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Preface

On June 18th, 2024, at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action, our CEO Sarah Miller with our Policy & Research Director Claire Downey shared our vision for the future of consumer durables in Ireland.

This is a future where Ireland’s consumption is dramatically reduced, where our ambitious statutory national reuse and future repair targets drive sectoral change, and where social enterprises are supported and celebrated in their role in driving the sector.

To make this happen, Ireland must be engaged, informed and enabled to transition to a circular economy, with an enabling environment for prevention, reuse & repair, alongside investment in prevention, reuse and repair infrastructure.

Read our full statement below.

Opening Statement to Oireachtas Joint Committee on Environment and Climate: Consumer Durables 

Thank you to the chair and committee members for inviting us to present our vision for consumer  durables in a CE.

The Rediscovery Centre is the National Centre for a Circular Economy in Ireland which for the last 20 years, has been focussed on leading Ireland’s transition to a circular economy. Based in Ballymun in Europe’s first circular economy demonstration centre, the Rediscovery Centre acts as an innovation hub and creative space delivering education, providing research and enabling policy and collaboration to support the transition. 

Our work covers wide ranging circular economy themes, but in this statement we will focus on our operational, research and advocacy experience in reuse and repair – through social enterprises working with textiles, bikes, paint and furniture.

We will start by sharing our vision for these consumer durables in a circular economy and conclude with some suggestions and solutions as to how that vision could be realised.   

Our vision for the future of consumer durables is threefold

Firstly, Ireland’s consumption rates will be dramatically reduced. 

  • Ireland’s consumption rates are high when compared with other regions. 
  • Our Circular Material Use Rate (CMUR), the ratio of recycled materials to overall material use, is the second lowest in Europe at 1.8%.  Our EPA funded research in this area indicates this is primarily due to high economy-wide consumption levels, particularly relating to construction materials and biomass, and low recycling rates compared to other regions. 
  • Studies on the consumption of specific consumer durables are limited. However, the EPA funded study relating to textiles led by the Clean Technology Centre (CTC) with the Rediscovery Centre, CRNI and Charity Retail Ireland, found that Ireland’s consumption of textiles is particularly high at 53kg per person. 
  • Current Research into Ireland’s Circularity Gap, being conducted by Circle Economy for the Department, will provide further insights into our consumption patterns and circularity through alternative methodologies, which we welcome. 
  • From what we know already it is very clear – our consumption rates need to be dramatically reduced.

The second element of our vision for consumer durables is that Ireland’s reuse and future repair targets effectively drive change. 

  • We are hopeful that the suite of statutory national targets introduced through the Circular Economy and Miscellaneous Provisions Act 2022 and National Waste Management Plan for a Circular Economy, will underpin significant growth in the sector. These targets primarily relate to consumer durables. 
  • The Q2Reuse study, pioneering research led by CTC in partnership with CRNI and the Rediscovery Centre, provided the foundation for a reuse target for consumer durables in Ireland. It provided a methodology for measuring reuse and a baseline figure for reuse of 6.52kg per person in 2020. 
  • A 2021 citizen survey conducted by the EPA indicated current levels of reuse could be as high as 10.6kg per person. 
  • Ireland’s statutory national reuse target is currently set at 20kg per person.
  • It is the first of its kind in Europe, is highly ambitious, and will require, at least,  a 2 fold increase in reuse rates compared to current baseline levels.  
  • It is important to note that even through our small-scale reuse demonstration enterprises at the Rediscovery Centre, we have reuse approx. 55,000Kg in the past 3 years with an estimated saving of 120,000Kg of carbon equivalent. 
  • However, as the national centre for CE our aim is to facilitate a much larger multiplier effect nationwide. We support growth in reuse and repair through our Circular Economy Academy and our community climate action programme providing training, mentoring and support, based on our operational experience, to enable new community reuse and repair projects. We also work closely with Local Authorities to support reuse at Civic Amenity Sites nationwide. 
  • In addition to reuse, a focus on repair in the waste plan is extremely welcome, as studies indicate there has been a decline in repair professionals over time1 and a decline in manual skills2 for repair. 
  • Furthermore, our recent EPA funded research on barriers to repair cafes highlighted the significant challenge in obtaining or affording insurance for product liability. 
  • Overcoming these and other barriers and meeting our targets will require a concerted effort and focus, for the first time, on reuse and repair.

The third element of our vision is that social enterprises are supported and recognised in their role in driving the sector 

  • Social enterprises are recognised in Ireland and across the EU  as pioneers in circular economy business models and hugely impactful in delivering green skills training and jobs. 
  • The research into reuse measurement, mentioned earlier, found that Social Enterprises and charities operate approximately half of all second hand outlets in Ireland. 
  • The Rediscovery Centre is just one of a network of social enterprises working in the reuse and repair sector, supported by CRNI which no doubt Chris will talk about. 
  • Ireland’s inter departmental approach to supporting social enterprises in the circular economy is unique in Europe. This should be safeguarded into the future. 

