Hazardous waste statistics for Ireland

EPA waste data release 31 January 2023. Latest reference year 2021 (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. 

Picture shows some containers of hazardous waste such as varnish, oil, adhesives, paint, and indistinguishable containers with hazardous labels
Figure 1. Examples of Hazardous Waste

Examples of hazardous waste types are pictured in Figure 1, and the labels that identify the type of hazard they present are 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.
  • Ireland generated 466,941 tonnes of hazardous waste in 2021, a decrease of 16 per cent (over 90,000 tonnes) from 2020, see Figure 3. This decrease was driven by three main waste types. 
    • Incinerator bottom ash (IBA) was reclassified as a non-hazardous waste following testing in April, 2020. From this point onwards IBA that is generated is tracked in the non-hazardous waste management system.  In 2021 over 108,000 tonnes of IBA was exported as a non-hazardous waste.
    • Dredging spoil decreased by almost 25,000 tonnes, due to reduced dredging activities at Dublin Port.
    • Contaminated soils decreased by over 45,000 tonnes. Contaminated soil arises due to activity at brown field sites, the development of which is favoured by the National Development plan. Such sites can maximise the use of existing public infrastructure.  Activities at Limerick Gas Works, previously a source of high tonnages of contaminated soil, came to an end in 2020.  
  • Some hazardous waste streams increased in 2021. Higher tonnages of waste solvents and waste oils were generated in 2021 than in 2022, and the quantity of hazardous health care waste also increased slightly.
  • 2021 is the first year in which more hazardous waste was treated in Ireland than was exported for treatment: 52 percent of hazardous waste was treated in Ireland and 48 per cent exported. Hazardous waste treatment in Ireland takes place on site of generation (95,130 tonnes) or at Irish hazardous waste management facilities (148,575 tonnes). 
  • Although the percentage of waste treated in Ireland increased, the actual tonnage treated decreased. The increased percentage reflects the overall reduction in generation.
  • Almost all (99 percent) contaminated soils generated were treated at Irish hazardous waste facilities.
  • 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? 

Industrial facilities remain the largest source of hazardous waste in Ireland followed by the construction and demolition sector and then municipal sources, which remain small in comparison.

The Industrial sector - includes mining, pharmachem and waste recovery facilities etc., and was the largest source of hazardous waste in 2021.  Types of waste generated include by-products of waste treatment, industrial solvents, sludges, oils, waste electrical & electronic equipment (WEEE), batteries and infectious waste from health care.

Construction and demolition - The quantity of hazardous waste generated by construction and demolition depends on activity to redevelop of brownfield sites and on dredging works, which decreased in 2021.  Construction and demolition waste also includes smaller amounts of asbestos, asphalt, and contaminated wood, concrete, bricks, metals, and tiles.

The municipal sector - is comprised of small businesses and farms, schools, colleges and households. It produces approximately 3 per cent of Ireland’s hazardous waste.  Examples of waste types include batteries, certain waste electrical and electronic equipment, solvent-based paints, varnishes and waste oils.

What types of Hazardous Waste Does Ireland Produce?

Table 1 below shows the types of hazardous waste generated in Ireland according to List of Waste Chapter.

  • Table 1 Hazardous Waste Generated in Ireland in 2021

    Open in CSV : Table 1 Hazardous waste generated in Ireland in 2021 (CSV 1KB)

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 95,130 tonnes of hazardous waste at nine locations in 2021. This is a decrease of almost 3,000 tonnes on the 98,061 tonnes treated in 2020.  Figure 4 shows the range of disposal and recovery activities used.  Over 26,000 tonnes of this waste went for disposal and over 69,000 tonnes was recovered. 

The waste generated at EPA licensed facilities does not include solvents that underwent R2 activities (i.e. solvent reclamation and regeneration) and re-entered industrial activities on-site.  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 148,575 tonnes of hazardous waste to non-hazardous status in 2021, a decrease of four 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.

Treatment of waste oils

Article 37 of the revised Waste Framework Directive introduced new mandatory reporting on oils and waste oils for reference year 2020, to be reported in June 2022 for the first time.   

The categories of waste oils that come within the scope of the new reporting include any mineral or synthetic lubrication or industrial oils[1] which have become unfit for the use for which they were originally intended.  Examples include used combustion engine oils and gearbox oils, lubricating oils, oils for turbines and hydraulic oils.  In 2020, approximately 31,000 tonnes (t) of these types of oils, namely mineral and synthetic lubrication and industrial oils were placed on the market in Ireland.  The data show that almost 22,000 t of waste oil was collected in 2020. Of this, over 18,000 t was sent for oil re-refining (R9) in Ireland resulting in almost 17,000 t of fuel oil that went for energy recovery (R1), while over 1,000 t of the waste oils collected was exported for treatment.  Data for 2021 will be calculated by June 2022. 

Exports for treatment

2021 is the first year in which a higher percentage of hazardous waste was treated in Ireland than was exported for treatment.  The majority (52 per cent) of Ireland’s hazardous waste was treated in Ireland either on site of generation or at hazardous waste facilities. However, Ireland does not have the facilities required to treat the full range of hazardous wastes it produces and therefore a further 48 per cent was exported abroad for treatment in 2021.

Figure 5 below shows the countries that accepted this waste. EU member states and Great Britain and Northern Ireland accepted 99 per cent of our hazardous waste exports in 2021.  The spike in waste sent to the Netherlands in 2018 and 2019 has continued to reduce in 2020 and 2021 due to the decrease in IBA from municipal waste incinerators. 

Contaminated soils

The generation of contaminated soils fell by almost 46,000 tonnes in 2021 and for the first time almost all treatment of contaminated soils (99 per cent) took place in Ireland, see Figure 6.  Exports of contaminated soil have decreased to less than 1% of soils generated. 

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:

[1] Edible and food oils are not included