Waste policy and planning

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.

Ireland’s national waste policy was reviewed in 2020 to strengthen the focus on the circular economy and A Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy was published in September 2020 and updated in September 2021. It contains over 200 measures across various areas including the circular economy, municipal waste, consumer protection and citizen engagement, plastics and packaging waste, construction and demolition waste, textiles, green public procurement and waste enforcement.

A whole Irish Circular Economy Strategy, published in 2021 provides a national policy framework for Ireland’s transition to a ‘circular economy’ and the Circular Economy Act 2022 places the Circular Economy Strategy, and Ireland’s commitment to a circular economy, on a clear statutory footing and underpins relevant measures.

There are three waste management planning regions in Ireland: Connacht-Ulster, Eastern-Midlands and Southern. In line with the Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy, the three Regional Waste Management Planning Offices are preparing a combined National Waste Management Plan for a Circular Economy. The Plan will contain targets for reuse, repair, resource consumption and reducing contamination levels and is due to be published for consultation in early 2023.

In 2021, the EPA published the fourth National Hazardous Waste Management Plan (2021-2027). This plan sets out recommendations to be actioned within the lifetime of the plan to strengthen protection of the environment and human health through best-practice management of hazardous wastes.


Waste regulation

The EPA, the National TransFrontier Shipments Office (NTFSO), the National Waste Collection Permit Office (NWCPO) and local authorities are responsible for regulating the largely-privatised waste industry in Ireland.

The number of authorised waste collectors has fallen from over 3,000 in 2010 to 2,021 in 2020, indicating that significant consolidation has taken place in Ireland’s privatised waste collection sector.

Across the whole range of sectors licensed by EPA, the waste sector ranked second highest for the number of non-compliances in 2022 (after the Food & Drink sector). Of the 12 sites on the EPA’s National priority site list at the end of quarter 3 2022, five are in the waste sector.

Local authorities are responsible for regulating permitted waste facilities and collectors: in 2021, they carried out approximately 140,000 waste-related inspections; received over 72,800 waste and litter related complaints; initiated almost 17,900 waste enforcement actions and initiated over 578 prosecutions relating to waste.


Extended producer responsibility schemes

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes have been developed for several waste streams, based on the ‘producer pays principle’, whereby producers of specific products have responsibility to finance the collection and environmentally sound waste management of their products at the end of life.

In Ireland, EPR schemes are in place for packaging, WEEE, batteries, end-of-life vehicles (ELVs), farm plastics and tyres. The European Union has set collection targets for WEEE and waste batteries; recycling and other recovery targets are also in place for packaging, WEEE, batteries and ELVs.

The 2018 Circular Economy legislative package strengthens the producer responsibility concept in European legislation and extends the requirements for producer responsibility schemes.


Progress to waste targets

Ireland must meet a range of EU targets for recycling and recovery of different waste streams, including municipal waste, construction and demolition waste, packaging waste, waste electrical and electronic equipment, waste batteries and ELVs.

Ireland met all current targets in 2020, with the exception of the WEEE collection target. Various targets are set to become far more challenging over the coming years, following recent updates to EU Regulations and Directives.

Further information on Ireland’s progress to targets is available here.

Waste prevention and circular economy

Ireland has a well-established National Waste Prevention Programme (NWPP) which is recognised by the European Commission as an example of best practice in the EU.

The work of the programme is delivered by the EPA and its vision is to prevent waste and drive the circular economy in Ireland through national-level, strategic programmes with high visibility and influence.

Some examples of NWPP initiatives include Stop Food Waste, the Local Authority Prevention Network and Smart Farming. In 2021, the NWPP was reconfigured as the Circular Economy Programme 2021-2027. The Programme aims to provide leadership in Ireland’s circular economy and support Ireland’s pathway to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Waste management and infrastructure

Ireland’s waste management practices, infrastructure and regulation have matured significantly over the last two decades. This change has been driven by EU legislation which in turn has shaped national policy and economic instruments.

The structure of Ireland’s household waste collection market differs to most other EU member states’ as it is privatised. Local authorities have a key role in waste collection with the provision and management of civic amenity sites and bring bank infrastructure.

The most significant change in recent years has been the shift away from disposing of residual waste to landfill to its use in energy recovery. Ireland now has three landfills accepting municipal waste, in comparison with 28 in 2010 and two municipal waste incinerators. Three cement kilns are accepting solid recovered fuel (SRF) for co-incineration as an alternative to fossil fuels.

In early 2016, landfill capacity was identified as critically low and additional capacity was authorised to prevent environmental impacts, such as stockpiling of wastes or illegal activity. To avoid such a situation reoccurring, municipal and non-inert C&D waste treatment capacity is currently monitored quarterly by the regional waste management planning offices to ensure continuity of collection and processing capacity. The EPA, working with the local government sector and the NWCPO, has commenced the development of a National Waste Treatment Capacity Register to build a platform containing capacity information for all waste treatment facilities (licensed, permitted and registered) in the State.


EPA Research Programme

EPA Research 2030 is a 10-year high-level research programming framework and funding will be allocated under four interconnected research hubs. From 2021, waste-related research will be principally funded under the EPA Research 2030 Research Hub on Facilitating a Green and Circular Economy - Environmental and sustainability challenges are inextricably linked to economic activities and lifestyles. Research under this hub will contribute to the mainstreaming of sustainable management of natural resources and waste, unlocking the potential of the circular and bio-economies, and boosting competitiveness, through resource efficiency and deployment of innovative technologies and solutions.

Previously, under its EPA Research Programme 2014-2020, the EPA funded research in the Waste area under its Sustainability Pillar Theme Resource Efficiency.

Details of the latest EPA Funding Research Opportunities and Awards are available from here.

In addition, the EPA Green Enterprise scheme under the umbrella of the Government of Ireland National Waste Prevention Programme is a funding programme to support innovators in Ireland to develop and demonstrate consumer and business solutions that will stimulate the circular economy. It is managed through the National Waste Prevention Programme and is co-funded by EPA Research.

EPA-funded Research Projects

Since 2014, in this area, more than 70 research projects have been funded (total commitment of c. €13.5m) (as of March 2023).

Examples of EPA-funded research projects include research on:

  • Plastic in compost derived from household and commercial food waste.
  • The role of Irish SMEs in the transition to a more circular economy.
  • A framework for the high-value recycling of construction by-products.
  • A critical analysis of Ireland's circular material use rate.
  • Green Public Procurement.
  • Artificial Intelligence for the circular economy.
  • Waste stream for persistent organic chemicals.
  • Advancing packaging waste statistics and recycling.
  • Investigation into WEEE arising and not arising in Ireland.
    Waste word cloud EPA research image

For more details regarding the EPA-funded projects, please go to our Public Searchable Projects Database.

EPA Research Publications

To-date, 89 EPA Research Reports have been published in relation to waste (as of March 2023).

View the EPA Research Publications