The viability of the Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) operated by Waterford County Council in Dungarvan is now in doubt, the Seanad was told last week.

Senator Paudie Coffey told the house that this was mainly due to the drying up of ‘destination markets’ for the recyclable material produced at the plant, which has been in operation for almost five years.

The facility processes over 13,000 of material per annum, with its annual income of €550,000 re-invested into recycling services in the county, the Senator told Junior Environment Minister Michael Finneran.

“The facility processes recycled waste not only from the Waterford city and county council areas but also from the South Tipperary and Wexford local authority areas as well as other private waste streams,” said Senator Coffey.

“Produce was formerly sent to countries such as Indonesia and China. I am interested to discover the reasons these markets have folded. This problem is arising for private as well as public facilities and could put national recycling initiatives in jeopardy.”

The plant cost over €5 million upon construction, said Senator Coffey, with Waterford County Council receiving national awards “for its initiative in establishing and operating this facility”.

“In the short term, because the destination markets no longer exist, much of this material must be stored by Waterford County Council, representing an added burden and overhead which will put the facility itself and the recycling routes in jeopardy,” added the Senator.

In response, Minister Finneran said that Minister John Gormley was aware of the problems facing the County Council having received a letter on October 29th from County Manager Ray O’Dwyer.

The Minister outlined some of the options facing the County Council, one of which includes the stockpiling of dry recyclables in appropriate warehousing.

A local authority certificate of registration permits the storing of 1,000 tonnes, a waste permit covers up to 50,000 tonnes while an Environment Protection Agency (EPA) licence allows operators to store “any amount they want”.

Intriguingly, and surely defeating the purpose of recycling in the first place, Minister Finneran stated that “co-incineration abroad would allow the material to be classified as recovery”.

In reply, Senator Coffey said the Minister’s comments confirmed that “waste management in this country is a serious matter…we do not want a national waste management crisis at this time”.

He added: “I do not think that stockpiling of the waste produced by facilities such as the one in Dungarvan is a sustainable answer or solution in the short term.

“It is questionable whether incineration in other lands will be, as stated by the Minister, marked as recovery. This flies in the face of the theory and principle of recycling and re-use. The facility concerned is producing high quality recycled paper and plastics. This issue must be addressed.

“It is essential that the Minister and his Department give this matter their full attention until a proper and adequate solution is found,” he concluded.