As spokesperson for the Galway Friends of the Forests, the local community and environmental group, I applaud the foresight of the Environment SPC on this initiative that was proposed by Councillor Catherine Connolly supported by city officials. This facility will probably be initially based at the Liosbaun recycling centre. The motion will now go forward for ratification to a full meeting of the City Council.
The ‘Galway Friends of the Forests’ has been lobbying since 2007 on the need to re-introduce a nationwide payback scheme for take-away beverage bottles as well as cans in order to clean up our parks, fields and natural habitats. Locally we have made representations to Galway City Community Forum and to Councillor Catherine Connolly in her capacity as Chairperson of the Natural Environment and Waterways committee. The councillor has responded magnificently by proposing last week’s motion.
Sadly we have had no success in our dealings with the Department of the Environment, Local Government and Heritage on this issue. In autumn 2007 we made a formal submission to the government’s ‘International Review Of Waste Management’ report where we recommended the introduction of national legislation to implement a refundable charge on beverage cans and bottles. However, we were astonished that the final report, published in late 2009, failed to address this proposal in any serious way and made some vague comment about the need for further future research.
The state’s lethargic attitude to a grassroots initiative that if accepted will help dramatically reduce litter pollution in Ireland is baffling. Especially when one considers that the government department responsible is led by the leader of the Green Party, John Gormley, with whom we meet with on this and related policy areas and where we reinforced the need for the re-introduction of a monetary pay-back scheme that existed in Ireland until only a few decades ago.
It is obvious to all interested parties, from tourism organisations to local neighbourhood associations, that our parks, woodlands, bogs, rivers and seashores are strewn with litter contributing to a deterioration in the aesthetic beauty of our natural landscapes, a serious contamination of our waterways and the destruction of wildlife habitats. This environmental disaster is getting worse by the day exacerbated by the cheap pricing on non-refundable alcohol cans and bottles available from supermarkets, corner shops, garages and off-licences that has lead to an epidemic in under-age outdoor binge drinking.
In Galway city, communities and the local authority have worked together, under a scheme known as ‘Gaillimh Suas Glan’, to clean up woods and other green public spaces on a monthly basis. The amount of refuse being collected is frightening. In a recent event, volunteers collected over 6,000 pieces of litter in a two hour period from one forest area. Beverage cans and bottles together generally account for between 60-70% of the items collected.
Furthermore, this refund system has had considerable success elsewhere in Europe. 90% of beer and soft drinks containers are returned in Sweden while the market share of non-returnable bottles in Finland is deliberately kept small at 5%.
We have requested a further meeting with Minister Gormley on the matter. Should we fail to secure a commitment, we will begin to organise a nationwide citizens’ petition on our demand for this pay-back scheme.