The Circular Economy and Miscellaneous Provisions Act 2022, which was signed by the President and has become law, underpins Ireland’s shift from a “take-make-waste” linear model to a more sustainable pattern of production and consumption, that retains the value of resources in our economy for as long as possible and that will to significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.
In a circular economy, waste and resource use are minimised. The use and value of products and materials is maintained for as long as possible. When a product has reached the end of its life its parts are used again and again – to create further useful products, instead of being discarded which is an all too familiar pattern now.
As it passed through the Dáil, the Act received broad cross-party support to introduce levies on all single-use packaging over time and where more sustainable alternatives are available and it comprises more social protections, including measures to protect low-income households and people with disabilities. The Act also ensures that we have a fit-for-purpose regulatory system in place – to allow hundreds of thousands of tonnes of material to be safely and sustainably re-used as secondary raw materials, which could be particularly important for the construction sector.
What does the Act do?
- defines the Circular Economy for the first time in Irish domestic law;
- incentivises the use of reusable and recyclable alternatives to a range of wasteful single-use disposable packaging and other items;
- re-designates the existing Environment Fund as a Circular Economy Fund, which will remain ring-fenced to provide support for environmental and circular economy projects;
- introduces a mandatory segregation and incentivised charging regime for commercial waste, similar to what exists for the household market. This will increase waste separation and support increased re-cycling rates;
- provides for the GDPR-compliant use of a range of technologies, such as CCTV for waste enforcement purposes. This will support efforts to tackle illegal dumping and littering, while protecting the privacy rights of citizens;
- places the Circular Economy Strategy and National Food Loss Prevention Roadmap on a statutory footing, establishing a legal requirement for Governments to develop and periodically update these two policies;
- streamlines the national processes for End-of-Waste and By-Products decisions, tackling the delays which can be encountered by industry, and supporting the availability of recycled secondary raw materials in the Irish market; and
- consolidates the Government’s policy of keeping fossil fuels in the ground – by introducing prohibitions on exploration for and extraction of coal, lignite and oil shale.
Detecting and preventing unsightly and illegal dumping
A significant action provided for, under the new legislation, will see Local Authorities empowered to use GDPR-compliant technologies such as CCTV to detect and prevent unsightly and illegal dumping and littering, among other measures. This will help to discourage “fly-tipping” which is a blight across the country.
Phasing out Single-Use Packaging
With this Act, over time, a range of single-use disposable products will also be phased out. Among its targets is to make Ireland one of the first countries in the world to eliminate the use of disposable coffee cups, nearly half a million of which are currently sent to landfill or incineration every day, amounting to 200 million cups a year.
This process will begin with a ban over the coming months on the use of disposable coffee cups for sit-in customers in cafés and restaurants, followed by the introduction of a small charge on disposable cups for takeaway coffees that can be avoided completely by using a reusable cup. This will operate in the same way as the existing Plastic Bag Levy, which has been so successful in reducing plastic bag litter across the country. The Act also allows for levies on all single-use packaging to be introduced.
Minister of State with responsibility for Communications and Circular Economy, Ossian Smyth TD, said: This Act is a step change in how Ireland approaches the Circular Economy. It defines what the Circular Economy is in domestic law and obliges the Government to prepare and regularly update an ambitious national Circular Economy Strategy, including national and sectoral targets around things like re-use and repair. The Act will allow us to tackle the proliferation of single-use disposable items, which too often end up as landfill or litter, in the same way Ireland has done so successfully before with the Plastic Bag Levy. It will also improve the processes for allowing the use of secondary raw materials in a safe and sustainable manner. This has the potential to keep hundreds of thousands of tonnes of material out of landfill, incineration or other forms of recovery. Finally, the Act gives Local Authorities the power to responsibly use CCTV and other recording technologies to tackle illegal dumping and littering in local communities, but does so in a way that includes very strong privacy safeguards and is fully compliant with data protection law.
“This Act aims to stop the wasteful pattern of using valuable resources once and then just binning them. From discouraging the use of single-use items, to improving the process for allowing recycled materials onto the market, this legislation will support the development of sustainable products and business models across the economy.”
He added that Ireland had led the way 20 years ago, with measures that dramatically curbed the use of plastic bags and the associated litter that they caused.
Social Dimensions of the Circular Economy
The Act also takes specific account of the social dimensions of the Circular Economy – to safeguard, for example, low-income households and people with disabilities. The Act introduces a legal requirement that, when a National Circular Economy Strategy is being prepared, the national policies in relation to the needs of socially and economically disadvantaged communities, and persons with disabilities, must be factored in.
Re-use of resources and reduced consumption
The Act builds on the Government’s commitment to achieving a circular economy, as set out in the 2020 Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy and the 2021 Whole-of-Government Circular Economy Strategy. This Act now places that strategy on a statutory footing, putting the re-use of resources and reduced consumption at the heart of the Irish economy.
The Act also effectively calls time on coal exploration by ending the issuing of new licences for the exploration and mining of coal, lignite and oil shale. This follows-on from Programme for Government commitments to end new licences for the exploration and extraction of gas, which was in line with the previous 2019 decision to end oil exploration and extraction.
Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Eamon Ryan TD, said:
“This is a landmark moment in this Government’s commitment to making the circular economy a reality in Ireland. Through a mix of economic incentives and smarter regulation we can achieve far more sustainable patterns of production and consumption that move us away from the patterns of single-use and throw-away materials and goods that are such a wasteful part of our economic model now. We have to re-think the way we interact with the goods and materials we use every day, if we are to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, because 45% of those emissions come from producing those goods and materials.”
Draft Regulations on the Single Use Disposable Cup Levy will go out for consultation this autumn, with a view to these taking effect before the end of the year. A public consultation on new regulations in respect of the End-of-Waste and By-Products decisions making processes will also go out for consultation later this year.
The Local Government Management Agency (LGMA) will begin preparing the Statutory Codes of Practice in relation to the use of CCTV and other Recording Devices that Local Authorities will have to abide by as when using these technologies tackle illegal dumping. The Codes of Practice will then be submitted to the Minister for final approval.