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Introduction

The economic downturn has impacted on the generation of certain waste streams (e.g. household, commercial, construction and demolition). The national landfill levy as well as EU legislation continue to be primary drivers of change in relation to waste management practices in Ireland. Ireland has made significant progress in meeting many EU waste recycling /recovery targets but challenges in relation to waste generation and management of particular waste streams, such as end of life vehicles and biodegradable municipal waste, remain.

The last decade has seen huge change in relation to how waste is managed in Ireland. The regulatory regime imposed on the waste industry in this period has yielded significant and measurable improvements in environmental protection. Ireland has moved quickly from a position of almost total reliance on landfill for managing waste to a high level of recovery of certain recyclable materials, with complex waste flows to and between different waste recycling and recovery activities.

In order for Ireland to remain competitive and to attract inward investment it is necessary to ensure that an integrated, competent and well-regulated waste management service sector is operated. Such provision needs to include the necessary range of infrastructure to meet national needs where appropriate. Currently Ireland is dependent on export arrangements for certain waste streams such as hazardous waste and a large proportion of recyclables.

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State and Impacts

Ireland’s waste infrastructure was up to recently, not overly complex; this is changing rapidly with more sophisticated infrastructure for the pre-treatment and end-treatment of waste recently developed or currently under development. There is a continued reliance on landfill for municipal waste; and for waste recovery/recycling, the majority of candidate materials are exported. Ireland has no merchant hazardous waste incineration or hazardous waste landfill facility. Ireland's first merchant municipal waste incinerator commenced operations in October 2011, and there is a national capacity for 340,000 tonnes of refuse derived fuels at cement kilns. A reported 550,000 tonnes of biological waste treatment is available. Control of waste is split between the private sector and public sector, with the latter’s share continually decreasing.

Overall recycling/recovery rates continue to climb, particularly in the municipal, packaging and Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) waste streams.

Waste Generation

Total waste generation in Ireland in 2010 was 19.8 million tonnes.

Waste generation in the agriculture and industrial sectors (e.g. mining, maufacturing) accounted for 5.6 million tonnes. Other sectors (e.g. power and water supply, services, construction, households) generated 14.2 million tonnes of waste. The impact of the economic downturn is very marked in a number of the waste streams. Hazardous waste as a surrogate for industrial performance has remained stable, reflecting the performance of large manufacturing sectors. The collapse of the construction and demolition sector is very marked.

Municipal Waste

Recovery and disposal of municipal waste

Thumbnail-Recovery and Disposal of Municipal Waste

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Municipal waste generation has decreased in Ireland since 2007, despite an increase in population. The economic downturn, resulting in decreased personal consumption of goods and services has been a particular factor. Municipal waste in Ireland is made up of household waste, commercial waste (including non-process industrial waste) and cleansing waste (e.g., street sweepings, municipal parks and cemeteries maintenance waste). The amount of municipal waste generated increased steadily in the period up to 2007, to approximately 3.4 million tonnes. However, there has been a 17 per cent decrease in municipal waste generation since 2007, with approximately 2.8 million tonnes generated in 2011. Municipal waste recovery has increased dramatically over the last decade with 47 per cent of this waste recovered in 2011.

Household waste generated per person in Ireland in 2011 amounted to 367kg which is considerably less than the EU average of 438kg (Eurostat, 2012). The proportion of household waste recycled has been increasing over the past few years despite the overall reduction in the amount generated.

Biodegradable Municipal Waste (BMW)

Biodegradable waste diversion from landfill

Thumbnail-Biodegradable Municipal Waste Diversion from Landfill

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BMW comprises those elements of the household, commercial and cleansing waste streams that will rot or degrade. The main constituents of the biodegradable proportion of municipal waste are typically parks and garden waste, food waste, timber, paper, card and textiles.

There are targets under the Landfill Directive to divert BMW from landfill. Ireland met the first diversion target (due by July 2010), which was to landfill a maximum 75 per cent of the BMW generated in 1995. A further reduction of 250,000 t on the 2010 landfilled tonnages is needed to reach the July 2013 EU Landfill Directive target.

Producer responsibility initiative waste streams

Recovery of packaging waste

Thumbnail-Recovery of Packaging Waste

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Ireland has been compliant with all statutory packaging recovery targets set since 2001.  A recovery rate of 79 per cent is reported for packaging waste in 2011, exceeding the EU target of 60 per cent due in 2011.

In 2011 a total of 41,092 t of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) was collected for recovery. This included 7.6 kg per capita of household WEEE, exceeding the EU target of 4 kg per capita.

Ireland is failing to meet the 2006 EU target of 80 per cent for reuse/recycling of End of Life Vehicles (ELVs) and the target of 85 per cent for reuse/recovery of ELVs. Preliminary data for 2011 indicates that the reuse/recycling rate of ELVs in Ireland was 77 per cent and the reuse/recovery rate was 79 per cent.

Other waste streams

The quantity of Irish construction and demolition (C&D) waste collected has decreased by 83 per cent since a peak of 17.8 Mt in 2007. The decline in the economy and the number of houses being built had a direct effect on this waste.

Waste is classified as being hazardous when it displays properties that make it dangerous or potentially harmful to human health or the environment. Industry is the largest generator of hazardous waste in Ireland, though substantial amounts are also generated by households, small businesses etc. The quantity of hazardous waste managed in 2011, at 287,376 t, is very close to the 2010 figure. This originated primarily from the pharmaceutical and chemical industries.

