I was hoping to produce a chewing gum levy Bill but it appears that under Standing Orders I am not allowed do so. In fact, it can only be done by a member of Government. I thought it was something that could be done by a member of the Opposition. As a result, I must raise this by way of Topical Issue, and I am glad to do so.
It is also disappointing that it proves difficult when one tries to get information on the sums spent on dealing with litter. I tabled a parliamentary question to the Minister last December to try to ascertain the individual sums spent on removing litter generally and chewing gum from the roads and footpaths in various counties and local authority areas, but that information is not available in the Department as it does not collect detailed information. I did get an answer, however, from the Minister for 2003, when local authorities spent in excess of €82 million on street-cleaning activities. This shows there is quite an amount spent on removing litter and chewing gum.
I am aware also that last year €841,000 was given to local authorities in anti-litter awareness grants. In fact, the figure for Galway City Council was €33,000 and for Galway County Council, it was €25,500. Obviously, there is a big issue in dealing with the various types of litter on the streets and footpaths. The most common types of litter are chewing gum, cigarette butts, fast-food wrappers, plastic bottles, plastic bags and cans. The litter I am addressing in my few short minutes is chewing gum. I saw figures for the Dublin city area where there is a real problem with chewing gum being thrown on the streets and footpaths. In 2013, in the O’Connell Street to Grafton Street area monitored by the Department, €83,000 was spent on removing chewing gum litter in 2013.
I was hoping a levy would be imposed on manufacturers that would raise funds to remove the litter from public roads and footpaths. Failing that, I understand that there was to be a meeting of all the major stakeholders – the manufacturers and the local authorities – to come to an arrangement where the manufacturers would contribute towards removing chewing gum. There was agreement in the past that there would be advertising campaigns but we must do much more than that. We must get funding from the manufacturers. The other issue that arose in discussions was the question of a biodegradable product that would ensure we would not have the difficulty in removing such a product.
I hope the Minister can give me some indication of the state of play. Needless to say, the Minister, Deputy Kelly, is the fourth Minister with whom I have raised this issue. I have not had much success with other Ministers and I hope he might able to give me an update on what is happening at present.
The figure of 15%, while an improvement, is still high. This is an important issue because of the cost involved in removing this particular product from our streets. The problem boils down to the irresponsible disposal of chewing gum. Like the Minister, I am not trying to stop anyone from using chewing gum; it is the disposal of gum that is the issue. We have reached a compromise with the industry whereby it is funding an advertising campaign. However, if this situation continues, I do not envisage seeing any further improvements.
The Wrigley company has its headquarters in Chicago and, to the best of my knowledge, there is no problem with chewing gum or other litter on the streets of that city. We must try to get some more help from the industry. It was proposed in the past to put a levy on the chewing gum itself but that would have hit the consumer unfairly. It is very regrettable that the industry is not prepared, as I understand it, to contribute towards the cost of removing the gum from our streets. Will the
Minister indicate if any discussions have taken place on the development of a biodegradable product?