The Dungarvan MRF plant.

The Dungarvan MRF plant.

As international markets for recycled materials disappear, Waterford Fine Gael Senator Paudie Coffey has warned that Ireland is facing an unprecedented waste crisis – with direct job implications for at least one key industry in the county.

Calling on Minister John Gormley, Minister for Environment, Heritage & Local Government to take immediate action, the Portlaw politician has learned that destination markets for Ireland’s recycled waste have vanished as international trade in recyclable material has collapsed.

The state-of-the-art Material Recycling Facility (MRF) run by Waterford County Council in Dungarvan faces closure unless the Minister and his Department move swiftly to address the problem.

The award-winning Shandon facility, which commenced operations in 2005, takes commercial and municipal recyclable waste from throughout the Southeast region and processes over 13,000 tonnes per annum into a high-quality product worth over €550,000 annually to the local authority. This yield is invested back into the running of the facility to keep it viable.

The original 27,000sq-ft advance factory unit was built by the Irish Business Against Litter (IBAL) organisation as a reward for Waterford becoming Ireland’s first ‘litter-free county’ in 1999. It cost €1.2m but efforts to attract an investor failed to bear fruit and an alternative use was put forward by the Council in 2004.

The capital cost of the MRF project was over €6.2million, 75% of which received under the National Development Plan through the Department of the Environment Heritage and Local Government. Fourteen staff are employed there at the moment.

Huge blow

However, as Senator Coffey points out, “International market demand for recycled products have dried up and the Council is left with no option in the short term but to store the processed recycled material as there is no destination markets available.

“This will have serious financial repercussions for the facility in the medium to long term and now there is a major risk that the modern waste processing facility will become non-viable and face closure. This will be a huge blow to the well developed waste management services provided by local authorities in the region and nationally,” he added.

Clearly, were the plant to shut, it would have a detrimental knock-on effect on all the household recycling collection services run by councils that have been successfully been built up over the past number of years.

“This is a serious challenge and threat for waste management services in this Country and comes on top of the recent waste collection waiver scheme debacle where the Ombudsman has been very critical of local authorities and how they manage such schemes.

“Also,” Senator Coffey asserted, “the various statutory Regional Waste Management Plans that are managed by City and County Managers are developing independently with no clear direction being offered by Minister Gormley.

“Each of these plans are making provision for incineration in the regions. The Minister claims there will no such demand for incineration yet he sits on his hands while these plans progress.

“Unless the Minister takes immediate action with regard to the proper development of waste management plans, facilities and services, Ireland is facing a waste management crisis sooner rather than later,” he concluded, demanding that Mr Gormley and his officials immediately engage with local councils “so that recycled waste streams and collection services remain viable in this country.”

Kyne’s concern

Dungarvan Labour Party councillor Billy Kyne has added his voice to the growing jobs concern – and called on the Minister to come to the aid of the local plant in the wake of the recent recycling price collapse

“The price of €55 a tonne for mixed paper has to date fallen to between MINUS €10 to €15, which is a crisis to say the least,” he says, adding: “This also affects the private sector where changes, commentators say, are very likely.”

Stressing that this is a case of a local authority implementing Government environmental policy to a best practice standard, the Abbeyside councillor feels “any minister, not to mention a member of the Green Party, must now practically support this southeast strategy and the MRF in particular.”

It’s his understanding that Mr Gormley has set up a task force including Repak, the City and County Managers’ Association, the EPA and the private sector to report back in mid-November, “with I presume, proposals to address the present crisis.”

Cllr Kyne, a long-time leading trade union official, argues that “this high-end clean stream recycling is uniquely placed to get support from the Department of the Environment and to do anything less would be a dereliction of government policy.

“Everyone involved, especially the workers, have led the way and set the standard in quality recycling. While I must await the deliberations of the sub-committee and its two-week deadline, I now call on Minister Gormley, who in the past six months visited this plant, to financially support this facility. To do so would underpin best practice recycling, the south east strategy, and protect employment at a time of financial crisis.”

He’s confident “the market can and will recover”. In the meantime, his colleague, Deputy Brian O’Shea, will be raising the need for this positive intervention directly with Minister Gormley and will reinforce “the reasonable argument that the workers and the MRF at Shandon must be supported at this critical time.”