Ireland now recovers more municipal waste than it sends to landfill

Date released: Mar 19 2014

  • 2012 was the first year since EPA began recording waste statistics (in 1995), that a higher percentage of municipal waste was recovered (56%) than disposed of to landfill (44%).
  • The increase in the recovery rate for municipal waste was primarily through an increase in the use of municipal waste as a fuel (energy recovery).
  • Ireland is on track to achieve the 2013 EU Landfill Directive target of diverting biodegradable municipal waste from landfill. However, meeting the 2016 target is at risk, particularly should economic recovery lead to increased generation.
  • The number of landfills accepting municipal solid waste for disposal has decreased significantly – from 19 in 2012 to 11 by the end of 2013.

The EPA today published preliminary figures for municipal solid waste generation and management in 2012. These figures provide valuable information about how we generate and dispose of municipal waste, and inform Ireland’s approach to developing a resource-efficient society.

The figures show that there has been a shift away from landfilling municipal waste in recent years.  In 2012, 44% of municipal waste was consigned to landfill compared to 53% in 2011. This change is as a result of increases in the landfill levy and increased opportunities for operators to send municipal waste to recovery solutions.

An increase in use of waste as a fuel (energy recovery) has contributed significantly to an increased recovery rate for municipal waste.  This has arisen for a number of reasons: Ireland’s first municipal waste-to-energy incinerator became fully operational in 2012; cement kilns are using waste as a fuel; and the export of refuse derived fuel to waste-to-energy incinerators on the continent has increased.

These initial estimates indicate that the proportion of municipal waste recycled in Ireland in 2012 is 38%, which is down from the 40% recorded in 2011.

Dr Jonathan Derham, EPA said,

“This latest evidence shows that Ireland is successfully moving waste management up the waste hierarchy by reducing the disposal of municipal waste to landfill and increasing recovery of secondary value from the waste. Ireland is, therefore, more efficiently using resources and reducing the waste burden on the environment. The decrease in the proportion of municipal waste recycled is a negative trend which needs to be kept under review. We need to continue to focus on waste prevention, reuse and recycling as the economy recovers to avoid an associated increase in waste generation and to ensure efficient use of resources.”   

These preliminary estimates indicate that Ireland is on track to achieve the 2013 EU Landfill Directive target of diverting biodegradable municipal waste from disposal to landfill. However, meeting the 2016 target is at risk, particularly should economic recovery lead to increased generation.

Dr Jonathan Derham, continued,

“Despite decreasing amounts of municipal waste going to landfill in recent years, some future targets remain at risk of not being met. Ireland’s continued reliance on landfill means that we are at risk of not reaching strict biodegradable municipal waste diversion targets by 2016.”

Find the Municipal Waste Bulletin here
Irish Waste – Progress to EU Targets here.

Notes to Editor:

Municipal waste (MSW) means household waste as well as commercial and other waste that, because of its nature or composition, is similar to household waste. It excludes municipal sludges and effluents. In the context of this report municipal waste consists of three main elements - household, commercial (including non-process industrial waste), and street cleansing waste (street sweepings, street bins and municipal parks and cemeteries maintenance waste, litter campaign material).

Recovery means any operation the principal result of which is waste serving a useful purpose by replacing other materials which would otherwise have been used to fulfil a particular function, or waste being prepared to fulfill that function, in the plant or in the wider economy. Annex II of the Waste Framework Directive (2008/98/EC) sets out a non-exhaustive list of recovery operations, which includes material recovery (i.e. recycling), energy recovery (i.e. use a fuel (other than in direct incineration) or other means to generate energy) and biological recovery (eg composting).

Recycling means any recovery operation by which waste materials are reprocessed into products, materials or substances whether for the original or other purposes. It includes the reprocessing of organic material but does not include energy recovery and the reprocessing into materials that are to be used as fuels or for backfilling operations.

Municipal waste by numbers:

tonnes2012 (estimates)trend2011% tonnage difference
generated 2,622,000 2,823,242 -7%
managed 2,347,000 2,558,345 -8%
landfilled 1,028,000 1,344,008 -24%
incinerated without energy recovery 45 189 -76%
incinerated with energy recovery 419,000 195,622 +114%

sent for recycling (excluding composting or fermenting

of biodegradable waste)

674,000 861,361 -22%
composting or fermenting of biodegradable waste 226,000 157,165 +44%