The signing of the Circular Economy and Miscellaneous Provisions Act 2022 will see major changes for the construction, demolition, waste handling quarrying and mining industries. Matt Bailey reports.
The Circular Economy and Miscellaneous Provisions Act 2022, has been signed by the President and has now become law. According to the government it underpins Ireland’s shift from a ‘take-makewaste’ linear model to a more sustainable pattern of production and consumption, “that retains the value of resources in our economy for as long as possible and that will significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions”.
In practice the ‘circular economy’ is all about making the most of what you’ve got, especially raw materials – reuse, repurpose, recycle! Clearly this has massive implications for industries like construction, demolition, quarrying and mining. And while the Bill might at first appear to be another imposition on an already highly regulated industry, much of it is common sense, building on the Government’s commitment to achieving a circular economy, as set out in the 2020 Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy and the 2021 Whole-of-Government Circular Economy Strategy. This Act now places that strategy on a statutory footing, putting the re-use of resources and reduced consumption at the heart of the Irish economy.
While the details have yet to be fully thrashed out, the industry should be able to rise to the challenge, it has managed to adopt and adapt when legislation and regulation have affected working practises in the past after all. The way Health & Safety legislation has improved the life expectancy of those in the industry over the last few decades is a good example of some of the benefits of compliance.
Crosshead: Circular economy
The circular economy is a model of business, production and consumption, which involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products for as long as possible.
The Bill itself states that it is “an economic model and the policies and practices which give that model in which production and distribution processes in respect of goods, products and materials are designed so as to minimise the consumption of raw materials associated with the production and use of those goods, products and materials; the delivery of services is designed so as to reduce the consumption of raw materials; goods, products and materials are kept in use for as long as possible thereby further reducing the consumption of raw materials and impacts harmful to the environment; the maximum economic value is extracted from goods, products, and materials by the persons using them, and goods, products and materials are recovered and regenerated at the end of their useful life.”
As it passed through the Dáil, the Act received broad cross-party support, It ensures that we have a fit-for-purpose regulatory system in place – to allow hundreds of thousands of tonnes of material to be safely and sustainably re-used as secondary raw materials, which could be particularly important for the construction sector.
The Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Eamon Ryan, commented: “This is a landmark moment in this government’s commitment to making the circular economy a reality in Ireland. Through a mix of economic incentives and smarter regulation we can achieve far more sustainable patterns of production and consumption that move us away from the patterns of single-use and throw-away materials and goods that are such a wasteful part of our economic model now. We have to re-think the way we interact with the goods and materials we use every day, if we are to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, because 45% of those emissions come from producing those goods and materials.”
The aim is that a circular economy will have positive environmental, economic and social impacts. A well-designed circular policy framework can identify co-benefits, so that environmental improvements also provide economic and social opportunities, and vice versa. Across Europe, countries are moving towards and adopting circular economy practices. The EU is pursuing its ‘European Green Deal’ strategy, which has the circular economy at its heart. In March 2020, the EU launched its Second Circular Economy Action Plan. At the national level, Ireland published its first Whole-of-Government Circular Economy Strategy in December 2021 to ensure policy coherence across the public sector and to outline the government’s overall approach to the circular economy for stakeholders and the public.
The Circular Economy Act 2022 goes further – by translating this policy approach into a statutory requirement. It will also provide the necessary statutory underpinning to a range of actions that will strengthen waste enforcement in relation to illegal dumping and littering, for example: through allowing for the GDPRcompliant use of CCTV and other technologies in enforcement actions.
The Circular Economy Strategy provides a national policy framework for Ireland’s transition to a circular economy. This Act places that Strategy, and the commitment to a circular economy, on a clear statutory footing. The forthcoming National Circular Economy Programme (operated by the EPA) will be placed on the same statutory basis.
Ruth Treacy is technical director – planning & environment at global engineering consultancy, Golder Associates. Ruth says the industry has a mountain to climb to be ready for the Bill: “We have the Act, but we don’t have the regulations yet,” she says. “They will come in next year. The onus will be on the Government to put in place mechanisms, metrics and regulations that will allow Ireland to meet the goals and objectives set out in the Bill.
The Climate Action Bill has a target of 50% reductions by 2030. Ireland’s emissions are reported to have increased by 5% in 2022 which makes this 50% target reduction a very high bar to achieve if we don’t change how we live and work.”
The time to act is now according to Ruth, “While the onus is largely on government to provide the will and the way to achieve the targets, it will be difficult to set realistic targets without knowing the baseline and the impact on the construction industry is going to be heavy, so it will need to start capturing and recording emissions and carbon use now so that it has a baseline to start from and to measure reductions against this baseline. The key for the construction industry is to start recording its baseline carbon emissions so that from 2023 it can demonstrate the reductions it has made. In effect the industry needs to be future ready for what is coming and to avoid what inevitably will be a last minute dash for the line. Some contractors will be organised and all over this but it is their suppliers and subcontractors who are going to need to be ready with their figures and I have seen little evidence that they are future-ready as yet.
“The key is for companies to be proactive and start the process of measuring their carbon footprint and emissions now,” concludes Ruth. “That way they can contribute to the forthcoming metric system that is to be established by the government.”
Reduce & recycle
A founder member of the IPCA, Shannon Valley chief executive Mick English is a respected member of the industry. “I believe the bill will have a positive effect on the industry,” he says, “and if companies want to draw down on the funds of ‘green’ money being made available to help the transition they are going to have to get on board. The larger contractors are certainly taking this very seriously because their adoption of it is crucial to them getting funding.”
Shannon Valley Group is a leading Irish civil engineering and construction contractor. “A lot of our business involves the movement of heavy vehicles and materials, so anything we can do to reduce our carbon footprint in these activities has a big impact, the replacement of diesel with HVO (Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil) is one example. The processing and reuse of demolition materials on site is another example of how we are complying with the bill, along with the recycling of aggregates and soil stabilisation. It all cuts down on the movement of materials with the elimination of road going vehicles on site and also ensures there is a huge reduction in materials going to landfill. Overall we are reducing our use of virgin aggregates to 25%.”
Ultimately Mick says that like when stricter health and safety legislation came in, contractors will have to adopt the regulations if they want to get the business. “You won’t get the work if you don’t comply,” he says. “Just like the phasing out of diesel cars, whether you like it or not, you’re going to have to suck it up because it is happening, and sooner than you think!”