EPA Release, 31 January 2018
Ireland is achieving EU waste legislative targets for recovery and recycling of waste packaging, waste electrical and electronic equipment, batteries & accumulators and the diversion of biodegradable municipal waste from landfill. Despite an increase in the recovery of end-of-life vehicles in recent years, Ireland is failing to meet the recovery and recycling targets for this waste stream. See Progress to Targets for further information.
Targets for household waste recycling and construction & demolition waste recovery under the EU Waste Framework Directive come into effect in 2020. Reaching these targets will be a challenge as the household recycling rate has stayed relatively static since 2012. Contamination of kerbside dry recyclable bins is impacting on the recycling potential of waste collected and this problem is being addressed by the waste industry and local authorities through public education programmes.
The Waste Hierarchy
The amount of residual waste exported for energy recovery has increased significantly in recent years. At the same time, the quantity of residual waste disposed to landfill decreased as did the number of operational landfills. Five landfills are currently accepting municipal waste compared to 25 in 2010. Landfill capacity was at a critical point in 2016 and the acceptance capacity at three landfills was increased as a short-term measure. Additional waste-to-energy capacity is now available in Ireland with a second municipal waste incinerator operational at full capacity. Having adequate waste treatment infrastructure in the State is very important and the Waste Management Planning Regions are monitoring waste treatment capacity on an ongoing basis.
Several waste streams are subject to Producer Responsibility Initiatives (PRI) in Ireland: waste packaging, waste electrical and electronic equipment, end-of-life vehicles, batteries & accumulators, farm plastics and tyres. The producer (manufacturer or entity who puts a product on the market) has responsibility for funding the collection and environmentally sound management of the product at the end of its life. Following an evaluation of PRI systems in Ireland, waste tyres and end-of-life vehicles were identified as priority PRIs for review. Amended Regulations are in place for both waste streams and compliance schemes are operating on behalf of their producer members to meet targets and legal obligations.
Hazardous waste is generated by all sectors of Irish society, from industry, healthcare, small businesses, households and farms. The third National Hazardous Waste Management Plan (2014-2020) sets out the priorities for improving the management of hazardous waste, including preventing and reducing the generation of hazardous waste. Latest data for hazardous waste managed indicate that the overall quantity increased in 2016 compared to 2015 (mainly due to an increase in contaminated soil). On the positive side, there was a decrease in the amount of hazardous waste (solvents) generated and treated by the pharmaceutical sector.
Food waste is a key concern. Under the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Ireland must halve per capita food waste at the retail and consumer level by 2030. Ireland has had commercial food waste regulations in place since 2009 and household food waste regulations since 2013 and while there has been an increase in municipal food waste segregated and sent for composting/anaerobic digestion, there is scope for further diversion. This is a priority action for the Waste Enforcement Regional Lead Authorities. The EPA, through the STOPFoodWaste initiative, supported the introduction of a Food Waste Charter for Ireland in 2017 to encourage businesses to take action on reducing food waste.
The EPA commissioned a national municipal waste characterisation study in 2017. A report on the study will be published in the first half of 2018. The study will provide much needed updates on the characterisation of the residual, dry recyclables and organic municipal waste bins presented by households and non-household sectors since the last study was conducted in 2008.
Any Brexit related changes to waste legislation and the border with Northern Ireland will impact on Ireland’s waste management industry and has the potential to impact on Ireland meeting waste legislative targets. We have a high dependence on UK facilities for recycling glass and metal wastes and there is cross-border activity for organic waste, waste electrical and electronic equipment, waste oils and dry recyclables. The EPA will continue to need information on the recycling and recovery activity at these destinations to report accurately on management of waste generated in Ireland.
As part of the European Commission’s Circular Economy Package, some legislative waste targets are being reviewed. Whereas targets to-date have focussed on recovery (including energy recovery) and recycling, the next focus will be to increase recycling and increase the preparation of waste for reuse. It will be challenging for Ireland to increase recycling rates, particularly with our heavy dependence on external markets for recycling glass, metal, paper & cardboard and plastic.
The Circular Economy