Municipal waste consists of household waste and commercial and other waste that is similar in nature to household waste such as waste from schools, restaurants and businesses. It is one of the largest waste streams and a key area of policy focus.
Almost 3.2 million tonnes of municipal waste was generated in Ireland in 2020, up 4% from 2019. Municipal waste generated in Ireland per person is now 645 Kg and has grown by 11% (per capita) since 2016, in line with National Income.
Of the municipal waste managed in Ireland in 2020, 41% 1 was recycled, 43% was thermally treated with energy recovery (includes incineration and cement kilns) (down from 46% in 2019) and 16% was landfilled (up from 15% in 2019).
The last two decades have seen significant changes in how Ireland manages its municipal waste. There has been a dramatic fall-off in landfilling of municipal waste over the past two decades in Ireland. The shift away from landfill was accompanied by increased levels of recycling in the early 2000s and, more recently, significant increases in the share of municipal waste sent for energy recovery.
Recycling by contrast has largely plateaued since 2010, following strong improvements in the early 2000s. Ireland's recycling rate for municipal waste was 41%. This puts Ireland's recycling rate well below the European average of 49% in 2020 and significantly behind the leading EU country, Germany, where 70% of municipal waste was recycled in 2020 2.
Harmonised methodologies have been introduced at EU level to address differences in how countries collect, manage and report municipal waste data to improve comparability. Future Waste Framework Directive targets for 2025 onwards, will use the new calculation methodology, which put Ireland's municipal recycling rate at 41% in 2020, with five years to meet a recycling target of 55%. The 2020 data highlights the urgent need to increase the municipal recycling rate to meet the 2025 EU targets.
1 The recycling rate of 41% was calculated using new municipal reporting rules and roughly corresponds to 39% when adjusted to the rules that were in place for 2019 and suggests a moderate improvement on the 37% of municipal waste Ireland recycled in 2019.
Further information on municipal waste can be found here.
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 69,500 tonnes of street cleaning wastes and fly tipped wastes were collected in 2020. The EPA estimates that approximately 31,700 tonnes of household waste went unmanaged in 2020, reflecting a minority of citizens illegally dumping or burning their waste.
The Waste Enforcement Regional Lead Authorities (WERLAs) coordinate 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 1,638 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.
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 is a global problem that has environmental, social and economic consequences.
Ireland generated an estimated 753,000 tonnes of food waste in 2021. Households were the biggest producers of food waste, accounting for 29% of the 2021 total. The food and beverage manufacturing and processing sector was the second biggest producer of food waste, accounting for an estimated 29%, with restaurants/food service generating 25% of the total and primary production and retail/distribution generating 7% and 10% of the total.
Irish households threw away an estimated 221,000 tonnes of food in 2021. This is equal to about 120 kg of food waste per household or 44 kg per person.
In line with the food waste hierarchy, prevention is the best way to address food waste. However, even if all ‘avoidable’ food waste was eliminated entirely, there will still be a need to manage ‘unavoidable’ food waste. Therefore, it is important to ensure any food waste that arises is segregated and separately collected so that it can be treated by composting or anaerobic digestion.
Ireland’s roll out of brown bins and associated awareness raising activities to promote better segregation, have contributed to an upward trend in the quantity of food waste being separately collected and treated by composting/anaerobic digestion. However, there is still room for improvement as a large proportion of Ireland’s food waste continues to be disposed of in mixed waste bins.
New EU waste legislation means that the separate collection of biowaste will be mandatory from the end of 2023.
Further information on food waste can be found here.