Waste Management

The Environment – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:45 pm on 18th September 2000.

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Photo of David Ford David Ford Alliance 3:45 pm, 18th September 2000

5. asked the Minister of the Environment if he will make a statement on progress in implementing the regional waste management strategy.

(AQO 17/00)

Photo of Mr Sam Foster Mr Sam Foster UUP 4:00 pm, 18th September 2000

Since the launch of the waste management strategy in March, a number of key activities have taken place. Three waste management planning groups, comprising the 26 district councils, have formed and are progressing with preparing plans for a new waste infrastructure. Additionally, my officials have advanced work on the publication of a planning policy statement on waste management. My Department has requested district councils to indicate their proposals for dealing with essential interim capacity needs, pending the preparation of their waste management plans.

Photo of David Ford David Ford Alliance

I thank the Minister for that response, but is that a good enough situation to be in? The strategy was launched by Mr Howarth in March, during the period of suspension of devolution. During the last six months, the situation, particularly in the Greater Belfast area, has become ever more acute regarding the lack of available sites for waste dumping. There is no movement towards significant recycling schemes. There is no movement on additional landfill sites. Could the Minister please explain how quickly he expects councils to come up with proposals and why his Department has not expedited them?

Photo of Mr Sam Foster Mr Sam Foster UUP

The waste management strategy for Northern Ireland was, as Mr Ford stated, first published in March 2000. The strategy must comply with the EU Waste Framework Directive and it is not something we take lightly. We must ensure that we are doing the right thing. The strategy is based on four key objectives — reducing the amount of waste generated; making the best use of the waste generated; encouraging practices that minimise the risk of environmental damage or harm to human health; and moving waste management practices towards reuse, recycling and recovery, with disposal in a landfill site as a last resort.

It is expected that the strategy will create 1,500 jobs. It is not going as fast as some people would like, but there is a lot involved requiring a lot of consideration. It will take time, and we are pursuing the matter as fast as we possibly can.

Photo of Mr Mick Murphy Mr Mick Murphy Sinn Féin

At the moment, we have a strategy of incineration proposals at local government level which is being progressively marketed by a very rich and highly powerful focused pressure group, financed by the plastic packaging and disposable waste industry. Will the Minister encourage the development of recycling and education on waste management especially when one remembers the opposition from Derry and Inishowen 10 years ago to stop Du Pont in their tracks when they tried to build an incinerator? The people won then, and the people of this island do not want incineration. When one recognises the severe pollution already attributed to Sellafield, we do not need pollution from incineration.

Photo of Mr Sam Foster Mr Sam Foster UUP

With respect to incineration, nobody has said that there will be incineration although it is a possible option. Waste management plans brought forward by district council groupings will include an assessment of the contribution incineration may make to waste management in Northern Ireland and I will carefully consider the matter. Waste-to-energy is only one of a range of possible options identified in the strategy but specific assessments are a matter for each district council when preparing their waste management plan. This is a big issue — a tremendous issue — and, as I said earlier, it is one we would like to hasten as fast as we can. We have got to be careful what we do.

Ultimately, waste has got to go somewhere. We want to reduce it. Part of the plan is to reduce the amount of waste going into landfill. Perhaps we will be able to dispense with landfill as far as possible. It will not be an easy task. All aspects will be taken into consideration. Our people are beavering away on it.

Photo of Mr James Leslie Mr James Leslie UUP

Would the Minister agree that the people of Northern Ireland are very good at creating waste, but not so good at understanding the consequences of disposing of it? One of the major contributions towards dealing with the waste problem in the long run would be a much greater public consciousness of the need to create less waste.

Yes, indeed; it is a slow process. We are all somewhat careless about waste. Three quarters of us get rid of it; get it out to the bin; get it out of my way; not in my back yard; here we go. A long process of education is needed to get us to the point where we reduce, reuse, recycle and then dispose. This is a big issue confronting us.