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Drivers & Pressures

Waste generation

Up to 2007, Ireland’s waste growth mirrored the growth in population and economic performance.  However, since then there have been declines in the generation of municipal waste reflecting the fall in Gross National Product (GNP). Household waste generation fell despite a rise in population, reflecting the decrease in personal consumption. 

Nevertheless, per capita waste generation is still considered to be at an unsustainably high level in Ireland.  Prevention of waste is preferable to waste management and is at the highest level in the EU waste hierarchy. Reducing the inefficient and inappropriate use of raw materials and resources will reduce waste generation, energy use, transport impacts and all consequential environmental impacts.

Waste recovery

Recovery rates are generally improving across most waste streams. Of note in 2011 was the increase in the recovery of household waste (up 6 per cent) and municipal waste recycling achieved a rate of 40 per cent, matching the EU27 norm. The use of waste as an energy fuel (substitute to fossil fuels) grew by 42 per cent from 2010 figures to 259,429 t in 2011. This was mainly refuse derived fuel co-incinerated in cement kilns. However, there is still a substantial reliance on material recovery facilities abroad, with 73 per cent of non-hazardous municipal waste recovered abroad in 2011.

Waste management

Waste infrastructural development projects can often take a long time to progress through the planning and environmental licensing processes. Significantly, landfill capacity is not distributed evenly throughout the State and some regions are at critical capacity shortage stage.

It is important that planning to address potential waste management infrastructure needs is undertaken well in advance. It is also critical that this planning process allows for (and promotes as appropriate) a diverse range of waste infrastructural needs spanning, inter alia, preparation for re-use, biowaste treatment, materials recovery, incineration and landfill.

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Responses

Waste policy

A range of regulatory and market based instruments have been utilised to achieve more sustainable waste management practices.  These include increases in the landfill levy, source separated collection of biowaste, and pre-treatment and restriction of particular waste streams to landfill. 

EU legislation continues to be a significant driver of waste policy (Waste Framework Directive, Landfill Directive, producer responsibility initiatives etc.).

In July 2012 the DECLG published the government's new wate management policy "A Resource Opportunity - Waste Management Policy in Ireland". The policy sets out a series of measures which aim to move Ireland away from dependence on landfill for the treatment of municipal waste, and through which waste will be reduced and the resources recovered from waste maximised.

The DECLG also published the Regulatory Impact Analysis on Household Waste Collection in July 2012. The analysis recommends that the government preserves the current waste collection market structure and strengthens the regulatory regime which applies. This would include mandated service levels including the provision of segregated waste collections. The policy of retaining the current market structure will be reviewed in 2016.

Ireland is well advanced concerning achievements of its EU recovery/recycling obligations in relation to a range of EU directives. However, failure to meet the End of Life Vehicle Directive targets is a concern, as is a poor level of sophistication in waste infrastructural provision, as well as Ireland being reliant on waste export markets to an unsustainable extent.  The provision of indigenous industry to deal with recyclate is being addressed by the rx3 Market Development Programme, but will be influenced by the size of the Irish market.  There remains considerable effort required in relation to diversion of biodegradable waste from landfill to meet the 2013 and 2016 targets.

Waste prevention

In addition to waste management policy responses, a National Waste Prevention Programme was launched in 2004 and since then has developed a number of prevention initiatives.  These have targeted business (Green Business, Green Hospitality), households (Green Home Programme), hospitals (Green Healthcare Project), retail (Green Retail Programme), packaging (Packaging Waste Prevention Programme), and local authorities (Local Authority Prevention Network, Stop Food Waste) to prevent waste generation. 

In 2008, the EPA published the revised National Hazardous Waste Management Plan (2008-2012). This focuses on the prevention of hazardous waste and seeks to promote the safe collection and treatment of such waste.  

Waste research

Environmental research has also played an important role in informing waste management practices and policy. For example, there has been research on a quality standard for compost derived from source-separated biodegradable wastes, and research on the potential of mechanical biological treatment technologies.

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Outlook

 The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) has developed a Sustainable Development Model for Ireland (ISus) to forecast national environmental emissions and resource use up to 2025.  This estimates that the total volume of municipal waste is likely to increase over the next fifteen years once economic recovery begins, necessitating future investment in waste management infrastructure.  The estimates will be tied to the level of economic growth and the impact of proposed new waste policy measures.

Ireland remains relatively underdeveloped in respect to the sophistication of essential waste treatment infrastructure necessary for the pre-treatment of municipal waste prior to disposal (e.g. anaerobic digestion, mechanical biological treatment, waste to energy) and for materials recovery/recycling. Provision of increased refuse derived fuels capacity came on stream in 2009 and the first merchant municipal waste incinerator commenced operations in October 2011. The number of composting/anaerobic digestion facilities accepting municipal wastes (e.g. food and garden wastes) for treatment is increasing.

Predicted growth in municipal waste

Thumbnail-Predicted Growth in Municipal Waste

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In the coming years it will be important that further implementation of the National Waste Prevention Programme assists in the decoupling of waste generation in Ireland from the predicted subsequent growth in GNP (post recovery). The full implementation of the rx3 Market Development Programme will also be important for managing more recyclable waste in Ireland.

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