Leading environmental organisation outlines three key budget policies to net over €200m in revenue and limit environmentally damaging activities.
Taxing environmentally damaging practices and giving the money back through investment should be a key initiative of Budget 2018, Ireland’s largest environmental organisation has told the Minister of Finance.
In its pre-budget submission to Minister Paschal Donohoe, the Environmental Pillar outlined three key proposals to protect our natural environment, bring additional revenue into the government and bolster an ailing Environment Fund, namely:
- Implementation of a single-use non-compostable item levy
- Adoption of an aggregates levy
- Equalisation of price for diesel and petrol
Further details on the three proposals can be found below.
These policies have the potential to net the government over €200m every year, as well as changing consumer and industry behaviour and protecting our natural environment.
The Pillar – a coalition of 26 environmental organisations – sees Budget 2018 as a chance to make amends for last year’s missed opportunity to prepare our economy for the impact of climate change and protect our environment into the future.
The Pillar’s proposal would also bring in additional revenue for the Environmental Fund, which has been a victim of its own success in recent years.
Established in 2002 and financed through the plastic bag levy and landfill levy, the fund has dwindled from a high of €264 million in 2002 to €46 million in 2015. 
This is as a result of behavioural change away from plastic bag use and a move away from landfills towards incineration.
This money is used for many of Ireland’s environmental activities, from EPA’s waste prevention office and enforcement office to providing limited funding to the environmental NGO community.
The three proposals also promote and support several governmental priorities, namely waste prevention, the Circular Economy model, and the Polluter Pays principle.
The policy proposals also fall in line with Goal 12 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) which calls for Sustainable Consumption and Production. 
Ireland played a central role in the development of the SGDs as our UN Ambassador, David Donoghue, facilitated the final intergovernmental negotiations in the lead-up to the adoption of the goals in September 2015. 
Michael Ewing, Coordinator of the Environmental Pillar, said:
“The Polluter Pays Principle is central to good governance and is a legally defined and supported by the European Treaties.
“In our submission, we highlight three “polluter pays” levies and taxes that have the potential to raise over €200 million in revenue.
“At the same time, they will serve to steer people towards more environmentally friendly behaviour, save the state significant costs in the health service, regularise the quarrying industry, and reduce the scourge of litter highlighted by so many citizens across the country.”
Mindy O’Brien, Environmental Pillar spokesperson and Coordinator of VOICE, said:
“Government speaks about delivering a budget for a fairer society, but we contend that we must embrace a budget for a fairer society for future generations.
“What we are proposing is a shift in the thinking around tax in Ireland. If we want to build a sustainable future our Budget needs to do more than just raise taxes. It needs to change people’s behaviour and the behaviour of business as well.
“In the last budget, the government decided to impose a sugar levy to tackle obesity. We content that a similar levy be imposed on disposable packaging such as coffee cups and other non-compostable single-use packaging.
“We must also do something to equalise the cost of diesel and petrol. The excise on diesel in Ireland is currently 22 per cent less than on petrol, yet diesel emits 15.5 per cent more greenhouse gases than petrol so an incentive to use it is not justified.
“On top of that, air pollution is the cause of around 400 deaths in Ireland and diesel fuel is one of the contributors to that pollution. With this in mind, it is a no-brainer that we must remove the beneficial treatment diesel fuel now enjoys.
“Finally, an aggregates levy following the ‘polluter pays principle’ will have a great range of advantages, including reducing waste and emissions, as well as regulating quarries and bringing in a chunk of revenue from a very resource-intensive sector.
“Every year we delay laying out a vision for the future, the less we will be able to cope in a low-carbon society. This future is coming and now is the time to change.”
Notes to Editors:
Single-Use Non-Compostable Item Levy:
A levy on single use non-compostable items will include items such as disposable coffee cups, plastic packaging and cutlery, and follow existing policy across a number of other EU member states.
We calculate that there are around 250 million cups used per annum, all of which are not recyclable, ending up in landfills, burned or littering our streets and countryside. A simple 10 cent charge on each would bring in €25 million but also behavioural change within society.
In 2014, around €90 million was spent on street cleaning and litter management. If we could prevent this throw-away culture, we could reduce this spend dramatically.
Mirroring the success associated with the Irish Plastic Bag Tax, we assert that any single-use packaging levy should be imposed at the point of sale to consumers. This makes the levy visible and allows consumers to make the choice of bringing their own containers or pressure retailers to offer compostable containers.
For drinks containers where people cannot find an easy alternative, we propose a deposit/refund scheme, which Ireland had in the past for glass bottles.
The Environmental Pillar recommends a tax of up to €2.50 to be levied on each tonne of sand, gravel, crushed stone and other aggregates extracted from the ground or lifted from the surface and used in construction.
There are many external environmental and societal costs associated with quarrying, including runoff into streams, dewatering of groundwater, damage to roads, dust, noise and vibration which are experienced by the local communities.
The rate would mirror the UK tax and would encourage the recycling of construction and demolition waste. It is expected to bring in €80 million based on an estimated 32m tonnes of aggregates produced on an annual basis in Ireland.
The aggregates levy in the UK, however, has influenced the development of a black economy where Irish aggregate has been sold up in North Ireland to avoid the levy. Adopting a similar levy in the Republic will equalise market factors and reduce the amount of aggregate crossing the border.
County Councils – which regulate and oversee quarry activities – have begun to impose development contribution levies on quarries in their planning permission to offset some external impacts arising from mining.
However, these levies do not impact quarries already under operation. We propose to extend a national levy to address the environmental and societal costs incurred from all mining activity.
Equalisation of Price for Diesel and Petrol:
We call for the equalisation of the price of diesel. This could be done over five years to allow drivers of diesel cars time to purchase new electric or fuel efficient petrol cars. It also puts new buyers on notice that diesel will no longer receive beneficial treatment.
Equalising the cost of diesel and petrol would bring around €110 million in revenue, assuming that diesel costs around €.11 less than petrol per litre and there were sales of 1 billion litres of diesel sold based on 2014 Revenue figures.
As farm vehicles comprise only 5 per cent of the diesel fleet and most tractors are only diesel, we support the continuation of the agricultural diesel subsidy.
Diesel fuel exhaust has been identified as one of the leading emitters of greenhouse gases and particulates. Apart from the known climate impacts, particulates from diesel engines are causes of a range of human health problems. According to the World Health Organization, diesel exhaust fumes can cause cancer, and emit ten times more health-damaging pollutants than petrol cars.
Diesel is charged 11c less per litre than petrol and because of this cost differential, the percentage of diesel cars sold in this country is the highest in Europe while the trend in other countries is to discourage diesel use. For example, France, Belgium and the UK have all equalised the excise tax between petrol and diesel.
The OECD has recommended equalising the rate, while the European Commission question Ireland’s policy of taxing diesel less than petrol and encourages the equalisation of price in the recently released 2017 European Semester Country-Specific Reports.
About the Environmental Pillar:
The Environmental Pillar is a national social partner, comprising 26 national environmental organisations. It works to promote the protection and enhancement of the environment, together with the creation of a viable economy and a just society, without compromising the viability of the planet on which we live for current and future generations of all species and ecosystems.
VOICE is a member-based Irish environmental charity that empowers individuals and local communities to take positive action to conserve our natural resources. It also advocates for the government and the corporate sector to adopt environmentally responsible behaviours, and for the development of strong national policies on waste and water issues.