The Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications (DECC) has been heavily criticised by several TDs and Senators for the running of Ireland’s farm plastics recycling scheme.

The Irish Farm Film Producers Group CLG (IFFPG) is the national, not-for-profit recycling compliance scheme to protect Ireland’s rural environment.

The IFFPG is 70% funded through the recycling levy charged to companies placing plastics products on the market, and 30% through a weight-based collection charge to farmers.

The group must achieve a 70% recycling target, however it is paid for 100%, Senator Paul Daly, who states that the equivalent of two million bales of plastic is out there unaccounted for, said.

In 2022, 36,500t of silage wrap and pit cover waste were collected for recycling, which is equivalent to plastic from 18 million bales. The current recycling rate is between 88-90%.

Farm plastics

IFFPG manager Liam Moloney said it is “not possible” to collect 100% of farm plastics because not all farmers engage with the service, and a “very small percentage” may still be collected by independent collectors.

“I can’t see how the department can stand over the fact that there is the equivalent of two million bales per annum out there which is accumulating and there doesn’t seem to be a plan.

“Nobody seems to know where it is, or a plan to find out where it is and do something about it,” Senator Daly said.

Bernie Kiely of the DECC has raised caution about “creating an impression that there is plastic out there, creating nuisance when we really don’t have evidence of that”.

Any independent collector who has a permit is allowed to collect the plastic in the knowledge that they don’t have access to the recycling levy, but that they can charge the farmer, Kiely said.

IFFPG collectors’ yards

There are currently around 12,000t-15,000t of farm plastics carried on yards, Moloney, who stressed that this is “typical at this time of the year” and that all materials will be recycled, said.

These volumes of materials which are initially stored loosely on IFFPG yards are, he said, the result of record volumes collected when it has been “quite difficult to recycle”.

Moloney said that there are measures in place to clear out those yards in advance of the 2024 season and to recycle the 15,000t and a further 25,000t of farm plastics.

All of the four collectors have waste permits which allow them to store the materials, however there are a “couple of contractors” where the volume is a “little excessive at the moment”, he said.

“So at any given point there is material in yards. We are moving it all the time but that is just a reflection of the business – huge volumes of material coming in.

“Everything that comes in is recycled but sometimes there is a little lag between coming into the yard and going for recycling,” Moloney said.

Deputy Jackie Cahill said he disputes the recycling rate of 90% saying that there are between 50,000t and 60,000t of plastic in private collectors’ yards around the country waiting to be recycled.

The IFFPG’s overall income last year from the levy and collection charge was €5.5 million. The overall cost of the scheme was €6.1 million. The group works towards having a reserve of €3 million.

Last year 45% of waste was recycled at Irish facilities, with the remainder going to European facilities, according to the IFFPG.

The Irish Rural Association has called for a complete review of the farm plastics industry in Ireland, including a review of IFFPG procedures, and concerns relating to environmental issues.