Why should we care about this issue
Waste generation and resource use have increased in Ireland over the last decade in tandem with increasing production and consumption of goods and services. Ireland has made significant progress in meeting many EU waste recycling /recovery targets but challenges in relation to waste generation and management remain.
The last decade has seen huge change in relation to how waste is managed in Ireland. The regulatory regime imposed on the waste industry in this period has yielded significant and measurable improvements in environmental protection. Ireland has moved quickly from a position of almost total reliance on landfill for managing waste to a high level of recovery of certain recyclable materials.
In order for Ireland to remain competitive and to attract inward investment it is necessary to ensure that an integrated, competent and well-regulated waste management service sector is operated. Such provision needs to include the necessary range of infrastructure to meet national needs where appropriate. Currently Ireland is dependent on export arrangements for certain waste streams such as hazardous waste and a large proportion of recyclables.
The state and impacts
Recovery and disposal of municipal waste
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Biodegradable waste diversion from landfill
- Data source
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Recovery of packaging waste
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State and Impacts
Relative to other EU Member States, Ireland’s waste infrastructure is not overly complex. There is a continued reliance on landfill, and for waste recovery/recycling, the majority of candidate materials are exported. Ireland has no merchant municipal waste incineration capacity, nor does it have any merchant hazardous waste incineration or hazardous waste landfill facility. Control of waste is split between the private sector and public sector, with the latter’s share continually decreasing.
Overall recycling/recovery rates continue to climb steadily, particularly in the municipal, packaging and Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) waste streams.
Municipal waste in Ireland is made up of household waste, commercial waste (including non-process industrial waste) and cleansing waste (e.g., street sweepings, municipal parks and cemeteries maintenance waste). The amount of municipal waste produced has increased steadily over the last decade to approximately 3 million tonnes. However, there was a 5 per cent decrease in municipal waste produced in 2008 compared to 2007. Municipal waste recovery has increased dramatically over the last decade with 37.5 per cent of this waste recovered in 2008.
Biodegradable Municipal Waste (BMW)
BMW comprises those elements of the household, commercial and cleansing waste streams that will rot or degrade. The main constituents of the biodegradable proportion of municipal waste are typically parks and garden waste, food waste, timber, paper, card and textiles
The quantity of biodegradable municipal waste disposed at landfill decreased in 2008 to 1,196,044 t. Increased home composting and kerbside collection of organic waste are contributing to this trend. A further reduction of 280,000 t on the 2008 tonnages is needed to reach the July 2010 EU Landfill Directive target.
Producer responsibility initiative waste streams
Ireland has been compliant with all statutory packaging recovery targets set since 2001. A recovery rate of 65 per cent is reported for packaging waste, exceeding the EU target of 60 per cent due in 2011.
In 2008 a total of 51,964 t of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) was collected for recovery. This included 9 kg per capita of household WEEE, exceeding the EU target of 4 kg per capita.
Other waste streams
The quantity of Irish construction and demolition (C&D) waste collected in 2008 diminished by 24 per cent, since 2007 to 13.5 million tonnes. The decline in the economy and the number of houses being built probably had a direct effect on this waste. The mining and aluminium production sectors continued to be the largest generators of non-hazardous industrial waste. There was a decrease of 10 per cent in the quantity of mining waste generated in 2008 compared to the last industrial survey in 2006.
Waste is classified as being hazardous when it displays properties that make it dangerous or potentially harmful to human health or the environment. Industry is the largest generator of hazardous waste in Ireland, though substantial amounts are also generated by households, small businesses etc.
The quantity of hazardous waste managed has been increasing in recent years and is reported to be 319,098 t in 2008. The treatment of hazardous waste on-site at industrial facilities is declining in favour of the use of commercial hazardous waste treatment facilities in Ireland or abroad.
The key drivers and pressures
Drivers & Pressures
Over much of the last decade Ireland’s waste growth mirrored the growth in population and economic performance. However, in 2008 there was a decline in the generation of municipal waste reflecting the fall in Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Household waste generation fell despite a rise in population, indicating a levelling off in personal consumption. This suggests a decoupling of the link between increasing municipal waste generation and population growth.
Nevertheless, per capita waste generation is still considered to be at an unsustainably high level in Ireland. Prevention of waste is preferable to waste management and is at the highest level in the EU waste hierarchy. Reducing the inefficient and inappropriate use of raw materials and resources will reduce waste generation, energy use, transport impacts and all consequential environmental impacts.
