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.
There are three waste management planning regions in Ireland: Connacht-Ulster, Eastern-Midlands and Southern. The three Regional Waste Management Offices prepare cyclical statutory Regional Waste Management Plans, which set objectives and targets for the prevention and management of waste within each region, in line with national policy.
The EPA is responsible for preparing the National Hazardous Waste Management Plan (NHWMP). The current Plan covers the period of 2014 – 2020 and sets out the priority actions that should be undertaken in relation to: the prevention of hazardous waste; improved collection rates of hazardous waste; steps to improve Ireland’s self-sufficiency in hazardous waste management and the continued identification and regulation of legacy issues. A new plan will be published in 2021.
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.
There was just over 4,000 waste authorisations in place in 2018, spanning the collection, transport, storage and treatment of waste. The number of authorised waste collectors has fallen from over 3,000 in 2010 to 2,104 in 2018, indicating significant consolidation has taken place in Ireland’s privatised waste collection sector. Across the whole range of sectors licensed by EPA, waste transfer stations ranked second highest for the number of non-compliances in 2018 and 2017 (after the Food & Drink sector). Of the 15 sites on the EPA’s National priority list in 2018, 5 were in the waste sector.
Local authorities are responsible for regulating permitted waste facilities and collectors: in 2018, they carried out approximately 38,000 waste-related inspections, handled over 40,000 waste-related complaints (plus over 30,000 litter complaints), undertook almost 17,000 enforcement actions and over 600 prosecutions relating to waste.
Producer Responsibility Initiatives (PRIs) have been developed for several waste streams, based on the producer pays principle. In Ireland, PRIs are in place for packaging, electrical and electronic equipment, batteries, end-of-life vehicles, farm plastics and tyres. The European Union has set collection targets for waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) and waste batteries; recycling and other recovery targets are also in place for packaging, WEEE, batteries and end-of-life vehicles. The 2018 Circular Economy legislative package strengthens the producer responsibility concept in European legislation and extends the requirements for producer responsibility schemes.
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 end-of-life vehicles.
Ireland is currently meeting all statutory waste targets. Notwithstanding this positive performance, various targets are set to become far more challenging over the next number of years, following recent updates to EU Regulations and Directives arising from the Circular Economy Action Plan.
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. The programme provides tools and information to businesses, households and the public sector to influence behavioural change and support sustainable choices.
The NWPP underwent an independent strategic review in 2018 and the reframed programme is focussing on six priority areas: food waste, construction and demolition, plastics, agriculture, resources and raw materials and local waste prevention. Some examples of NWPP initiatives are Stop Food Waste, the Local Authority Prevention Network and Smart Farming.
The structure of Ireland’s household waste collection market differs to most other EU members 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 now monitored quarterly by the regional waste management planning offices to ensure continuity of collection and processing capacity. There is no contingent landfill capacity currently in place, although some suitable sites have been identified, and the process of assigning contingency capacity is underway.
EPA Research 2030 is a 10-year high-level research programming framework under which funding will be allocated under four interconnected research hubs. From 2021, waste-related research will be funded principally 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.
Further details of the latest EPA Funding Research Opportunities and Awards.
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.
Since 2014, in this area, more than 50 research projects have been funded (total commitment of about €6.9m) (as of May 2021).
Examples of EPA-funded research projects include research on:
• Waste stream for Persistent Organic Chemicals;
• Raw materials;
• Advancing packaging waste statistics and recycling;
• Investigation into WEEE arising and not arising in Ireland; and
For more details regarding the EPA-funded projects, please go to our Public Searchable Projects Database.
To date, 82 EPA Research Reports have been published in relation to waste (as of May 2021).