Posted on 14th July 2020

The Circular Economy Action Plan is a cornerstone of the European Green Deal and the Green Recovery envisioned by Europe. Now more than ever, the circular economy should provide a foundation for the future of the Irish economy. By driving a circular transition in Ireland, the government can mitigate climate change, save resources and avoid waste. It can also create jobs, support social enterprise and SMEs and provide affordable products and services to the Irish public. Additionally, it can ensure that the Irish economy becomes more resilient and less dependent on global resource flows, while promoting innovation and new ways of consuming and producing.

Ireland’s Circular Economy Action Plan needs to go beyond the concept of effective waste management to support a holistic shift that promotes sustainable production and consumption and provides the basis for a robust and resilient Irish economy for the future. Such a Strategy needs to be cross-governmental and cross-sectoral, to realise the established societal, economic and environmental benefits being afforded to other EU-15 countries[i] and numerous European cities and regions[ii] that have set clear actionable plans for their transition to a circular economy.

To realise the opportunities of a Circular Economy, the new programme for government (PFG)  has recognised the need to provide a dedicated resource for the circular economy, committing to the creation of a Circular Economy Unit in Government that ensures a whole-of-government approach to the circular economy. This commitment is a welcome and necessary step towards circularity in line with other European countries[iii].

Speaking on the Programme for Government, Sarah Miller, CEO Rediscovery Centre, said ‘the Department of Environment has already committed to producing a separate Circular Economy Strategy that goes beyond waste action. This commitment needs to be reaffirmed by the new government to avoid confusion and the distinction between the draft Waste Action Plan for the Circular Economy and the proposed all-of-government Circular Economy Plan made clear in the government’s programme.’

Under this new programme for government, Ireland can establish and commit to new ways of working, which prioritise reduction, reuse and recycling while also supporting local communities that can benefit from the investment and opportunity in the months and years following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sarah commented on the strength of the programme for government noting that ‘the Circular Economy features highly in the PFG, with a commitment to the work with the EU in implementing the agreed Circular Economy approach. The anticipated collaborative approach in working with industry, retailers, and consumers to promote more sustainable consumption patterns is also welcome and critical for behaviour change’.

In addition to CE objectives, the PFG has significant waste-related objectives which will contribute towards environmental resilience & climate action. With regards to waste collection and treatment, the PFG suggests strengthening the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) model (for packaging) to ensure all costs related to separate collection and treatment are covered. A deposit-and-return scheme for plastic bottles and aluminium cans will also be introduced to ensure successful waste collection. For biodegradable packaging, the potential of a municipal compost system will be reviewed.

To combat plastic pollution, the programme aims for collaboration with other EU Member States to further reduce plastic packaging and prevent waste, for the reduction of marine litter through the Clean Oceans Initiative, and the phasing out of single-use plastics. The new government aims to lead the circular transition through public procurement and by potential changes to the tax systems to ensure resources are used efficiently. Finally, the programme wants to better inform consumers through increased labelling on products.

The programme for government can be accessed here.

[i] EU-15 countries with CE strategies/action plans: Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, United Kingdom

[ii] Examples of cities and regions with CE strategies/action plans: Scotland, England, Amsterdam, Paris, London, Aragon, Extremadura, Catalonia, Flanders, Brussels, Wallonia, Finnish regions (Riihimaki, Vantaa, Porvo, Central Finland region, North Karelia, South Karelia, Southwest Finland, Paijat-Hame).

[iii] Countries such as Finland, France and the Netherlands have anchored their future sustainable development in the switch to a circular economy, aiming to be leaders in circularity. This policy direction is not only based on the need to reduce waste and save resources but will also reduce the countries’ resource dependency, create new jobs (particularly for disadvantaged communities) and increase business competitiveness and innovation. Scotland, a frontrunner in the field of circular policy, has invested £18 million in funding for a more circular economy in small and medium enterprises alone.