Recovery rates are generally improving across most waste streams. This is despite the significant price drop in the international recyclates market in the latter half of 2008. However, there is a substantial reliance on material recovery facilities abroad, with 78.5 per cent of non-hazardous waste recovered abroad in 2008.
Waste infrastructural development projects can often take a long time to progress through the planning and environmental licensing processes. At current national waste generation rates it is estimated that there may be just enough residual municipal waste landfill disposal capacity to last to 2020. Significantly this capacity is not distributed evenly throughout the State and some regions are at critical capacity shortage stage.
It is important that planning to address potential waste management infrastructure needs is undertaken well in advance. It is also critical that this planning process allows for (and promotes as appropriate) a diverse range of waste infrastructural needs spanning, inter alia, preparation for re-use, biowaste treatment, materials recovery, incineration and landfill.
The 2020 outlook
Predicted growth in municipal waste
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Development of essential waste infrastructure continues to be a challenge in the State. Facilities for the separate collection of waste, for materials recovery/recycling, for treatment of the biodegradable proportion of municipal waste, for waste-to-energy etc. are underdeveloped or absent. There has been recent development of some Mechanical Biological Treatment and Anaerobic Digestion capacity and provision of increased Solid Recovered Fuels capacity is expected.
The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) has developed a Sustainable Development Model for Ireland (ISus) to forecast national environmental emissions and resource use up to 2025. This estimates that the total volume of municipal waste is likely to increase quite substantially within the coming decade, necessitating future investment in waste management infrastructure. The estimates will be tied to the level of economic growth and the impact of proposed new waste policy measures.
Merchant municipal incineration capacity (under construction and at planning stage), as well as waste recovery/treatment will most probably come on stream in this period. These developments, along with the reduction in biodegradable municipal waste going to landfill, will significantly alter how waste is managed in the state – leading to greater diversion of resources to beneficial use, including energy recovery.
In the coming years it will be important that further implementation of the National Waste Prevention Programme assists in the decoupling of waste generation in Ireland from the predicted subsequent growth in GDP (post 2011). The full implementation of the rx3 Market Development Programme will also be important for managing more recyclable waste in Ireland.
Existing and planned responses
A range of regulatory and market based instruments have been utilised to achieve more sustainable waste management practices. These include increases in the landfill levy, source separated collection of biowaste, and pre-treatment and restriction of particular waste streams to landfill. Proposals for a new waste facility levy are also being progressed.
The government has completed an “International Review of Waste Management Policy” and on foot of this has published a new draft waste policy statement for consultation, with the core emphasis on waste as a resource.
It is recognised that waste planning on a national level is desirable; as is certainty in relation to 'ownership of household waste' ('competition for' versus 'competition in' the market). EU legislation continues to be a significant driver of waste policy (Waste Framework Directive, Landfill Directive, producer responsibility initiatives, etc).
Ireland is well advanced concerning achievements of its EU recovery/recycling obligations in relation to a range of EU directives. However, a poor level of sophistication in waste infrastructural provision is a concern, as well as Ireland being reliant on waste export markets to an unsustainable extent. The provision of indigenous industry to deal with recyclate is being addressed by the rx3 Market Development Programme, but will be influenced by the size of the Irish market. There remains considerable effort required in relation to diversion of biodegradable waste from landfill.
In addition to waste management policy responses, a National Waste Prevention Programme was launched in 2004 and since then has developed a number of prevention initiatives. These have targeted business (Green Business, Green Hospitality), households (Green Home Programme), hospitals (Green Healthcare Project), retail (Green Retail Programme), packaging (Packaging Waste Prevention Programme), and local authorities (Local Authority Prevention Network, Stop Food Waste) to prevent waste generation.
In 2008, the EPA published the revised National Hazardous Waste Management Plan (2008-2012). This focuses on the prevention of hazardous waste and seeks to promote the safe collection and treatment of such waste.
The 2009 EPA guidance on municipal solid waste pre-treatment should act as a significant driver in relation to pre-treatment of waste prior to landfill and diversion to recovery/recycling. A Market Development Programme for recyclable wastes has been initiated named rx3.
Environmental research has also played an important role in informing waste management practices and policy. For example, there has been research on a quality standard for compost derived from source-separated biodegradable wastes, and research on the potential of mechanical biological treatment technologies.