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Act now or miss recycling targets, Irish are warned

Ireland is in danger of not hitting future EU waste targets with municipal recycling, plastic packaging and e-waste under spotlight, according to the country’s Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA’s latest annual report also raises concerns that Ireland is too reliant on export markets for the treatment of specific waste streams including residual municipal waste (39% exported), hazardous waste (55%), packaging waste (50%) and biowastes (27%). Almost all WEEE/e-scrap is exported for final treatment although 70% of pre-treatment is carried out in Ireland.

‘There is limited resilience in the system to deal with market shocks and unforeseen events which can give rise to additional quantities of wastes,’ the report warns. ‘By addressing waste infrastructure deficits, Ireland can develop circular economy opportunities and reduce the emissions associated with transporting waste over long distances.’

Waste generation increase

In 2020, Ireland generated 16.2 million tonnes of waste, equivalent to 3.25 tonnes per person, up from 12.7 million tonnes (2.77 tonnes per person) in 2012. Recycled municipal waste has increased by 11% since 2016 but total waste generated also increased by 11%, so the recycling rate has stagnated at 41%.

Household waste has grown by 27% equivalent to over 400 000 tonnes in the last five years. One reason for increased waste is likely to be the growth in the Irish economy over the past decade.

The report cautions that Ireland is in danger of missing future EU waste targets:
• The municipal waste recycling rate (41% in 2020) must reach 55% by 2025
• Plastic packaging recycling rate is 29% and must reach 50% by 2025
• The e-waste collection rate of 60% in 2020 missed the collection target of 65%

For the fourth year in a row, the total packaging waste generated in Ireland exceeded one million tonnes. The overall packaging recycling rate is 62% with a target of 65% to be met by 2025.

Covid effect

In 2020 Covid restrictions appear to have a major effect on several waste streams:
• Household waste increased by 18%, due to changes in householder behaviours
• Bulky skip waste increased by 60 000 tonnes due to domestic clear-outs
• Construction and demolition waste decreased by 7%, due to reduced industrial activity
• The number of cars scrapped decreased by 21%.
• The amount of telecommunications equipment including screens placed on the Irish market increased by around 30% as people spent more time on PCs and other equipment.

Action needed

The EPA lists existing initiatives planned to boost the municipal recycling rate. They include: the introduction of mandatory incentivised charging for the collection of non-household municipal waste, created by small businesses such as offices; awareness and education campaigns focused on improving the capture of food waste from businesses and households; enforcement campaigns to lower contamination rates in the recyclable bin; and a review of the effectiveness of the waste charging system to householders.

The report also says targeted financial, regulatory and awareness measures are ‘urgently needed to drive a step change improvement in plastic recycling in order to meet the 2025 targets’.

Key actions include accelerated implementation and monitoring of ‘eco fees’ to drive up the use of recycled content in plastic packaging; recycling subsidies to incentivise the collection of plastic packaging; examining the potential for fiscal measures to incentivise increased manufacturing and use of reusable plastic packaging; targeted and co-ordinated awareness and education campaigns to improve the separate capture of plastic packaging materials from businesses and households.

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