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.

Almost 3.1 million tonnes of municipal waste was generated in Ireland in 2019, up from 2.9 million tonnes in 2018. 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 2019, 37% was recycled (down slightly from 38% in 2018), 46% was used in energy recovery (up from 43% in 2018) and 15% was landfilled (up slightly from 14% in 2018).

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 15% in 2019, 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 46% in 2019. Recycling, by contrast, has largely plateaued since 2010 and rates have now in fact started to slip, with a decrease from 40% to 37% between 2017 and 2019.

While 2019 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%).

Further information on municipal waste can be found here

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 2019. The EPA estimates that approximately 48,600 tonnes of household waste went unmanaged in 2019, 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 waste in Ireland (solvents, sludges, oils, chemicals) but other sectors also produce hazardous wastes including paints, batteries, pesticides, asbestos and contaminated soil.

A total of 0.56 M tonnes of hazardous waste was generated in Ireland in 2020. This was a decrease of over 23,000 tonnes since 2019.

The makeup of hazardous waste generated changed in 2020. In 2019, incinerator bottom ash was the largest component, whereas in 2020 dredging spoil became the largest component. Testing of incinerator bottom ash in 2020 led to its re-classification from hazardous to non-hazardous waste, this reduced Ireland's overall hazardous waste generation.

There is no commercial hazardous waste landfill in the State, and there are limited hazardous waste treatment operations (these are mainly used for oil recovery, healthcare waste treatment and solvent reclamation), meaning that Ireland is heavily dependent on export for treatment of many hazardous waste streams. In 2020, 59% of hazardous waste was exported for treatment.

The National Hazardous Waste Management Plan (NHWMP) 2021-2027 sets out the priority actions to improve the prevention and management of hazardous waste in Ireland.

Further information on hazardous waste can be found here.

Food waste

Ireland generates approximately 1.1 million tonnes of food waste annually. About half (45%) of Ireland’s food waste is estimated to come from the processing and manufacturing sector, with the remainder arising from households (23%) and the commercial sector including restaurants/food service and retail/distribution (32%).

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 2019, approximately 528,000 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 and anaerobic digested, from less than 50,000 tonnes in 2005 to 295,000 tonnes in 2019.

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

In 2019, 48% of Irish households had a brown bin, up from 43% in 2018. 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.

Further information on composting and anaerobic digestion can be found here.