Confusion reigned over a terminated contract in the latest meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine this week – which focused on the farm plastic recycling industry.

The committee spoke to: Liam Maloney, chief executive of the Irish Farm Film Producers’ Group (IFFPG); and Robert Walker, director of Walker Recycling Ltd – a firm which recently went into liquidation.

The confusion stemmed to the matter of a contract that was terminated by the IFFPG around the time that Walker Recycling entered into liquidation.

Differing views were given as to whether the contract had been terminated in early June by letter, or over the phone on May 18 – the same day that the IFFPG was last before the Oireachtas agriculture committee.

Plastic producers

In the meeting, agri committee member, senator Paul Daly, asked Maloney if the IFFPG had ceased its contract with Walker at the time of the last meeting, to which the group CEO said: “No that is incorrect; Walkers went into liquidation after our last meeting and we terminated our contract with Walkers in early June.”

Deputy Martin Browne challenged this, stating that Walker’s account was that he had been “telephoned by the CEO of the IFFPG and verbally informed that the contract with Walker Recycling Ltd was terminated”.

Answering this, Maloney said: “My first response to that is that I did not have that discussion with Mr. Walker.

“Mr. Walker’s company didn’t go into liquidation until after the committee meeting. His contract was not terminated in a phone discussion at any point, I can assure you of that.

“His company did not go into liquidation until after [May] 18. We sent him a letter on June 4 terminating his contract – because his company was in liquidation.”

Insisting that Walker Recycling had been “supported to the hilt” by the IFFPG, Maloney highlighted that almost half of all material collected by IFFPG last year went to Walker, adding that Walker was also the group’s biggest collecting contractor with responsibility for eight counties.

Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice intervened with a clarification, stating that he had received “a phone call alleging to be Mr. Walker that he got a phone call that morning [May 18], an hour before our meeting, that his contract was terminated. I need to put that on the record”.

Maloney said that, while he did not know whether he had a phone call on that day, the contract was never terminated on the phone.

“Let’s be clear here; we had to terminate the contract with Walkers – their company is in liquidation, they are not operating anymore. We were left with no choice. Their contract was terminated subsequent to the liquidation process beginning.

“Despite our best efforts unfortunately Walkers went out of business. They’re out of business, therefore we can’t operate with them anymore – that’s why their contract was terminated,” Maloney stressed.

In response to a plastic recycling performance query from Senator Tim Lombard, the IFFPG CEO defended his group’s performance, stating: “I think what we’re achieving here in recycling farm plastics is spectacular; there is no country in Europe coming within reach of what we’re doing here at the moment.

“We’re achieving an 80% recycling rate for a waste plastic stream. If you compare that with packaging plastic at the moment, there’s a 30% recycling rate being achieved [in packaging].

Maloney attributed this success to having the key stakeholders – the producers and the farmers – working cooperatively in the scheme.

“Separate to us independent collectors made a commercial decision to go out and play the market; they were entitled to do that, we have no problem whatsoever with that.

“They find themselves in difficulty now because the market changed; this is not a matter for IFFPG to address – this is a matter for others to address and we wish them well. But farm plastics in Ireland is a spectacular success story by any measure,” Maloney concluded.

Walker stance

When it was his turn to address the committee, Walker explained the circumstances of his company going into liquidation, pointing to a change in regulations as a key factor, which meant that what could previously be categorised as “green-list” waste was now deemed to be “amber” waste if contaminated with water or other such contaminants.

“This resulted in a bond being required to export amber waste. The bond required of the volume recycled by Walker Recycling Services was beyond the financial capacity of the company.”

Clarifying things slightly, he said:

“On or about the morning of May 18, I was telephoned by the CEO of the IFFPG and verbally informed that the contract with Walker Recycling Service was to be terminated.

“I cannot account for such a decision being made, especially in the circumstances which we had the only facility trommelling waste to date.

“This also occurred in circumstances due to economic conditions in the plastic market worldwide together with other economic restrictions, I found our company in a position where we were required and advised to hold a creditor’s meeting following which a liquidator was named; David Walsh was appointed on June 1, 2021.

“The company is not currently in a position to provide recycling services,” he concluded.