Hazardous waste statistics for Ireland

EPA waste data release Dec 11th 2020, latest reference year 2019

What is hazardous waste?

A waste is hazardous when it can harm human health or the environment because it is explosive, oxidising, flammable, irritant, toxic, carcinogenic, corrosive, infectious, mutagenic, sensitising, or eco-toxic. Hazardous waste is controlled by strict regulations to protect against the threat to people and the environment.

 

Figure 1: Examples of Hazardous Waste

Where does hazardous waste come from?

Industry is the largest generator of hazardous wastes such as industrial solvents, sludges, oils and chemicals. Other sectors such as businesses, construction, healthcare, farms and households produce wastes such as lead-acid batteries, certain waste electrical and electronic equipment, healthcare risk waste, solvent-based paints and varnishes, and waste oils. All hazardous products are labelled with one or more of the symbols pictured above.  

 

 Labels  

Figure 2: Pictograms to be used on labels under the Classification, Labelling and Packaging Regulations (EC) No 1272/2008

 

Key Trends

A total of 580,977 tonnes of hazardous waste were managed in Ireland in 2019, see Figure 3.  This was an increase of over 54,580 tonnes since 2018. 

  • Hazardous waste generation in Ireland has been increasing since 2015, driven mainly by increases in incinerator ash and contaminated soils.  There was a large increase in the quantity of incinerator ash from 2016 and 2018 and this has continued into 2019. 
  • There has been an increase in the treatment of hazardous waste in Ireland; however the majority of Ireland’s hazardous waste was still exported to other EU member states for treatment in 2019, amounting to 379,386 tonnes (24,204 tonnes more than in 2018). 

 

What types of Hazardous Waste Does Ireland Produce?

In 2019, approximately 80% of the 580,977 tonnes of hazardous waste generated was from industry, 18% was from the construction sector and two percent was from municipal sources, such as households, small businesses, educational facilities etc.

Table 1, below, details the top categories of hazardous waste generated.  The top four categories that made up 61% of hazardous waste generated in 2019 were:

  • wastes from waste treatment such as incinerator bottom ash, fly ash, boiler ash and residues from flue gas and air pollution control at waste-to-energy facilities (152,635 tonnes)
  • contaminated soils from the development of old industrial facilities and brownfield sites, (90,595 tonnes)
  • chemical reaction residues (65,509 tonnes)
  • solvents which contribute (46,813 tonnes)

Healthcare risk waste was the 11th largest contributor to hazardous waste (12,091 tonnes); it is expected that the Covid-19 pandemic will result in higher quantities of this type of waste in 2020.

 

Open in Excel: Table 1: Top 11 hazardous EWC categories of hazardous waste in Ireland in 2019 (XLS 10KB)

Figure 3: Quantity of hazardous waste generated and treatment location

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Hazardous Waste Treatment

Hazardous waste must be treated to reduce its potential to pollute the environment or to threaten human health. Ireland’s hazardous waste is treated either on-site at the industrial facility where the waste was generated (under conditions of EPA licence), offsite at hazardous waste treatment facilities in Ireland, or at facilities in other countries. 

On-Site Treatment at Industrial Facilities

EPA licensed industrial facilities at 15 locations fully treated 55,282 tonnes of hazardous waste in 2019 under EPA licence conditions. Figure 4 shows the range of disposal and recovery activities used.  Approximately 40,000 tonnes of this went for disposal and almost 15,000 was recovered. 

Hazardous waste treated on-site increased by approximately 25,000 tonnes in 2019.  This was due to 15,000 tonnes of contaminated soil from Limerick Gas Works that was treated and deposited back on land and 10,000 tonnes of dredging spoil at Dublin Port that was remediated and recovered. 

Hazardous Waste Treatment in Ireland

Irish hazardous waste treatment facilities treated 146,309 tonnes of hazardous waste to non-hazardous status in 2019, an increase of 30% on the previous year.  Waste types treated included contaminated soils, used motor oil, healthcare wastes, sludges, filter cakes, absorbents, laboratory and chemical waste and household hazardous waste from civic amenity sites.  This waste is treated until it is non-hazardous; the non-hazardous wastes that result are then further treated either in Ireland or abroad.

Exports for Treatment

Ireland does not have the facilities required to treat the full range of hazardous wastes it produces. The majority (65%) of Ireland’s hazardous waste was exported for treatment in other European countries for treatment in 2019 (compared with 73% in 2018).

Figure 5 below shows the countries that accepted this waste for treatment. The Netherlands, Norway, Great Britain, Belgium, Germany, Northern Ireland, France and Portugal together accepted 98% of hazardous waste exports in 2019.   The spike in waste sent to the Netherlands in 2018 has continued in 2019 and this is due to the approximately 100,000 tonnes annually of ash from municipal waste incinerators.  In April 2020 incinerator bottom ash from the Dublin Waste to Energy facility was classified as non-hazardous waste following testing and therefore a decrease in the order of 80,000 tonnes in the hazardous waste figures can be expected in 2020. 

Figure 4: On-site treatment of hazardous waste at EPA licensed industrial facilities

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Figure 5: Hazardous waste exports (excl. soils)

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Contaminated Soils

Exports of contaminated soil fell for a second year in 2019 to just over 46,000 tonnes. The majority of this is exported to Norway, 38,560 tonnes.  Contaminated soils come from old industrial sites such as gas works, mines, tanneries, dock yards, petrol stations, etc. which are often contaminated with hazardous chemicals.  Contaminated soils must be removed before the site can be used again. 

In 2019 the total amount of contaminated soil generated in Ireland was just over 90,000 tonnes a decrease of 3,000 tonnes from 2018, as shown in Figure 6 below.  Treatment in Ireland almost equalled treatment abroad in 2019 due to an increase to 29,000 tonnes treated at Irish hazardous waste treatment facilities and over 15,000 tonnes of contaminated soil treated onsite at Limerick Gas Works.     

Figure 6: Quantity of contaminated soil treated, 2010-2019

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Open in Excel: EPA_Hazardous_2020_Ref2019_Table_2.xlsx (XLS 10KB)
Open in Excel: Table 4_haz_2019X (XLS 11KB)
Open in Excel: Table 5_haz_2019X3 (XLS 10KB)