Hazardous waste statistics for Ireland

EPA waste data release 17 Dec. 2021. Latest reference year 2020 (data subject to Eurostat validation)

What is hazardous waste?

A waste is hazardous when it can harm human health or the environment because it is explosive, oxidising, flammable, irritant, toxic, carcinogenic, corrosive, infectious, mutagenic, sensitising, or eco-toxic. 

Figure 1. Examples of Hazardous Waste

Examples of hazardous waste types are pictured in Figure 1.

All hazardous products are labelled with one or more of the symbols pictured in Figure 2. Hazardous waste is controlled by strict regulations to protect against the threat to humans and the environment.

The UN Basel Convention came into force in 1992 and its objective is to control transboundary movements of hazardous waste and to protect human health and the environment against the adverse effects resulting from the generation, management, transnational movements and disposal of hazardous and other wastes. EU and Irish Regulations give effect to the Convention in Ireland and strengthen enforcement provisions in relation to waste movements within, into and out of the European Union.  

Key Trends

Figure 2.
  • A total of 557,221 tonnes of hazardous waste were generated in Ireland in 2020 (Figure 3). 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, having increased from just over 10,500 tonnes in 2019 to over 90,000 tonnes in 2020. 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 has been a decrease in hazardous waste exported for treatment and an increase in the amount treated in Ireland (Figure 3); however, the majority of Ireland’s hazardous waste (59 per cent) was still exported for treatment in 2020, amounting to 304,845 tonnes (74,541 tonnes less than in 2019).
  • Over 99 per cent of exports for treatment were to EU member states and to Great Britain and Northern Ireland. All exports were to countries that are party to the Basel Convention.

Where does Hazardous Waste come from? 

Large industry and the construction sectors are the major producers of hazardous waste in Ireland.

  • Industry generated 65 per cent of Ireland’s hazardous waste in 2020, which included by-products of waste treatment, industrial solvents, sludges, oils, waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), batteries and infectious waste from health care etc.
  • The construction sector produced 32 per cent of Ireland’s hazardous waste in 2020: most of this was from dredging spoil and contaminated soil, but also included smaller amount of asbestos, asphalt, and contaminated wood, concrete, bricks, metals, tiles etc.
  • The municipal sector produced approximately 3 per cent of Ireland’s hazardous waste in 2020. Small businesses and farms, schools, colleges and households generate small amounts of batteries, certain waste electrical and electronic equipment, solvent-based paints, varnishes and waste oils.

What types of Hazardous Waste Does Ireland Produce?

Over 557,000 tonnes of different types of hazardous waste were generated in Ireland in 2020. The top six categories that made up 58 per cent of hazardous waste generated were:

  • Dredging spoil from dredging soil, sand, silt and organic matter from the bottom of a body of water (90,164 tonnes)
  • Contaminated soils from the development of old industrial facilities and brown field sites (78,474 tonnes)
  • Ash e.g. fly ash and boiler ash from waste incineration with energy recovery (44,380 44,380 tonnes)
  • Solvents (41,456 tonnes)
  • Incinerator bottom ash (39,860 tonnes)
  • Hazardous elements of Waste electrical and electronic equipment (30,617)

In 2020, the amount of healthcare risk waste rose by twenty per cent to 14,461 tonnes from 12,091 in 2019, this increase is likely due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Hazardous waste treatment

Hazardous waste must be treated to reduce its potential to pollute the environment or to threaten human health. Ireland’s hazardous waste is treated either on-site at the industrial facility where the waste was generated (under conditions of EPA licence), offsite at hazardous waste treatment facilities in Ireland, or at facilities in other countries.  

On-site treatment at industrial facilities

EPA-licensed industrial facilities fully treated 148,445 tonnes of hazardous waste at 12 locations in 2020; this is an increase of over 93,000 tonnes on the 55,282 tonnes treated in 2019. The increase in 2020 was driven first by an almost 80,000 tonne increase in dredging spoil from Dublin Port, which was recovered within the Dublin Port area, and second by over 13,000 tonne increase in contaminated soil from Limerick Gas Works, which was treated under licence and deposited back on land using cementitious products.

Figure 4 shows the range of disposal and recovery activities used to treat hazardous waste onsite at industrial facilities in Ireland in 2020: overall almost 55,000 tonnes went for disposal and over 93,000 was recovered.

The waste generated at EPA licensed facilities does not include solvents that underwent R2 activities on-site i.e. solvent reclamation and regeneration.  This is considered a waste prevention activity because it means that solvents that undergo this process are re-used and therefore do not become waste.  

Hazardous waste treatment in Ireland

Irish hazardous waste treatment facilities treated 103,931 tonnes of hazardous waste to non-hazardous status in 2020, a decrease of 29 per cent on the previous year.  Waste types treated included used motor oil, healthcare wastes, sludges, filter cakes, absorbents, laboratory and chemical waste, contaminated soils and household hazardous waste from civic amenity sites.  This waste is treated until it is non-hazardous; the non-hazardous wastes that result are then further treated either in Ireland or abroad. 

Exported for treatment

Ireland does not have the facilities required to treat the full range of hazardous wastes it produces. The majority (59 per cent) of Ireland’s hazardous waste was exported to other European countries for treatment in 2020 (compared to 65 per cent in 2019).

Figure 5 below shows the countries that accepted this waste for treatment. EU member states and Great Britain and Northern Ireland accepted 99 per cent of all hazardous waste exports in 2020. The spike in waste sent to the Netherlands in 2018 and 2019 has reduced in 2020 due to the decrease of almost 65,000 tonnes of ash from municipal waste incinerators. During 2020, incinerator bottom ash from the Dublin Waste to Energy facility was re-classified as non-hazardous waste following testing. Because of this, a further decrease of approximately 40,000 tonnes in both the hazardous waste generation and exported for treatment figures can be expected in 2021.

Contaminated soils

Contaminated soils come from old industrial sites such as gas works, mines, tanneries, dock yards, petrol stations, etc. which are often contaminated with hazardous chemicals. Contaminated soils must be removed before the site can be used again. The generation of contaminated soils fell by almost 12,000 tonnes in 2020. Exports of contaminated soil for treatment fell for a third year in a row to almost 44,000 tonnes. The majority of this is exported to Norway (42,146 tonnes).
Although the majority of contaminated soil continued to be exported for treatment in 2020, treatment in Ireland has increased significantly, due to the treatment of almost 29,000 tonnes of soil at Limerick Gas Works, as shown in Figure 6.

Almost 6,000 tonnes of contaminated soil was treated at Irish waste facilities in 2020. This was a fall of approximately 23,000 tonnes, which was likely because of the Covid-19 lockdowns.  

European reporting

As part of annual reporting under the Basel Convention on the control of transboundary movements and the disposal of hazardous waste, the EPA submits hazardous waste statistics for Ireland to the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications for transmission to Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union. The data are required to be submitted by 31st December of the reference year +1 (i.e. 2020 data were collected and processed in 2021 and submitted to Eurostat by 31st December 2021). Following validation by Eurostat, official statistics for Ireland and all Member States are published on the Eurostat website as part of the following dataset: