Waste Packaging Statistics for Ireland

EPA Waste Data Release, 30 July 2020

Reference Year 2018

Most of the products we buy for our homes and businesses are contained in packaging that protects them during transport and makes them look attractive on shop shelves (see our latest Packaging Infographic 2020 for more details). When the goods are unpacked, the packaging become waste. Packaging waste makes up just over one million of the approximately 2.7 million tonnes of municipal waste from homes, schools and businesses.   

Each EU member state is obliged to meet targets, set out in the EU Packaging and Waste Packaging Directive, for the recycling and recovery of waste packaging made from glass, plastic, paper and board, metals and wood. Ireland met all targets for recycling and recovery of packaging waste in 2018. Our recycling rate is 64% and our recovery rate is 91%. However, much higher EU recycling targets will apply from 2025 and 2030 (Table 2 below), which will be challenging for Ireland.

Recycling includes reprocessing materials so they can be used again. Recovery means the use of packaging material in incineration with energy recovery, or for backfilling.

2018 is the second year in a row that Ireland generated over one million tonnes of packaging waste. 

Figure 1. Percentage recovery and recycling, 2009 to 2018

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Key Trends

Most of Ireland’s packaging waste was recycled in 2018, but recycling rates are declining.

Ireland’s recycling rate for 2018 is 64%. While Ireland met current EU requirements and achieved high recycling rates in some packaging material streams, in particular glass, paper and cardboard (Table 2), there has been an overall gradual fall in packaging recycling rates over recent years, from 74% in 2012 to 64% in 2018 (Figure 1). This has coincided with an increasing share of packaging going for incineration with energy recovery. Ireland’s recycling rate for plastic has dropped for the third year in a row to 31% in 2018. Based on these trends, the much higher EU recycling targets that will apply from 2025 and 2030 (Table 2) will be challenging for Ireland. Some of the decreases in recycling percentages between 2017 and 2018 are at least partially due to EU-wide changes in calculation methods.

Recycling is good for the environment because of the wealth of resources and energy used to produce packaging. For example, products made from recycled aluminium use 95% less energy than those made using virgin aluminium.

Total recovery of packaging waste was 91% in 2018

In addition to the 663,322 tonnes of packaging waste that was recycled in 2018, 282,866 tonnes was sent for recovery at either waste recovery facilities or cement kilns that incinerate packaging material to generate energy (Table 1). Incineration with energy recovery avoids the emissions and odour problems associated with disposal of packaging waste at landfill. In the case of cement kilns, energy recovery avoids directly burning fossil fuels by substituting packaging waste materials as a fuel source. However recycling remains a more desirable waste management option than recovery, in line with the waste hierarchy.

Ireland produced over 1 million tonnes of packaging waste in 2018, for the second year in a row. 

EU recycling and recovery targets are set as percentages of the amount of packaging waste generated. This means that we could continue to meet our recycling and recovery targets without ever reducing the amount of waste generated.  However, to achieve environmental and climate benefits we need to reduce the overall amount of waste generated.  This is because the production, transport and recycling of packaging waste causes carbon emissions and uses natural resources.  We can reduce packaging waste by setting waste prevention targets, by encouraging packaging designers away from single-use packaging and towards reusable packaging and, where reusable packaging is not possible, by incentivising packaging designers to use simple material types that are easy to separate and to recycle. 

Open in Excel: Table 1 Packaging 2020 (ref 2018) (XLS 13KB)
Open in Excel: Table 2 Packaging 2020 (ref 2018) (XLS 10KB)