The quantity of waste generated, the type of waste, and how and where it is treated all cause environmental pressures, affecting where we live and work and our recreational spaces. Ireland’s waste management practices, infrastructure and regulation have matured significantly over the last 20 years. We are at a pivotal point in Ireland’s waste policy, legislation and planning.

Current trends in waste

Waste baled plastics
  • Ireland generated approximately 16.2 million (m) tonnes of waste in 2020, corresponding to 3.25 tonnes per person, up from 12.7 million tonnes (2.77 tonnes per person) in 2012.
  • Construction and demolition waste is the largest waste stream in the state, amounting to over 9 million tonnes in 2021.
  • The amount of municipal waste recycled has increased by 11% since 2016, but total waste generated also increased by 11%, so the recycling rate has stagnated.
  • Household waste has also grown by 27%, equivalent to over 400,000 tonnes, in the last five years.
  • For the fifth year in a row, the total packaging waste generated in Ireland exceeds 1m tonnes.
  • Ireland missed the waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) collection target in 2021 and is in danger of missing future EU waste targets for municipal and plastic packaging waste recycling.
  • Ireland is still heavily reliant on export markets, particularly for the treatment of municipal waste, hazardous waste, packaging waste, WEEE and biowastes.
  • Taking the following key actions would fundamentally move Ireland’s performance in managing waste in a predominantly circular approach:

There is an urgent need to increase the municipal recycling rate. This is not on track to meet the 2025 EU target.

Targeted financial, regulatory and awareness measures are urgently needed to drive a step change improvement in plastic packaging recycling to meet the 2025 EU target.

Address Ireland’s waste infrastructure deficits to develop Ireland’s circular economy opportunities and reduce the emissions associated with transporting waste over long distances.

Learn more about Ireland's latest national waste statistics

Learn more about waste

Causes of waste generation

Waste kerbside bins

Waste generation in Ireland is closely linked with economic activity and consumption levels. To change from a linear to a circular economy, Ireland needs to decouple economic growth, consumption levels and waste generation and maximise the beneficial and efficient use of resources.

In a linear economy, population growth is likely to drive further waste generation. Ireland’s population is forecast to rise to 6.7 million by 2051. This would put further demands on waste infrastructure if Ireland has not transitioned to a circular economy.

How we as consumers behave also affects the quantity and types of waste we generate and how these wastes are managed.

Learn more about causes of Ireland's waste


What's being done

Image of food waste

European Union (EU) legislation, the EU Circular Economy Action Plan, the European Green Deal and UN Sustainable Development Goals are the primary drivers of change in relation to waste management policy in Ireland.

We are at a pivotal point in Ireland’s waste policy, legislation and planning. Ireland’s national waste policy was reviewed in 2020 to strengthen the focus on the circular economy and a new action plan was published in September 2020. This provides opportunity for change.

The ambition for Ireland is a circular economy.  A circular economy can provide positive society-wide benefits in which waste is prevented, consumption of single-use items is reduced, reuse and repair initiatives are incentivised, recycling is maximised, and residual waste that cannot be recycled is used as an energy source to replace fossil fuels.

Learn more about what's being done about waste in Ireland



Image waste paints

To further deliver the necessary waste prevention and circular economy ambitions will be a challenge. The latest waste statistics indicate that waste generation is increasing in many waste streams and that Ireland has not yet succeeded in breaking the link between economic growth, consumption levels and waste generation.

Ireland’s National Waste Policy 2020-2025, A Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy, sets out a roadmap that aims to ensure that Ireland not only meets legal targets but also takes full advantage of the opportunities of the new economy. The full and early implementation of these policy measures will be needed to address the challenges involved. 

Through implementing waste prevention and circular economy approaches, we have the potential to positively impact not only our terrestrial and marine environments but also our health and wellbeing.

Learn more about the outlook for waste in Ireland


Waste indicators