Minister Ossian Smyth TD visits TU Dublin to launch Circular Economy Strategy

16 Dec, 2021

Minister of State with responsibility for the Circular Economy, Ossian Smyth TD, visited TU Dublin on Thursday to launch Ireland’s first Whole of Government Circular Economy Strategy.

In a circular economy, waste is minimised. Products are kept in use for as long as possible through design, repair and reuse. When a product has reached the end of its life, its parts are used again and again – to create further useful products.

Minister Smyth said:

“The days of extracting virgin natural resources, making things with them and then throwing them away must come to an end. The transition to a circular economy has a key role to play in climate action. 45% of our emissions are directly related to producing goods. Reducing the quantity of natural resources that we use and waste also reduces pressure on the quality of our air, soils and water and creates sustainable employment around the country.

“We all understand how saving energy and being energy efficient are critical for the climate. Now, we need to think this way about our material resources, like food, metals, plastic, concrete. A circular economy shows us how we can do this. This new strategy provides a really important policy signal across the public and private sectors that circularity belongs at the heart of sustainability.”

Minister Smyth was joined by Laura Burke, Director General of the EPA and met with the President of TU Dublin, Professor David FitzPatrick, and Ireland's first Vice President for Sustainability in Higher Education, Jennifer Boyer. Together, Ms Boyer and Prof. Boyer introduced three projects that showcase the circular economy in action:

RETHINK – building construction at pre-design stage for all new campus buildings

Goal 13 - Climate Action

In October, the Grangegorman Development Agency (GDA) appointed a multi-disciplinary Design Team for the FOCAS research institute, an ambitious c.4,500m2 project. As part of the initial design phase now underway – and in conjunction with the Irish Green Building Council – a 'Circularity Statement' will be published by the Design Team. This structured charter will promote the optimum and efficient use of components in the first instance to reduce material needed, waste generated, and carbon expended. This means the service life of materials and the building will require the consideration of issues such as extending the life of materials, reintroducing them to into the circular economy with limited reprocessing requirements.

REPURPOSE – recycled plastics for good

Goal 12 - Responsible Consumption & Production

3D Assist is a charity based on the University's Tallaght Campus that has printed over 60 hands and arms for children with limb differences and braille-based devices for organisations such as Childvision. The devices are specifically designed for the individual and printed using a corn-derived bio-plastic that is easily recycled. In 2018, Repak installed a reverse vending machine to collect PET bottles and aluminium cans, which provides raw materials to make 3D printed items. In addition, the 3D printing process results in minimal waste and is estimated to cost just €10 per prosthetic.

REDUCE - reliance on fossil fuels by creating renewable energy sources (Geothermal heat source & district heating)                               

Goal 7 - Affordable & Clean Energy

TU Dublin and Geological Surveys Ireland (GSI) embarked on an exploratory project in March 2021 to drill the first Urban Geothermal test hole in Ireland to obtain high-quality information about deep subsurface data. It was the first test borehole of 1,000 m carried out by the GSI to assess geothermal potential in Ireland. The data taken from the process include temperature and geophysical characteristics, and a subsurface temperature profile was measured using Geological Survey Ireland's fibre optic system. The temperature at the base of the hole is 38 ˚C, a promising result indicating the geothermal resource's real potential in this area. The next steps include sourcing funding supports and community consultation to design and plan for the construction of Irelands first Geothermal District heating systems in Grangegorman.

Prof David FitzPatrick, President TU Dublin, said:

“As Ireland’s first Technological University, sustainability is at the centre of our mission. Our Strategic Plan is founded upon three of the UN Sustainable Development Goal pillars – People, Planet, and Partnership. Our commitment to deliver on a sustainable future for Ireland, and the world, through our graduates and the experience we offer at TU Dublin is evident across our ongoing initiatives showcased here today. In addition, the appointment of Ireland’s first Vice President of Sustainability as a member of the University Executive Team (UET) is a significant commitment to ensuring we deliver on a better world together.”

The strategy, launched in TU Dublin today, was the subject of a public consultation early in 2021 – one of a series of consultations undertaken since early 2020 in this area. Public feedback was strongly supportive of moving towards a circular economy.

The strategy will address a policy gap that exists in Ireland's national policy framework. It sets out a vision for Ireland's transition to circularity, explaining the circular economy concept, describing what initiatives are already happening, what opportunities are available, and how Government will drive the changes required.

The strategy will:

  • Demonstrate public sector leadership, using policy tools such as green public procurement as well as supporting circular economy practices across the entire public sector;
  • Develop and implement an education and awareness campaign – for individuals, households, communities, and the public and private sectors;
  • Identify priority sectors for the development of sectoral circular economy roadmaps;
  • Convene a consultative advisory group, from amongst stakeholders, to input into policy development and implementation;
  • Establish an interdepartmental working group to oversee the integration of circular economy policies and practices across public policy;

Subsequent iterations of the strategy will include more detailed measures and sectoral roadmaps for priority areas such as construction, consumer goods, transport, procurement, agriculture and food. Measures, including targets, for these sectors, will be developed in consultation with stakeholders across public and private sectors, as well as environmental, community and social enterprise representatives.

New Circular Economy Programme from the EPA

Today also saw the launch of a new Circular Economy Programme from the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). The programme has been devised to support the Government's circular economy policy agenda. It will incorporate the previous National Waste Prevention Programme will be the driving force for Ireland's move to a circular economy by businesses, householders and the public sector.

The launch will set the scene for the next six years of our journey away from waste disposal and treatment to ensuring that the extraction and consumption of raw materials are reduced. That waste is prevented and reduced at all stages of production. At the same time, this economic model will support the growth of our economy in a sustainable way.

Laura Burke, Director General of the EPA, said:

“The circular economy is at the core of the transition to a low-carbon economy and has a critical role to play in achieving climate targets at national and global levels. Influencing consumption and production patterns is critical for controlling greenhouse gas emission levels, as well as reducing waste generation, and will be an integral part of the EPA’s Circular Economy programme.

“The Circular Economy Programme will work closely with stakeholders, including the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, to realise the potential of circularity as a climate action”.

Read more about Ireland's first Whole of Government Circular Economy Strategy.