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The economic downturn has impacted on the generation of certain waste streams (e.g. municipal, construction and demolition). The national landfill levy and EU legislation continue to be primary drivers of change in relation to waste management practices in Ireland. Ireland has made significant progress and is meeting many EU waste recycling /recovery and diversion from landfill targets. There is a risk of failing to meet some future targets, particularly in relation to end of life vehicles and collection of portable batteries.

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 waste (energy recovery and recycling), 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 (glass, metal, paper) and the amount of residual municipal waste being exported for use as a fuel is increasing, particularly since 2011.

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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.The amount of municipal waste landfilled is decreasing (2012 was the first year that the percentage tonnage sent for recovery exceeded the percentage tonnage disposed); however, many municipal waste streams are exported for energy recovery and/or recycling. 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 waste to be used as a fuel 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 Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) waste streams.

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, but there is a trend towards less waste generated and improved waste prevention. 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 21 per cent decrease in municipal waste generation since 2007, with approximately 2.7 million tonnes generated in 2012. Municipal waste recovery has increased dramatically over the last decade with 59 per cent of this waste recovered in 2012.

Household waste generated per person in Ireland in 2012 amounted to 344 kg which is considerably less than the EU average of 438 kg (Eurostat, 2010 data, latest available). The proportion of household waste recovered 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. Preliminary data for 2013 indicate that Ireland has met the 2013 target, and is on track to meet the 2016 target. There is, however, a risk that municipal waste generation could increase with economic recovery which in turn may result in an increase in BMW being disposed to landfill.

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 87 per cent is reported for packaging waste in 2012, exceeding the EU target of 60 per cent due in 2011.

In 2012 a total of 40,818 tonnes of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) was collected for recovery. This included 7.5 kg per capita of household WEEE, exceeding the EU target of 4 kg per capita.

In 2012, Ireland achieved compliance with the 2006 End of Life (ELV) Directive targets for the first time. The 80 per cent reuse and recycling and the 85 per cent reuse and recovery targets were both achieved. There is a risk of failing to meet higher targets which come into effect from January 2015. To achieve the higher targets, a combination of actions will be required, which may include increased dismantling of non-metallic ELV components prior to shredding, the application of post-shredder technologies to extract recyclable materials such as plastics and glass from the shredder residue or energy recovery of shredder residue and metal recovery from combustion residues.

Other waste streams

In 2011, the quantity of Irish construction and demolition (C&D) waste collected had 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 treatment of hazardous waste in 2012 was similar to 2011, with 22 per cent treated on-site at industry where it was generated, 30 per cent sent off-site to a commercial hazardous waste facility for treatment and 48 per cent exported for treatment.

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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. 

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 2012 was the increase in the recovery of municipal waste (up 12 per cent) and the municipal waste recycling rate of 40 per cent, nearly matching the EU28 norm of 42 per cent. In 2012, 427,093 tonnes of municipal waste was used as a fuel for energy recovery. This is a 118 per cent increase on the 195,622 tonnes reported for 2011. Ireland's first municipal waste incinerator had its first full year of operation in 2012, and the amount of municipal waste (baled municipal waste and refuse derived fuel) exported for energy recovery increased. Two cement kilns in the State are also accepting waste for use as a fuel in place of fossil fuels. However, there is still a substantial reliance on material recovery facilities abroad, with 58 per cent of non-hazardous municipal waste recovered abroad in 2012.

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. At the end of 2012, there was approximately 17.3 Mt of remaining consented capacity for landfills, and of this, about 1.6Mt is available at open, operational landfills. This equates to circa two years landfill capacity based on the 2012 fill rate.

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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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 other waste streams which are subject to producer responsibility initiative legislation, 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 Initiative (PRI) Directives such as Packaging, WEEE, Battery and ELV Directives etc.).

In July 2012 the DECLG published the government's new waste 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.

Starting in July 2012, the DECLG undertook a review of the Producer Responsibility Initiative (PRI) model in Ireland. The main report of the review was published for public consultation in July 2014. The process of implementing some of the recommendations made in the report has started, particularly for waste tyres and end of life vehicle PRIs.

The DECLG published a discussion paper for public consultation on the regulation of household waste collection in November 2013. Taking stakeholder feedback into account, the DECLG is now preparing a package of legislative measures to give effect to a wide range of changes to strengthen the existing regulatory structure. These will include a move to a pay per weight system of charging, introduction of on-the-spot fines and fixed payment notices etc.

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.

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. The full range of prevention initiative resources can be accessed from the EPA website at www.epa.ie/begreen. The EPA's Towards a Resource Efficient Ireland: A National Strategy to 2020, incorporating the National Waste Prevention Programme, was published in July 2014.

In June 2014, the EPA published the revised National Hazardous Waste Management Plan (2014-2020). This focuses on the prevention of hazardous waste and seeks to promote the safe collection and treatment of such waste.  

Waste research

Environmental research, funded by the EPA, 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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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 amount of municipal waste exported for energy recovery is increasing, particularly since 2012. The number of composting/anaerobic digestion facilities accepting municipal wastes (e.g. food and garden wastes) for treatment is relatively static. Some compost facilities are introducing new, non-composting processes on site for the biostabilisation of organic fines. The organic fines are an output from facilities that mechanically treat residual waste.

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. the increasing rate of recovery compared to disposal is welcome, but prevention initiatives, preparation for reuse and recycling of waste must be encouraged and undertaken, particularly where waste streams are segregated at source.

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