It is probably one of the less highlighted pieces of promised legislation coming from the agreed programme for government, but it may yet be one of the most significant to be approved in this Dáil.
The Circular Economy Bill seeks to give a statutory basis to those areas that have only been given lip service to in recent decades.
If we are to make any dent into the amounts of carbon we produce, how we create and ultimately dispose of waste, is key to how we can reduce and hopefully then eliminate many of these problems.
In my first incarnation as a city councillor I had an ongoing argument with the City Engineer over the council’s landfill site.
My campaigning on the existence and management of this landfill had been one the key issues in my first election campaign. Then and on being elected I argued for what were still novel concepts of reducing and recycling waste.
He argued that to seek to reduce waste would have a negative economic impact. He spoke proudly that statistics showed increases in economic growth were directly linked to the rate of increase in the amount of waste being produced.
Damn statistics. Similar reasons dominated official thinking for years, that to reduce carbon emissions would be to also affect economic progress. A collective official stupidity that has stymied action on climate for many years.
My argument with the City Engineer, along with the campaign to close the City’s landfill site went on for too many years. Eventually it was closed. It has since been converted into a public park. I like to think that this conversion is a nice metaphor that can be used to encourage other positive policy change.
Despite movement in a better direction which has seen some stabilisation, Ireland still remains back of the class in Europe with the highest rate of waste per capita in the EU.To date there has been a lack of political will in Ireland to effectively regulate the production process of goods, to seek the measure the life cycle of goods.
We have been, and continue to be, in thrall to an approach to consumption that seeks immediate gratification and an ask no questions approach to disposal.
Food for thought in all of this is how we consume food. We produce so much meat, much of which we export. Yet we import 40% of the vegetables we consume. Added to this mismatch in how we produce food is what happens when we prepare food to eat. One third of food prepared in Ireland doesn’t get eaten and is thrown away.
It requires major cultural changes to alter this approach. There needs to be a greater emphasis on repairing goods rather than replacing them. If there are by products that come from consuming goods, greater effort needs to be made to repurpose them as raw materials for other production processes.
Most needed are statutory requirements to bring us to where we need to get to. That is why this bill is so important.
It gets the balance right. It defines what we need to leave behind, fossil fuels in particular. It rewards positive behaviour, such as in bottle deposit schemes. It incentivises innovation.
It is important that positive messages outweigh any perceived negative ones.
There are still hearts and minds to be won. Still deep seated prejudice to be overcome. Although on many of these issues the general public is already ahead of official Ireland. Many opening doors can be pushed further with this bill.
Not to do so would be such a waste.
Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator and serves as a Green Party councillor on Cork City Council. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle