EPA to review waste licences to restrict acceptance of biodegradable waste

Date released: Jun 18 2009

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced that it will be reviewing EPA licences for landfills, to reduce the amount of biodegradable waste going to landfill.  This will:

  • Maximise the use and value of waste before it is disposed of to landfill
  • Assist compliance with the EU Landfill Directive (1999/31/EC)
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions from landfills, and
  • Reduce the potential for odour at landfills.

The management, processing and disposal of waste continue to be significant challenges in Ireland, in particular with regard to meeting obligations on the pre-treatment and disposal of waste at landfills as required under the EU Landfill Directive. In order to assist Ireland’s compliance with the Landfill Directive, the EPA will review landfill licences, restricting the quantity of biodegradable household and commercial waste that can be accepted by landfill operators.

Commenting on the review process, Ms. Laura Burke, Director of the EPA’s Office of Climate Change, Licensing and Resource Use said,

“The landfill licence review is another vital step in the way we manage waste in Ireland. Our aim is to make the best possible use of all waste before it is finally disposed of.  People in Ireland have clearly demonstrated their willingness to recycle paper, plastic and glass.  We must now help them to do the same with food waste. If the waste can be recycled or recovered, then it should not be going to landfill.”

The EPA has also published a Technical Guidance document entitled Municipal Solid Waste: Pre-treatment and Residuals Management to clarify the pre-treatment requirements for municipal waste for disposal at EPA licensed facilities. This Guidance document was produced following widespread consultation with waste operators, the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government and industry representative groups.

The Guidance document applies to operators and developers of both landfills and incinerators and indicates to the waste industry as a whole what it must do to improve overall performance in the coming years. The guidance will require operators of landfill and incineration facilities to demonstrate, via their waste acceptance policy, that waste accepted at these facilities has been subjected to appropriate pre-treatment. 

Dr Jonathan Derham, Senior Scientific Officer, EPA explained,

“The new requirements will lead to growth in the pre-treatment sector as businesses try to get further value from biodegradable waste.  This will require waste segregation by consumers at source through the roll out of brown bins and will also help Ireland to meet its EU obligations for waste management.  This guidance supports government policy in respect of the role of source segregated waste collection and the extraction of recyclables.”

The EU Landfill Directive requires measures to be taken to reduce the landfill of biodegradable waste and encourages the separate collection of biodegradable waste and the sorting, recovery and recycling of this waste.  The EPA’s guidance document is complemented by a range of proposed initiatives from the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government to assist in meeting Ireland’s targets under the Landfill Directive. These include:

  • increasing the landfill levy;
  • rolling -out brown bin collections;
  • intensifying efforts to promote at source/home composting and
  • source segregation and collection of commercial biowaste.

Dr Derham said,

“If no action is taken, Ireland will overshoot the first EU target for biodegradable waste to landfill in 2010 by 50 per cent or 500,000 tonnes. Taking out biodegradable waste at source is required to comply with the Landfill Directive and also reduces the potential for odour issues in the future. That, coupled with the introduction of increased landfill levies later this year, will further assist in maximising recycling and recovery rates for waste and minimising the environmental burden of waste disposal activities.”

The guidance document entitled Municipal Solid Waste – Pre-treatment & Residuals Management  is available on the EPA web site. A free hard copy can be obtained from the EPA Publications’ Office, McCumiskey House, Richview, Dublin 14 by phoning 01-2680100.

Further information: EPA Media Relations Office 053-9170770 (24 hours)

Notes to Editor

The EU Landfill Directive sets specific limits on the tonnage of biodegradable waste that can be accepted at landfills.  The first of these obligations will come into place in 2010.  The national waste management statistics published by the EPA indicate a continuing trend of increasing biodegradable municipal waste generation. These projections indicate that, even in the current economic environment, Ireland will deviate significantly from the position required by the EU Waste Landfill Directive and articulated in the National Strategy on Biodegradable Waste, unless urgent action is now taken.

The obligations under the Landfill Directive can be summarised as follows:

  • By 1st January 2010 Ireland can only landfill a maximum 75% of the BMW generated in 1995, i.e. a national maximum of 967,443t BMW can be landfilled.
  • By 1st January 2013 Ireland can only landfill a maximum 50% of the BMW generated in 1995, i.e. a national maximum of 644,956t BMW can be landfilled.
  • By 1st January 2016 Ireland can only landfill a maximum 35% of the BMW generated in 1995, i.e. a national maximum of 451,469t BMW can be landfilled.

The minimum pre-treatment obligations for municipal waste that can be accepted at landfills are as follows:

  • The operator of an existing landfill must demonstrate to the EPA that all waste delivered to the landfill has been adequately pre-treated. This must include treatment of the biodegradable component of the waste received.
  • The minimum acceptable pre-treatment for municipal solid waste landfills will consist of a source separated collection system (2 bin or equivalent). For urban areas with populations greater than 1,500, diversion or separate collection of biowaste (i.e. 3rd bin) is expected.

Two Bin System, Three Bin System & Black Bin means a source segregated collection system where dry recyclables and residual wastes are separately collected (2 bin), or where dry recyclables, organics and residuals are separately collected (3 bin). The reference to ‘black bin’ in this document is a reference to the residuals bin from a 2 or 3 bin system.

Biodegradable means waste that is capable of undergoing anaerobic or aerobic decomposition, such as food and garden waste, paper and cardboard, etc. 

Biodegradable Municipal Waste (BMW) means the biodegradable component of municipal waste, and does not include bio-stabilised waste. Biodegradable municipal waste is typically composed of food and garden waste, wood, paper, cardboard and textiles. Approximately 73% of the household and commercial waste managed in Ireland in 2007 was biodegradable.

Biowaste means household, commercial or industrial waste of an organic or putrescible character.

Waste treatment options span the following processes: Manual – Mechanical – Biological– Thermal.  Acceptable pre-treatment solutions will likely entail a range of these processes.

Latest EPA statistics show that:

  • Approximately 3.4 million tonnes of municipal waste is generated annually; 
  • Of this, 2 million tonnes is landfilled;
  • This equates to a 36% recycling rate;
  • Approximately 1.5 million tonnes of the landfilled municipal waste is biodegradable.