Date released: December 02, 2021
Waste generation in Ireland continues to rise while recycling rates are falling, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Waste Statistics Summary Report for 2019, which publishes the most recent official data on waste generation and management in Ireland. The report reveals some worrying trends.
Waste generation in Ireland increased significantly in 2019. Municipal waste increased by 6 per cent to 3.1 million tonnes, packaging waste increased by 11 per cent to 1.1 million tonnes and hazardous waste increased by 10 per cent to 0.6 million tonnes.
Sharon Finegan, Director of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Sustainability, said,
“A circular economy is one that is based on less waste and more reuse of materials; these trends show Ireland is going in the wrong direction. Our rising levels of waste are unsustainable and need to stop. Systemic change is needed across all economic sectors to shift the focus to designing out waste and promoting reuse and recycling.”
The past decade in Ireland has seen dramatic changes in waste management. Only 15 per cent of municipal waste was landfilled in 2019 compared with 61 per cent a decade earlier. There has been a significant increase in the share of municipal waste sent for incineration with energy recovery over the same period, from 4 per cent in 2009 to 46 per cent in 2019.
Ireland’s recycling rates for municipal and packaging waste have been in gradual decline for a number years, as efforts to improve recycling have been outstripped by the growth in waste being generated and the amount being sent for energy recovery.
Our recycling rate for municipal waste has fallen from 41 per cent in 2016 to 37 per cent in 2019, while the recycling rate for packaging waste has declined from 70 per cent in 2013 to 62 per cent in 2019. The trends show that Ireland is facing a widening gap to meet ambitious new EU recycling targets from 2025 onwards.
Commenting on the trends, Dr Tara Higgins, EPA Senior Scientist said,
“Ireland’s declining recycling rates are a significant cause for concern. Recent moves to allow soft plastics such as films and wraps into our recycling bins, continued expansion of brown bin services to households, new requirements for all packaging to be reusable or recyclable by 2030 and a levy on waste recovery are among the suite of measures needed to increase recycling and close the gap to new EU recycling targets”.
Ireland also continues to have some significant waste infrastructure deficits and relies on export for a number of key waste streams, including municipal, packaging and hazardous waste. These trends point to the need for expansion of Ireland’s waste treatment and recycling capacity in order to extract the maximum value from waste materials in Ireland and reduce the emissions associated with transporting waste over long distances.
Niamh Hatchell/Emily Williamson, EPA Media Relations Office, Tel: 053 9170770, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The EPA compiles official statistics on waste generation and treatment in Ireland. These are used for reporting on Ireland’s performance in meeting its legal obligations, for policy and waste management planning purposes and to inform the general public. Data are compiled through surveys of waste operators and administrative data sources, in cooperation with other public authorities.
The National Waste Statistics Summary Report for 2019 is available on the EPA website.
National waste statistics for individual waste streams are also published on the EPA website.
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.
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).
Circular economy: A circular economy is one where materials, including packaging, are recirculated and used again and again, and waste is minimised. 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. The Irish Government published a new national waste policy, A Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy, in September 2021.
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 2019 packaging waste statistics presented here. The study outputs can be found on the EPA website.