Recycling rates slow as Ireland off track to meet key EU targets

Date released: November 27, 2023

  • Ireland’s economy remains linear with waste generation continuing to rise. Recycling rates are not keeping pace with increasing levels of waste generation.
  • Ireland is off track to meet mandatory EU recycling targets set to apply from 2025 for municipal waste, packaging waste and plastic packaging waste. These targets are set to progress the circular economy by prioritising recycling over energy recovery and landfill. 
  • Ireland remains overly reliant on unpredictable export markets with almost 382,000 tonnes of residual waste sent for incineration abroad. 

28th November 2023: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has today published the Circular Economy and Waste Statistics Highlights Report 2021. Ireland’s waste generation levels are continuing to rise and Ireland is failing to make sufficient inroads towards key EU recycling targets that apply from 2025 onwards.  

The report shows: 

  • Waste Generation: Construction and demolition (C&D) waste increased by 10 per cent to 9 million tonnes and packaging waste is up by 9 per cent to 1.2 million tonnes. Municipal waste generation remained static at 3.17 million tonnes. 
  • Waste recycling: Municipal waste recycling rates remained unchanged at 41 per cent, while packaging recycling fell by 4 per cent to 58 per cent.  Just under 28 per cent of plastic packaging generated in Ireland was recycled in 2021, with the remainder being treated by incineration (70%) and disposal (2%). Ireland is off track to meet mandatory EU recycling targets set to apply from 2025 for municipal waste, packaging waste and plastic packaging waste. 

Continued high levels of waste generation coupled with stagnating recycling rates mean that it is now very unlikely that Ireland will meet mandatory EU recycling targets for municipal, plastic packaging and total packaging.

David Flynn, Director of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Sustainability, said:

“We continue to throw away far too much, wasting valuable materials.  We live on a resource-finite planet and resource extraction causes greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity loss and water stress.  To reduce these impacts, we must accelerate our transition from a linear economy to a circular, more resource-efficient economy.  Right now, we need to focus on avoiding waste. That means reusing construction waste materials where possible, becoming better at segregating our municipal waste and vastly improving the recycling of packaging materials.”

Ireland remains heavily reliant on export for the treatment of several key waste streams in 2021. 38 per cent of municipal waste was exported for treatment in 2021, including 382,000 tonnes of residual waste exported for energy recovery through incineration. 69 per cent of packaging waste was exported for treatment. 

Commenting on the findings from the report Warren Phelan, Programme Manager of the EPA’s Circular Economy Programme said: 

“Ireland is overly reliant on the export of waste for treatment and we are vulnerable to shocks and changes in international markets. We do not have enough facilities for the treatment of non-hazardous and hazardous waste which are missed opportunities to capture the energy and economic value of these wastes.” 

To address this Ireland needs to:

  • Improve waste prevention especially in the C&D sector 
  • Roll-out a brown bin service for organic waste to all customers.
  • Improve waste segregation by businesses and householders putting their waste into the correct bins 
  • Reduce our reliance on vulnerable export markets for our waste
  • Fully implement our Circular Economy Plan

Further information on National waste statistics are published on the EPA website EPA website.
The Circular economy and Waste Statistics Highlights Report 2021 is available on the EPA website.

Contact:  Emily Williamson, EPA Media Relations Office, 053-9170770 (24 hours) or 

Note to Editors: 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. 

Key data:

  • Construction and demolition waste increased by 10 per cent to 9 million tonnes, correlating with a re-opening of the construction sector in mid-2021.
  • Municipal waste, which consists of waste from household and commercial sources, amounted to 3.17 million tonnes in 2021, a decrease of 1 per cent from 3.2 million tonnes in 2020. 
  • 16 per cent of municipal waste was disposed to landfill in 2021.
  • 41.5 per cent of municipal waste was treated by energy recovery through incineration. Of this, 382,000 tonnes was exported for incineration.
  • Packaging waste rose by 9 per cent to 1.2 million tonnes in 2021.
  • 69 per cent of Irish households had access brown bin in 2021. An increase of 5 per cent nationally from 2020. Strong regional variations in the provisions of brown bin services remain.
  • 72,000 tonnes of Waste Electrical and Electronic (WEEE) was collected in 2021, a rise of 10 per cent.
  • In 2021, the collection rate of End-of-Life Vehicles (ELVs) increased by 22.5 per cent. Ireland continued to meet all reuse and recycling rate targets for end-of-life vehicles in 2021.
  • Hazardous waste generated in Ireland decreased by 16 per cent in 2021. This is due to:
    • Incinerator bottom ash (IBA) was reclassified as a non-hazardous waste in April, 2020. In 2021 over 108,000 tonnes of IBA was exported as a non-hazardous waste.
    • Dredging spoil decreased by almost 25,000 tonnes, due to reduced dredging activities at Dublin Port.
    • Contaminated soils decreased by over 45,000 tonnes. Activities at Limerick Gas Works, previously a source of high tonnages of contaminated soil, came to an end in 2020.  

EU Targets

  • Municipal waste has a 55% recycling target by 2025, 60% by 2030 and 65% by 2035.
  • Recycling of packaging waste must reach 60% by 2025 and 70% by 2030.
  • Recycling targets for plastic packaging  are 50% by 2025 and 55% by 2030.
  • Waste Electrical & Electronic Equipment (WEEE) has a collection target of 65%. 
  • End-of-Life Vehicles (ELVs) have a reuse and recycling target of 85%.
  • Construction and Demolition Waste (C&D) has a 70% recovery rate.

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.

Municipal Waste is the waste we all produce every day in our homes, offices, businesses and schools. It includes household and non-household (commercial) waste.

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.