Waste packaging statistics for Ireland

EPA waste data release 10 September 2021. Latest reference year 2019 (data subject to Eurostat Validation).

Most of the products we buy for our homes and businesses are wrapped in packaging that protects them during transport and makes them look attractive on shop shelves. Once the goods are unpacked, the packaging become waste. Packaging waste makes up just over one million of the approximately 2.9 million tonnes of municipal waste from Irish homes, schools and businesses.

Each EU member state is obliged to meet targets, set out in the EU Packaging and Waste Packaging Directive, for the recycling and recovery of waste packaging made from glass, plastic, paper and board, metals and wood. Recycling includes reprocessing materials so they can be used again. Recovery refers to the treatment of packaging material by incineration with energy recovery.

The latest data show that 2019 is the third year in a row that Ireland generated over one million tonnes of packaging waste. While Ireland met all current targets for recycling and recovery of packaging waste in 2019, future recycling targets will be challenging for Ireland. Ireland’s overall packaging recycling rate in 2019 was 62%, down from 64% in 2018, and the percentage of packaging waste incinerated for energy recovery was 33% in 2019, up from 28% in 2018.

Packaging Infographic 2019

View our factsheet on: Packaging waste in Ireland in 2019

Key trends

Ireland produced over 1 million tonnes of packaging waste in 2019, for the third year in a row. 

Ireland produced 1,124,917 tonnes of packaging waste in 2019, an increase of 11% on 2018. Plastic and paper/cardboard showed the largest increases. The generally upward trend in packaging waste generation in Ireland since 2013 shows that Ireland is failing to decouple economic activity from waste generation, Figure 1.

To achieve environmental and climate benefits we need to reduce the overall amount of waste generated; this is because the production, transport and management of packaging waste uses up finite resources and causes carbon emissions.

Most of Ireland’s packaging waste was recycled in 2019, but there are large variations in recycling rates across the different packaging waste streams.

Ireland achieved an overall packaging recycling rate of 62% in 2019, a decrease of two percentage points since 2018.  This is consistent with the gradual fall in packaging recycling rates in recent years, from 70% in 2013 to 64% in 2018 and 62% in 2019 (Figure 2). While current targets are being met, there are notable variations in recycling rates across the different packaging waste streams; the recycling rate for glass packaging was 84% while the recycling rate for plastic packaging was just 28%, see Table 1.

In addition, much more stringent targets will apply from 2025 and 2030, as shown in Table 2. These new targets will require improvements in Ireland’s recycling rates, in particular for plastic packaging where the target will increase to 50% by 2025.

Recycling is better for the environment than disposal to landfill or energy recovery because it reduces the resources and energy used to produce packaging from raw materials and keeps valuable materials in circulation. For example, products made from recycled aluminum use 95% less energy than those made using virgin aluminum.

Total recovery of packaging waste was 95%

In addition to the 691,099 tonnes of packaging waste that was recycled in 2019, 370,497 tonnes of packaging waste was sent for energy recovery at either municipal waste incinerators or cement kilns that co-incinerate packaging material to generate energy. The share of plastic packaging waste sent for incineration with energy recovery has increased year-on-year from 44% in 2017 to 69% in 2019. Two-and-a-half times more plastic packaging waste was sent for incineration with energy recovery than was recycled in 2019. Incineration with energy recovery is a preferred waste management option to disposal to landfill but is less desirable than recycling. Increasing the share of packaging waste that is separately collected will help to divert more packaging waste for recycling, in line with the policy commitments in the Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy. The reintroduction of soft plastics to Ireland’s recycling list and the forthcoming deposit return scheme for plastic drinks bottles and aluminium cans are positive steps towards increasing Ireland’s collection of packaging waste for recycling.

Ireland is heavily reliant on exporting packaging waste abroad for treatment

Of the 1,127,917 tonnes of packaging waste generated in Ireland in 2019, just 182,321 tonnes (16%) was recycled in Ireland, see Table 1. Glass and wood packaging account for most of the packaging waste that is recycled in Ireland while almost all of Ireland’s paper/cardboard and plastic packaging was exported abroad for recycling. This increases the emissions associated with the recycling of Ireland’s packaging waste and misses an opportunity to capture the resource potential of materials in Ireland.

Actions for Ireland

Reversing the rising trend in packaging waste generation and improving Ireland’s packaging recycling rates will require timely implementation of the policy commitments in Ireland’s Waste Action Plan for Circular Economy, including measures aimed at preventing packaging waste, increasing reuse and separate collection, expanding the recycling list, restricting certain single-use plastics and supporting the increased use of recycled materials in packaging. 

  • Figure 1 packaging 2019 (excel table)

    Open in Excel: Figure 1 Packaging 2019 (excel) (XLS 40KB)

  • Table 1 Waste packaging generation and treatment, 2019

    Open in Excel: Table 1 2019 Download (XLS 17KB)

  • Table 2 Ireland's 2019 recycling rates compared with EU targets for 2025 & 2030

    Open in Excel: Table 2 packaging 2019 (XLS 10KB)

Data compilation

The EPA compiles statistics on packaging waste generation and treatment using data obtained from waste operators and brokers, local authorities, the National Transfrontier Shipment Office and Repak. In compiling the 2019 data for Ireland, new European Commission calculation rules for the reporting of packaging waste were implemented. Accordingly, paper and plastic packaging co-incinerated at cement kilns and then incorporated into clinker is no longer reported as recycled and is now reported as recovered.  This change alone (before other impacts) caused a four percentage points reduction in Ireland’s plastic recycling rate and a one percentage point reduction in Ireland’s paper recycling rate for 2019. Changes were also made to the reporting of metal packaging to reflect new EU reporting rules: metals are split into ferrous and non-ferrous metals, and incinerator bottom ash is reported separately but continues to be included for the achievement of recycling targets and now excludes all mineral adhesions.

European reporting

As part of annual reporting under the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive, the EPA submits packaging 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 30th June of the reference year +2 (i.e. 2019 data were collected and processed in 2020 and submitted by 30th June 2021). Following validation by Eurostat, official statistics for Ireland and all Members are published on the Eurostat website as part of the following datasets:

Waste bottles