New figures show that further measures will be needed to ensure that packaging recycling levels don’t stagnate

Date released: July 16, 2019

The EPA has today published information about waste packaging management in 2017. The figures indicate that the generation of waste packaging - including glass, paper, plastics and wood – remained high in 2017. In addition, while recycling rates were high for some waste streams, including glass and wood, recycling levels have levelled off over the last number of years.

Mary Frances Rochford, Programme Manager in the EPA’s Office of Environmental Sustainability, said,

“As a society we need to move to more sustainable consumption patterns which together can reduce waste, energy use and carbon emissions. The information published today shows that packaging waste continues to increase in line with economic growth. Of particular concern is both the level of plastic packaging in use and the fact that recycling rates appear to have plateaued in recent years, at around 34 per cent.

"Ireland needs a step change in waste packaging management. Our figures indicate that there are challenges ahead in meeting future EU targets and the ambition of the EU Plastics strategy. Preventing this waste in the first place will be an important component of Ireland’s response if we are to achieve our goals.”

Key data:


  • Ireland generated over 1m tonnes of waste packaging in 2017. 
  • Almost 217kg of waste packaging was generated per person, including 59kg of plastic packaging waste per person, a slight increase on 2016.
  • In 2017, 66 per cent of waste packaging generated was recycled, exceeding the current EU target (55%) and the 2025 target (65%). The packaging recycling target for 2030 (70%) will be challenging but is achievable.
  • In 2017, 27 per cent of waste packaging was plastic. Just over one third (34%) was recycled, exceeding the current EU target of 22.5%. This is, however, a long way short of future EU targets for 2025 (50%) and for 2030 (55%).
  • Recovery rates for plastics were at 78 per cent – this includes both recycling and incineration.

Stephen Treacy, EPA Senior Scientist said,

“The EPA’s recent waste characterisation study, looking at the contents of household and commercial bins, showed that up to one third of the contents of our general waste bins could be diverted to recycling with better separation and treatment. Improved separation and lower levels of contaminated waste will help improve recycling rates which is needed to put Ireland on track to a circular economy.”

The EPA today also published 2017 figures for Ireland’s recycling and recovery of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) and end-of-life vehicles (ELVs). This information is now available on the EPA website where you can also view details of Ireland’s progress towards EU waste recycling, recovery and diversion targets. 


Notes to Editor:

All three waste streams reported on today are subject to producer responsibility legislation which ensures that those who manufacture or place products on the market are responsible for funding the collection and treatment of waste.

Ireland has, so far, met all EU Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) recovery and recycling targets. However, for some products such as gas discharge lamps, the recycling targets have not been exceeded by much, indicating a need for continued improvement in the amount of WEEE being reused and recycled to keep pace with increasing WEEE generation.

The targets for recovery and recycling of end-of-life vehicles require 95 per cent reuse and recovery and 85 per cent reuse and recycling of ELVs. Ireland achieved the reuse and recycling target in 2017 and fell just short of achieving the reuse and recovery target. The numbers indicated an improvement of recovery levels compared to previous years.

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 that function, or waste being prepared to fulfil 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 include 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 (e.g. 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.

Circular economy: In a circular economy, the value of products and materials is maintained for as long as possible; waste and resource use are minimised, and resources are kept within the economy when a product has reached the end of its life, to be used again and again to create further value. To facilitate the move to a more circular economy, the European Commission put forward a Circular Economy Package in December 2015, which includes revised legislative proposals on waste, as well as a comprehensive Action Plan.

Waste Characterisation Study: In 2018 the EPA completed a characterisation study of municipal waste, providing an updated view of what is in our household and commercial recycling and general waste bins. The outputs of this study were used for the first time in compiling the 2017 packaging waste statistics presented here, which represents a methodological change compared to previous years. The study outputs can be found on the EPA website.