Ireland’s packaging recycling rates going in wrong direction says EPA

Date released: July 30, 2020

  • Recycling rates for packaging are declining - from 74% in 2012 to 64% in 2018 - coinciding with a greater amount incinerated for energy recovery 
  • Packaging now accounts for one-third of household waste with paper and cardboard, followed by plastic the most common type of packaging waste
  • In relation to plastic packaging, Ireland recycled only a third of plastic packaging in 2018 which has decreased for the third year in a row 
    Less recycling leads to missed opportunities in relation to the efficient use of waste materials and fostering a circular economy in Ireland
  • We must reduce the amount of packaging used in the first place; improve separation of waste by Irish households and businesses; and broaden the scope of what can be recycled by expanding Ireland’s recycling list.

While Ireland met current EU requirements and achieved high recycling rates in some packaging material streams, in particular glass, paper and cardboard, there are some worrying trends. Overall, recycling rates are on a downward trend with 64% of packaging recycled in 2018 compared with 74% in 2012. This has coincided with an increase in the quantity of packaging sent for incineration with energy recovery in recent years. In relation to plastic packaging, Ireland’s recycling rate has dropped for the third year in a row to 31%.

Dr Eimear Cotter, Director of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Sustainability, said,

“To get the most from our resources in this area, we need to reduce packaging and reverse our falling recycling rates. Households and businesses can drive this change by avoiding over-packaged goods which sends a strong signal back to producers to innovate for reduced packaging and reusable alternatives. We must also maximise recycling of the remaining materials, and waste collectors have a critical role here in ensuring their customers segregate correctly and use the appropriate bin. To support this, Ireland’s recycling list should, as a matter of urgency, be reviewed to expand the variety of waste types that can be recycled.”

Maximising the prevention, reuse and recycling of packaging materials is an important element of developing a circular economy in Ireland which aims to reduce waste throughout the economic cycle, and ensures that materials are used efficiently. Developing a circular economy is also strong and effective climate action.

Commenting on the figures, Dr Tara Higgins, EPA Senior Scientist said,

“Each tonne of packaging releases greenhouse gases during extraction of raw materials, manufacture, transport and waste management process.  The quantity of packaging waste generated needs to be reduced to bring about environmental and climate benefits. The Government’s forthcoming Waste and Circular Economy Action Plan provides an opportunity to set out concrete actions that will address the worrying trends highlighted in these figures and help Ireland meet challenging new EU targets in the coming years.”

Notes to Editor:

The EPA compiles data on waste generation and treatment in Ireland through direct survey of industry and waste facilities and in cooperation with other public authorities. Further information on the latest packaging data for Ireland and associated infographic is available on the EPA website.  Also available is the latest National Waste Statistics Summary Report and supporting information.

Key data:

  • Ireland generated over 1million tonnes of waste packaging in 2018
  • Approximately 214 kg of waste packaging was generated per person in 2018.  This includes 54 kg of plastic, 25 kg of wood, 12 kg of metal, 34 kg of glass, 86 kg of paper and cardboard and 2 kg of textile packaging.
  • In 2018, 64 per cent of waste packaging generated was recycled, exceeding the current EU target (55%). The future recycling targets that will apply from 2025 (65%) and 2030 (70%) will be more challenging for Ireland.  
  • In 2018, 25 per cent of waste packaging was plastic. Approximately one third (31%) of this was recycled in 2018.  While this exceeds the current EU target for plastic packaging recycling of 22.5%, the target is set to increase significantly to 50% in 2025 and 55% in 2030, which will be challenging for Ireland. 
  • The recovery rate for plastics, which includes recycling and incineration/energy recovery was 95% in 2018.

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 in compiling the 2018 packaging waste statistics presented here. The study outputs can be found on the EPA website.