words below ….

Circular economy section of his speech.

”Responding to Climate Change is only one element of this government’s commitment to the concept of a sustainable economy. As I’ve already mentioned, managing our resources in a way that protects and preserves our environment is essential, and it can also save costs for businesses and consumers.The concept of a Circular Economy is now globally recognised.  It proposes the possibility to live well and prosper if we move away from the traditional model of ‘take-make-dispose’ and instead embrace waste as a resource; a resource to be reused, re-made and re-imagined.

By reusing items and materials, we can support local training and jobs in repair, refurbishment and retail.  We reduce the costs of waste collection and disposal and we reduce the need to import more costly fuels and materials.

But currently, we discard 4 out of every 5 items that we produce after one use and we recycle only 1 g out of every 100 of the valuable rare earth metals that we use in products.

That is why I am focusing on a number of practical actions related to resource efficiency and the Circular Economy.

For example, I am addressing the scourge of illegal dumping which I see as environmental and economic treason.  I recently announced an anti-dumping initiative to provide financial support to community groups and to equip local authority officers with the tools required to effectively pursue and charge those responsible for illegally dumping including the use of drone technology.  I am pleased to say that already the scheme has been oversubscribed so I intend to increase the funding available for this initiative.

I have also made the problem of food waste a priority for my Department. By tackling food waste we can address food poverty, sustainable consumption of food and reduce landfill.  We have set about tackling food waste from three strategic positions – production, retail and at home. I set up the Retail Action Group chaired by retail expert Eamonn Quinn which brings together the main supermarkets in an effort to come up with new solutions from the retail perspective and an awareness campaign is underway targeting householders.”

While his aspirations are very laudable and the Government’s belated conversion to Circular Economy (CE) and Zero Waste thinking is very welcome, there is a paucity of ambition, real action and concrete projects on the ground to change our consumption patterns. This Government has not yet fully implemented and enforced the EU Landfill Directive and imposed separate Food Waste collection on a national scale. They are pulling back from imposing real cost recovery charges on Food Waste collection due to popular anger against increased collection charges.

His intervention to date and what is planned is merely superficial window dressing. Policing illegal dumping should be a norm everywhere, not a special initiative. We expect normal enforcement to be done as routine. If the government, EPA, Co Council staff etc were doing their jobs they would not need community volunteers involved.

Having a bunch of retail consultants and entrepreneurs discuss food retail changes in isolation is missing the point of a connected circular economy. It addressed the tail end of the pipe (distribution and sale), similar to the old school linear model of consumption.

The depth of changes needed here should reflect the Food Waste hierarchy. Actions at higher levels make the biggest difference and this applies to all Waste issues.

Food Waste Hierarchy

More fundamental and holistic action is needed to address the designer/developer/creator, producer, distributor and consumer mindset that has delivered such a wasteful environment from ‘field to fork’ and back and it extends way beyond food waste.

Zero Waste Alliance Ireland (ZWAI) is actively engaged with Food Waste elimination projects and collaborates with Equipment suppliers to offer Aerobic Food Waste Digestion solutions.  The biggest issue is at the higher level- consumption patterns and education of both consumer and supplier to avoid waste in the first instance.

Real concerns

One of the principal matters of serious concern for Zero Waste Alliance Ireland (ZWAI) over a period of many years is the acceptance of the high amount of discarded materials and objects, which may be currently regarded as wastes, but which are potentially recyclable but not recycled here. These are exported from Ireland to other countries for processing or disposal. As a consequence, these materials are lost resources to Ireland, and the jobs which would be created by reprocessing and remanufacturing are also lost to us. More critically new repair skills, CE design thinking and re-manufacturing process skills that would create new technological solutions have not been developed here. This puts us at a disadvantage to other, more Circular economies, where these new age skills are now being developed.

Canada shows how.

Take the example of the Canadian province of Nova Scotia. As far back as  1989 they had decided to embark on a policy of diverting 50% of waste from landfill year-on-year, thereby avoiding the need to construct of more landfills. The Canadian policy on waste management emphasised that resource conservation, materials efficiency, waste prevention, and the re-use and recycling of materials are all integral components of a sustainable economy. Target Zero Canada1 had suggested at that time that making material and energy efficiency a tenet of the Canadian economy was an essential precondition both for achieving zero waste and for ensuring long-term economic and environmental health. Unfortunately, these benefits were not generally recognised in conventional accounting mechanisms and measures of progress, with the result that these mechanisms and measures were sending contrary messages.

In Ireland, the very similar measures of progress which we use have also failed to show the value to society of re-use, repair and recycling. But while other countries have made considerable progress towards “Zero Waste” or the development of what is now known as “The Circular Economy”, Ireland has lagged behind and has achieved apparently high “recycling rates” only by exporting large volumes of potentially recyclable materials to other countries.

It’s now time for real action in Ireland, on a scale much greater and much deeper than the Minister timidly suggests.

So what’s next?

Let’s see some real investment in consumer education and behavioural changes by an education, taxation and incentive approach (carrot and stick) that surpasses the limited Plastic Bag campaign.

Let’s start with a ban on single-use disposable containers by imposing a punitive tax on them (e.g. fast food containers, paper coffee cups

There are many other areas the Government can act top accelerate our adoption of a Zero Waste lifestyle but space is limited here to discuss further. Think about the following however as a parting thought.


  1. Hold Competitions: Target designers for new process techniques, novel re-use applications (young scientist type events) to unleash the creative talent we have.
  2. Run funded Education campaigns – consumers/ schools  (schools competitions also for projects)
  3. Finance Public awareness campaigns (social media, low-cost publicity channels) e.g. wage a media war on disposables
  4. Ask the EPA to seek more research tenders and calls for novel solutions to re-work, repair, re-design and re-use solutions.

Medium cost:

  1. Pass legislative actions to favour repair, re-work through incentives, vat rate reduction, refunds etc.
  2. Accelerate a Green Public procurement policy to include reworked, recycled, repaired items (with min % quantities bought) to create a market for the greener goods on sale.
  3. Empower Recycling, re-use schemes through local /national financial incentives to operators e.g. bottle re-use (grant aid operators of plants that wash/re-use, re-distribute). Incentivise producers of liquids to use glass rather than less recyclable/re-useable materials.
  4. Offer free or subsidised Infrastructure for CE companies (warehouses, plants, sites, grants).e.g. re-use, sharing sites, non-profits, community groups for CE activities.
  5. Change C&D waste treatment by favouring deconstruction programmes (training, support to firms  engaged in deconstruction sector)
  6. Offer incentives to consumers (subsidies to favour re-useable products, trade-ins, support retailers to offer used stock in their retail outlets e.g. no rates on space used for recycled sales items so that every retailer can become a new /used shop rather than just a Second-Hand store). This also applies to houses built from recycled materials.

Let’s get serious about taking real and well-funded actions to embrace the Circular Economy. Time is not on our side. We need more ambitious politicians. let’s hope they step up to the challenge.

On 21 November 2000, Target Zero Canada, a network of Earth Day Canada, launched the program “Zero Waste Solutions.” The program promoted “zero waste” environmental policies and innovative systems based on best-practice models already established by governments, businesses and organizations worldwide.

To book a Food Waste Audit or enquire about our Accelerated Aerobic Digesters, that deliver compost within 24 hours from Food Waste, contact us at Take action now, no more waiting.