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Ireland's EPA calls for urgent action to address country's increasing waste volumes and falling recycling rates

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Ireland's EPA calls for urgent action to address country's increasing waste volumes and falling recycling rates

December 06, 2021 - 05:23
Posted in:
    WEXFORD, Ireland , Dec. 2, 2021 (Press Release) -
  • Waste generation in Ireland increased significantly in 2019.
    • Municipal waste increased by 6 per cent to 3.1 million tonnes,
    • packaging waste increased by 11 per cent to 1.1 million tonnes,
    • hazardous waste increased by 10 per cent to 0.6 million tonnes and
    • construction waste increased by 2.6 million tonnes to 8.8 million tonnes.
  • Ireland’s recycling rates for municipal waste and packaging waste have declined, with more waste being sent for energy recovery. Ireland faces a widening gap to meet ambitious new EU recycling targets from 2025 onwards.
  • To address Ireland’s rising waste volumes and falling recycling rates, we need to transform existing business models into circular ones that promote waste reduction, reuse and recycling. Circularity roadmaps are needed for key economic sectors, including the construction, manufacturing and food processing sectors, supported by clear policy, legislation, and national targets.

Waste generation in Ireland continues to rise while recycling rates are falling, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Waste Statistics Summary Report for 2019, which publishes the most recent official data on waste generation and management in Ireland. The report reveals some worrying trends.

Waste generation in Ireland increased significantly in 2019. Municipal waste increased by 6 per cent to 3.1 million tonnes, packaging waste increased by 11 per cent to 1.1 million tonnes and hazardous waste increased by 10 per cent to 0.6 million tonnes.

Sharon Finegan, Director of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Sustainability, said,

“A circular economy is one that is based on less waste and more reuse of materials; these trends show Ireland is going in the wrong direction. Our rising levels of waste are unsustainable and need to stop. Systemic change is needed across all economic sectors to shift the focus to designing out waste and promoting reuse and recycling.”

The past decade in Ireland has seen dramatic changes in waste management. Only 15 per cent of municipal waste was landfilled in 2019 compared with 61 per cent a decade earlier. There has been a significant increase in the share of municipal waste sent for incineration with energy recovery over the same period, from 4 per cent in 2009 to 46 per cent in 2019.

Ireland’s recycling rates for municipal and packaging waste have been in gradual decline for a number years, as efforts to improve recycling have been outstripped by the growth in waste being generated and the amount being sent for energy recovery.

Our recycling rate for municipal waste has fallen from 41 per cent in 2016 to 37 per cent in 2019, while the recycling rate for packaging waste has declined from 70 per cent in 2013 to 62 per cent in 2019. The trends show that Ireland is facing a widening gap to meet ambitious new EU recycling targets from 2025 onwards.

Commenting on the trends, Dr Tara Higgins, EPA Senior Scientist said,

“Ireland’s declining recycling rates are a significant cause for concern. Recent moves to allow soft plastics such as films and wraps into our recycling bins, continued expansion of brown bin services to households, new requirements for all packaging to be reusable or recyclable by 2030 and a levy on waste recovery are among the suite of measures needed to increase recycling and close the gap to new EU recycling targets”.

Ireland also continues to have some significant waste infrastructure deficits and relies on export for a number of key waste streams, including municipal, packaging and hazardous waste. These trends point to the need for expansion of Ireland’s waste treatment and recycling capacity in order to extract the maximum value from waste materials in Ireland and reduce the emissions associated with transporting waste over long distances.

The EPA compiles official statistics on waste generation and treatment in Ireland. These are used for reporting on Ireland’s performance in meeting its legal obligations, for policy and waste management planning purposes and to inform the general public. Data are compiled through surveys of waste operators and administrative data sources, in cooperation with other public authorities.

Key data

  • Municipal waste, which consists of waste from household and commercial sources, amounted to 3.1 million tonnes in 2019, up six per cent on the previous year. Some 1.6 million tonnes of this consisted of household waste. The quantity of household waste generated per person in Ireland has increased from 321 kilogrammes (kg) in 2017 to 325 kg in 2018 to 330 kg in 2019. Levels of municipal waste generation in Ireland continue to be closely linked with consumption patterns and economic activity.
  • Hazardous waste generation increased by 10 per cent to 0.6 million tonnes.
  • Construction and demolition waste increased by 2.6 million tonnes to 8.8 million tonnes, correlating with increased construction activity nationally.
  • The drop off in Ireland’s recycling rate for some waste streams continued in 2019 - municipal waste recycling dropped one percentage point to 37 per cent while the packaging recycling rate dropped two percentage points to 62 per cent. Recycling rates are particularly low for plastic packaging at 28 per cent. These trends mean that the gap is widening for Ireland to meet ambitious EU recycling targets that apply from 2025 onwards.
  • The trend towards incineration continued, with almost half of municipal waste (46 per cent) and a large majority of plastic packaging waste (69 per cent) incinerated in 2019.
  • 15 per cent of municipal waste was disposed to landfill in 2019.
  • 48 per cent of Irish households had access to a brown bin in 2019, up from 43 per cent in 2018. The quantity of municipal biowaste treated by either composting or anaerobic digestion increased by 15 per cent to 295,000 tonnes.
  • Ireland continued to rely on export for treating a number of key waste streams - just 16 per cent of all packaging waste underwent recycling in Ireland (mainly glass and wood). Some 40 percent of municipal waste and 65 per cent of hazardous waste was exported for final treatment.
  • Ireland met all recycling and recovery targets for WEEE. However, Ireland failed to meet the new WEEE separate collection target of 65 per cent, achieving a separate collection rate of 61 per cent.
  • Ireland continued to meet all reuse and recycling rate targets for end-of-life vehicles in 2019, but by a narrow margin.
  • With a material recovery rate for Construction & Demolition waste of 84 per cent in 2019, Ireland is track to meet the 2020 recovery target of 70 per cent.

Recycling means any recovery operation by which waste materials are reprocessed into products, materials or substances whether for the original or other purposes. It includes the reprocessing of organic material but does not include energy recovery and the reprocessing into materials that are to be used as fuels or for backfilling operations.

Recovery means any operation the principal result of which is waste serving a useful purpose by replacing other materials which would otherwise have been used to fulfil that function, or waste being prepared to fulfil that function, in the plant or in the wider economy. Annex II of the Waste Framework Directive (2008/98/EC) sets out a non-exhaustive list of recovery operations, which include material recovery (i.e. recycling), energy recovery (i.e. use a fuel other than in direct incineration, or other means to generate energy) and biological recovery (e.g. composting).

Circular economy: A circular economy is one where materials, including packaging, are recirculated and used again and again, and waste is minimised. To facilitate the move to a more circular economy, the European Commission put forward a Circular Economy Package in December 2015, which includes revised legislative proposals on waste, as well as a comprehensive Action Plan. The Irish Government published a new national waste policy, A Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy, in September 2021.

Waste Characterisation Study: In 2018 the EPA completed a characterisation study of municipal waste, providing an updated view of what is in our household and commercial recycling and general waste bins. The outputs of this study were used in compiling the 2019 packaging waste statistics presented here.