Levels of municipal waste generation in Ireland continue to be closely linked to high consumption levels, as well as a single-use and throwaway culture, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Waste Statistics Summary Report 2018 , which includes the most recent official data on waste generation and management in Ireland.
Ireland continues to generate significant amounts of waste, amounting to 14 million tonnes in 2018. In particular, municipal waste, from household and commercial sources, amounted to 2.9 million tonnes, up 3.5 per cent on 2017. While Ireland achieved high recycling rates in some material streams, such as glass and paper/cardboard packaging, the figures reveal some worrying trends.
Ireland’s recycling rate for municipal waste has decreased to 38 per cent in 2018, having remained stagnant at 40 per cent since 2014. Recycling of packaging waste has declined from 70 per cent in 2013 to 64 per cent in 2018. Ireland also continues to have some significant waste infrastructure deficits and relies on export for a number of key waste streams, including packaging and hazardous waste.
Dr Eimear Cotter, Director of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Sustainability, said,
“A circular economy is one that is based on less waste and more reuse and recycling of materials that otherwise would be thrown away. These figures indicate that we are going in the wrong direction across a number of indicators, such as falling recycling levels. To get the most from our resources, we need to prevent waste and break the link between economic growth and waste generation. We also need to significantly increase our recycling rates to ensure that Ireland meets ambitious new EU targets in the coming years. Measures that promote better segregation of waste and also expand the range of materials that can be recycled in Ireland will be key to this.”
Over the past decade in Ireland, there has been a welcome decline in landfilling of municipal waste in Ireland, from 62 per cent in 2008 to just 14 per cent in 2018. Over the same period, the share of waste sent for incineration with energy recovery has increased substantially from 3 per cent in 2008 to 43 per cent in 2018, reflecting Ireland’s increased incineration capacity since 2011. While these trends indicate some progress has been made in moving waste management further up the waste hierarchy, Ireland’s stagnating recycling rates and continuing high levels of waste generation are a significant cause for concern.
Commenting on the figures, Dr Tara Higgins, EPA Senior Scientist said,
“We welcome that the Government’s new Waste and Circular Economy Action Plan sets out concrete measures to address Ireland’s stagnating recycling rates and continuing high levels of waste generation. We look forward to engaging with and participating in the implementation of the Plan to put Ireland on a path to a circular economy and bring about environmental and climate benefits.”
The EPA compiles national data on waste generation and treatment in Ireland through direct survey of industry and waste facilities, and in cooperation with other public authorities.
The National Waste Statistics Summary Report 2018, and accompanying infographic, is available on the EPA website (insert link). National waste statistics for individual waste streams are published on the EPA website.
Ireland generated approximately 14 million tonnes of waste in 2018.
Municipal waste, from household and commercial sources, amounted to 2.9 million tonnes in 2018, up 3.5 per cent on the previous year. Some 1.5 million tonnes of this consisted of household waste. Levels of municipal waste generation in Ireland continue to be closely linked with lifestyle and consumption patterns and economic activity.
Ireland generated an estimated 1 million tonnes of food waste in 2018, with households, the processing, manufacturing and retail sectors all contributing to this.
Ireland met all relevant targets for packaging waste, waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), waste batteries and end-of-life vehicles (ELVs) in 2018. Ireland also looks set to meet the upcoming 2020 EU targets for recovery of construction and demolition waste and municipal waste recycling.
Notwithstanding this positive performance, Ireland’s recycling rates will need to improve considerably across most waste streams to meet the far more stringent EU targets that will apply post-2020.
The past decade has seen radical changes in how Ireland’s municipal waste is managed: landfill disposal has fallen sharply, while the share of waste sent for energy recovery has risen markedly since 2011. Recycling, by contrast, remained stagnant at 40% from 2014 to 2017 and slipped to 38% in 2018. This reflects that movements away from landfill have gone largely to energy recovery rather than recycling, with energy recovery increasing from 3% in 2008 to 43% in 2018. Packaging recycling rates have shown a worrying decline from 70% in 2013 to 64% in 2018.
Ireland continues to have some significant waste infrastructure deficits and relies on export for a number of key waste streams, including packaging waste and hazardous waste.
Waste characterisation studies carried out by the EPA show that the makeup of Ireland’s municipal waste has changed considerably over the last ten years. Plastics now make up one-fifth of the waste in household bins.
While the introduction of brown bins has led to a welcome reduction in the amount of food and garden waste found in the residual waste bin, only 43% of Irish households had a brown bin in 2018 and about half of all household organic waste continued to be disposed of in the ‘wrong’ bins.
In the commercial sector, almost 70% of the content of the residual waste bins could potentially be diverted either to recycling or to brown bins with better segregation.
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 or the reprocessing into materials that are to be used as fuels or for backfilling operations.
Circular economy: In a circular economy, the value of products and materials is maintained for as long as possible; waste and resource use are minimised, and resources are kept within the economy when a product has reached the end of its life, to be used again and again to create further value. To facilitate the move to a more circular economy, the European Commission adopted the Circular Economy Package in 2015, which includes revised legislative proposals on waste, as well as a comprehensive Action Plan. In Ireland, the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment commenced a review of national waste policy in December 2019 and published a new National Waste Policy 2020-2025, A Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy, in September 2020.
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 waste statistics presented here. The study outputs can be found on the EPA website.
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