EPA Release, 20 December 2017
Ireland is achieving most EU waste legislative targets (see Progress to Targets) - packaging, waste electrical and electronic equipment, batteries & accumulators and diversion of biodegradable municipal waste from landfill. Despite an increase in the recovery of end-of-life vehicles in recent years, Ireland failed to meet the 2015 targets.
Targets for household waste recycling and construction & demolition waste recovery under the 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 the dry recyclables bin is impacting on recycling potential and is being addressed by the waste industry and local authorities through public education programmes.
As part of the European Commission’s Circular Economy Package, some legislative waste targets are being reviewed. Whereas previous targets focussed on increasing recovery (including energy recovery) and recycling, the current focus is on increasing preparation for reuse and recycling. The motivation is to move the focus of waste management further up the waste hierarchy. 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 Waste Hierarchy
The amount of residual waste exported for energy recovery has increased significantly since 2012. The quantity of residual waste disposed to landfill decreased and the number of operational landfills decreased. In 2016 only seven landfills were accepting municipal waste compared to 25 in 2010. In 2016 landfill capacity was at a critical point and the acceptance capacity at three landfills was increased as a short-term measure. Additional waste-to-energy capacity is now available with a second municipal waste incinerator operational since early 2017 and reaching full capacity in quarter three. It is very important that there is adequate waste treatment infrastructure in the State and the Waste Management Planning Regions are monitoring waste capacity on an ongoing basis.
Several waste streams are subject to Producer Responsibility Initiatives (PRI) in Ireland: 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 treatment of a product at the end of its life. Following an evaluation of the PRI Model in Ireland, waste tyres and end-of-life vehicles were identified as priority PRIs for review. Amended Regulations have been published for both waste streams since 2016 and new compliance schemes are now operating on behalf of their producer members to meet targets and legal obligations.
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, the final report from which 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 (e.g. glass and metal) and there is cross-border activity for many wastes including 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.
The electronic reporting of annual returns by waste collection operators and waste facility/certificate of registration operators to the NWCPO (National Waste Collection Permit Office) has been a huge improvement in waste data management by the local authorities. Another very positive step by local authorities is the provision of an online search engine for registers of waste collection operators and waste facilities authorised by local authorities.
The EPA has a high dependence on waste operators to provide timely, accurate information and on local authorities to validate annual returns in a timely manner. Failure to provide data and/or validate data impacts on the timely production of national waste statistics. The EPA will continue to work with local authorities and the waste industry to improve the quality and timeliness of national waste statistics.
The Circular Economy