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EPA Calls for Urgent Action to Address Ireland’s Municipal Waste Recycling

The EPA National Waste Statistics Summary Report for 2020 published reports on the most recent official data on waste generation and recycling in Ireland. The report reveals a number of worrying trends.

Ireland is generating too much waste, but this is not just a waste management problem. There are wider climate and environmental impacts of increasing waste such as the land-use, resources, chemicals and the energy involved in the creation of products that become waste. In 2020 key waste streams were also impacted by Covid restrictions: 

  • Municipal waste increased from 3.1 million in 2019 to 3.2 million.  
  • Packaging waste remained high at 1.1 million tonnes, the fourth year in a row that total packaging waste generated exceed 1 million tonnes.
  • Construction waste decreased by 600,000 tonnes to 8.2 million tonnes
  • Overall waste generation increased  to 16.2 million tonnes, up from and 12.7 million tonnes in 2012.

Ireland’s waste generation continues to increase in line with economic growth, indicating that we have not succeeded in moving from the linear economic model of “take, make, use, and waste”. A recent OECD study found that Ireland has a circular material use rate of 1.8 per cent, relative to an EU average of 12.8%. We need to move to circular economy where resources are re-used, repaired or recycled as much as possible, and the generation of waste is minimised.

Sharon Finegan, Director of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Sustainability noted, “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 immediate steps must be taken to address these trends. Systemic change is needed across all economic sectors to shift the focus to designing out and reducing waste and promoting reuse and recycling.”

Ireland is continuing to meet many of its current EU targets. However, targets for 2025 and beyond are extremely challenging. Our increasing levels of waste are undoing our efforts to recycle more, and our rate of recycling has stagnated. For example:

  • Municipal waste recycling rate was 41 per cent in 2020, however it must reach 55 per cent by 2025.
  • Plastic packaging recycling rate was 29 per cent in 2020, however it must reach 50 per cent in 2025.  

Disposal to landfill has fallen sharply in Ireland over the past decade; a welcome development since this is the least desirable option in the waste management hierarchy. The municipal waste landfill rate in 2020 was 16 per cent, down from 58 per cent in 2010. The share of municipal waste sent for energy recovery increased from four per cent in 2010, to 42 per cent in 2020. Ireland remains heavily reliant on export for the treatment of a number of key waste streams, pointing to some significant waste infrastructure deficits and missed opportunities to foster a circular economy. 

Exported waste for treatment in 2020 included:  

  • 27 per cent of biodegradable waste.
  • 39 per cent of municipal waste.
  • 55 per cent of hazardous waste. 
  • 50 per cent of packaging waste.
  • Almost all WEEE was exported for the final treatment step.

Commenting on the recycling trends Warren Phelan, Programme Manager of the EPA’s Circular Economy Programme said, “our rising levels of waste are unsustainable and are threatening Ireland’s achievement of EU recycling targets.  We urgently need mandatory incentivised charging for the collection of non-household (commercial) municipal  waste.  We need to increase the rollout of brown bins, collect more food waste separately and increase the capture of plastic packaging for recycling at collection and processing stages.”

Source: EPA Ireland

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