Municipal waste

Municipal waste consists of household waste and commercial and other waste that is similar in nature to household waste. It is one of the largest waste streams and a key area of policy focus.

Over 2.9 million tonnes of municipal waste was generated in Ireland in 2018. This amounted to 600 kg of municipal waste per person, an increase from 577 kg per person in 2017. Municipal waste generation in Ireland continues to be closely linked with economic activity, income levels and consumption patterns.

Of the municipal waste generated in Ireland in 2018, 38% was recycled, 43% was used in energy recovery and 14% was landfilled.

The last two decades have seen significant changes in how Ireland manages its municipal waste. Disposal to landfill has fallen sharply from over 80% in 2001 to 14% in 2018, with the landfill levy a key policy driver in this. Most of the municipal waste diverted from landfill has gone to energy recovery. The share of municipal waste sent for energy recovery increased from 0% in 2007 to 43% in 2018. Recycling, by contrast, has largely plateaued since 2010 and rates have now in fact started to slip, with a decrease from 40% to 38% in between 2017 and 2018.

While 2018 data puts Ireland just in compliance with the Waste Framework Directive’s municipal recycling target of 50% (due in 2020), the current recycling trends indicate that Ireland faces significant challenges to meet the future EU recycling targets for 2025 (55%) to 2035 (65%).

Link to further information on municipal waste.

 

Litter and fly-tipping

The presence of litter and fly-tipped waste in the environment is one of the most visible and undesirable aspects of waste generation. Local authorities are responsible for its management and for enforcement.
 
Approximately 70,000 tonnes of street cleaning wastes and fly tipped wastes were collected in 2018. The EPA estimates that 47,000 tonnes of household waste went unmanaged in 2018, reflecting a minority of citizens illegally dumping or burning their waste.
 
The Waste Enforcement Regional Lead Authorities (WERLAs) coordinates an Anti-Illegal Dumping Initiative with local authorities and community groups to develop enforcement actions and clean-up operations in illegal dumping black spots around the country. In 2019, €2.9 million in funding was provided for 302 projects that managed to clean up 1638 tonnes of waste. A further €1 million of funding was ring-fenced in April 2020, to allow local authorities to respond to incidents of illegal dumping during the Covid-19 crisis.
 
The EPA's smartphone app See-It Say-It helps people to report environmental pollution such as fly-tipping, littering and backyard burning. In 2020, the EPA commenced a study into the nature and extent of waste crime in Ireland, which will report on the scale, costs and impact of waste crime and assess the extent of illegal dumping over the last 10 years.

 

Hazardous waste

Industry is the largest generator of hazardous wastes such as hazardous solvents, sludges, oils and chemicals in Ireland.  Other sectors including businesses, construction, healthcare, farms and households also produce hazardous wastes such as paints, batteries, electrical equipment, healthcare waste, asbestos and contaminated soil.

A total of 0.58 million tonnes of hazardous waste was generated in Ireland in 2019.  The quantity of hazardous waste generated in Ireland has increased by 68% since 2015, generally due to increased quantities of incinerator ash and contaminated soils.

There has been an increase in the treatment of hazardous waste in Ireland, however the majority (65%) of Ireland’s hazardous waste was still exported to other European countries for treatment in 2019. 

The current National Hazardous Waste Management Plan (NHWMP) 2014-2020 sets out the priority actions to improve the management of hazardous waste in Ireland. A new plan will be published in 2021.

A progress report on the NHWMP plan was published in October 2018 and found that, while many recommended actions had been advanced, further work is needed to ensure that: hazardous waste prevention remains a priority; there is continued development of hazardous waste collection infrastructure for households and small businesses; and Ireland’s self-sufficiency goals for hazardous waste treatment and management are promoted.

Link to further information on hazardous waste.

 

Food waste

Ireland generates approximately 1.05 million tonnes of food waste annually, of which 53 % is generated by commercial and household sectors and 47% by the manufacturing sector.

An Irish household throws out approximately 150 kg of food waste each year at a cost of around €700, and food waste is estimated to cost Irish businesses over €2 billion each year.

Composting and anaerobic digestion are the main biological treatment processes for biodegradable wastes (food waste, garden and park waste, sludges).

In 2018, approximately 436,000 tonnes of biodegradable waste was accepted at composting and anaerobic digestion facilities for treatment.

The Food Waste Regulations and the associated brown bin roll out have led to large increases in the quantity of municipal biowaste composted anaerobic digested, from less than 50,000 tonnes in 2005 to 245,000 tonnes in 2018.

Despite these improvements, over 60% of household organic waste is still being disposed of in the residual or recycling bin (either because residents don’t have a brown bin or they are not using it correctly).

In 2018, only 43% of Irish households had a brown bin. However, in line with EU requirements for the separate collection of biowaste from end-2023, Ireland’s new national waste policy provides for the mandatory provision of an organic waste bin as part of the household waste collection service.

Link to further information on composting and anaerobic digestion.