The quantity of household waste generated in Ireland correlates closely with Central Statistics Office data on personal use of goods and services, both of which have shown a predominantly upward trend since 2012. These trends indicate that household waste generation is closely linked to consumption patterns. Similar trends are evident in the quantity of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) collected and recovered in Ireland which fell during the economic recession and have increased markedly since 2012 with the recovering economy. The generation of construction and demolition (C&D) waste also correlates with an increase in C&D activity during the same period. These trends show that Ireland has not yet succeeded in breaking the link between economic growth, consumption levels and waste generation.
Population growth is likely to drive further waste generation. Ireland’s population is forecast to be up to 6.7 million by 2051, which will put further demands on waste infrastructure. Based on 2018 waste generation figures, a population of 6.7 million would generate 3.9 million tonnes of municipal waste (compared with the 2.9 million tonnes generated in 2018) and a potential 19.3 million tonnes of overall waste (compared with 14 million tonnes currently).
How consumers behave affects the quantity and types of waste generated and how these wastes are managed. Examining the waste collected provides important insights into the amounts and types of waste presented, whether the waste was deposited in the correct bin and the extent of contamination of the recyclables. The latest national municipal waste characterisation study found that 11% of material in household bins should not have been there at all (WEEE, batteries, textiles, paint) and that the recycling bin had higher levels of contamination and non-target materials than 10 years previously. Even more starkly, 70% of waste presented in the commercial residual bin was potentially recyclable. Two-thirds of the plastic waste deposited was soft plastics (films, bags and wrappers), which are not currently accepted in the kerbside recyclables bin. These findings highlight the need for improvements in segregation behaviour by householders and businesses, and the need for a broadening of the scope of what can be recycled by Irish homes and businesses, to help improve Ireland’s recycling performance.