In summary the vision includes more sustainable consumption levels, a target driven reuse and repair sector and a thriving social enterprise network delivering social economic and environmental benefit.  

There are a number of measures that need to be addressed to deliver on this vision.

Firstly, citizens of ireland  need to be engaged, informed and enabled to transition to a circular economy. 

  • We are pleased to be working on a new project to support citizen engagement and deliver a national platform for the circular economy. 
  • This five year collaborative project is supported by the Dept of the Environment, Climate and Communications, and involves collaborating with the EPA, the Regional Waste Management Plan Lead Authorities and the Local Government Management Agency, and the wider network fo circular communicators. It will support excellence in communications and citizen engagement nationwide, underpinned by market research and insights. 
  • This work will build on and support the active network of circular economy communicators and NGOs already raising awareness of, and providing public access to, CE solutions and services … which brings me to our second point. 

We need to create the enabling environment for prevention, reuse & repair in Ireland, facilitated through realignment of economic models and policy instruments 

  • As outlined above, the challenge is significant – with the reuse target alone requiring a growth in reuse compared to existing levels of an additional 50,000 tonnes capacity by 2030.
  • European measures as outlined by the Department earlier will in the longer term drive more sustainable consumption and ecodesign for circularity in consumer durables. We support these policy and economic measures through our work with the European RREUSE network, the European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform and through our research and advocacy work.
  • In the near term, a number of additional key financial and policy measures will be required. The low cost of new items is one major barrier to the circular economy, which distorts the market against reuse or repair.
  • Financial incentives in support of reuse and repair must be explored fully and could include reduced commercial rates, tax benefits or a reduced VAT rate, repair bonuses or support schemes as seen in Austria, Germany and France3 and reviewing how existing support schemes, such as the Bike to work scheme, could encourage the consumption of second hand products . 
  • Furthermore, the new Green Public Procurement Strategy and roadmap is a positive step in supporting large-scale circular procurement and it was encouraging to see the news yesterday regarding the new framework for the procurement of up to 60,000 refurbished or second hand laptops.
  • However, there remains a significant opportunity to support circularity, reuse and repair for consumer durables at small scale, below the 50,000EUR threshold. As an example, the Fingal County Council tender for reused paint with the Rediscovery Centre facilitates the use of remixed paint from local civic amenity sites in community settings and serves as a template for other local authorities throughout the country, via the Paint Reuse Network.  
  • In addition, it is crucial that all new legislative or policy measures are carefully assessed to ensure they support and enable a CE and the existing reuse and repair sector.  
  • For example, producer responsibility schemes in Ireland have historically supported recycling over reuse and repair. We have seen the emergence of new schemes in other Member States, in particular for textiles, disrupt the thriving reuse sector and would recommend caution in exploring any such scheme for Ireland. 
  • Another important measure is the Community Services Programme, which has enabled social enterprises in the circular economy to build capacity in reuse and repair. Further extension of this scheme for such work would support further growth in this area. 

Finally, Ireland needs to invest in prevention, reuse and repair infrastructure and systems as a priority over waste infrastructure. 

  • In order to meet new targets, we need to see significant investment in infrastructure and systems. 
  • Numerous studies have shown the type of investment required, ranging from sorting infrastructure and warehousing, to collection systems such as door to door services, equipped reuse and repair workshops, circular shopping centres, lending retail outlets and online platforms. 
  • For example, the EPA Green Enterprise study Circular Textiles led by CRNI in partnership with CTC and Rediscovery Centre identified a lack of back-end infrastructure and systems including handling, sorting and storage capacity as key barriers to the reuse of textiles. 
  • Our EPA funded research on paint identified the need for reuse infrastructure to divert water-based paint from hazardous waste incineration and provided a blueprint to support organisations to set up these schemes around the country. This led to the development of the Paint Reuse Network by the Rediscovery Centre, funded by the Regional Waste Management Planning Offices which now supports eight paint reuse social enterprises, and services 25 Civic Amenity Sites, reusing 65 tonnes of paint since 2021. This demonstrates the importance of research and networks in supporting growth and the potential to grow reuse at Civic Amenity Sites building on the National Waste Plan target to introduce reuse facilities at 10 such Sites.  
  • Overall, we believe that it is time for reuse and repair infrastructure and systems to be prioritised as being of national importance ahead of other recycling and waste investments.

In summary, we have an ambitious policy framework for growth in prevention, reuse and repair of consumer durables. We now need to find ways to support this through communications and citizen engagement, an enabling environment and investment in infrastructure and systems. 

Thank you for this opportunity to present our work and ambitions for the circular economy in the context of consumer durables.