Recession helps Ireland meet strict EU targets on waste

Agency warns new practices needed to promote recycling when economic growth returns

Ireland has one of the fastest-growing recycling rates in Europe. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Ireland has one of the fastest-growing recycling rates in Europe. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill


Recession and a marked fall in personal consumption has helped Ireland meet all but one of its EU waste recovery targets.

Figures released today show that 17 per cent less household waste in being generated since the 2007 peak and 40 per cent of that is being recycled. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that a majority of municipal waste is still going to landfill sites for disposal but the rate of recycling, now at 47 per cent, is rising and is in line with other EU member states.

The figures relate to 2011 and the time taken to report is put down to the scale of collating the data from local authorities across the State.

Other indicators show Ireland's performance outstrips that of some Eu ropean partners. Household waste electric and electronic equipment collection rates average 7.6kg per person - almost double the EU target of 4kg per person. The equivalent figure for 2010 was 8kg per person.

However, this could be given a negative interpretation in that irish consumers are perhaps to readily replacing electronic goods and disposing of older items.

Similarly, recovery of packaging material has reached 79 per cent easily surpassing the EU Waste Framework Directive target of 60 per cent.

The tonnage of RDF, or refuse-derived fuel, which is used at cement kilns and incinerators has also shown a significant 68 per cent rise. Collected household organic waste has also risen sharply, up 21 per cent, since 2010.

The scale of the economic downturn, especially in construction, is reflected in the massive 83 per cent drop in the collection of construction and demolition waste since the 2007 peak.

Recognising the effect of the recession on waste generation, the EPA report makes it clear that Ireland still has to unlink waste growth from a rising economy.

"We have to decouple waste generation from economic growth through ensuring that waste prevention and resource efficiency remain at the core of targeted national policy and measures, so that when recovery happens there is not an associated increase in waste to be managed," said Dr Jonathan Derham.

Pointing to other data, Dr Derham added: "Ireland is well advanced towards achievement of all of its EU obligations across a broad range of waste legislation, in particular in relation to recovery (using waste for other purposes) and recycling (reprocessing waste into other useful substances)."

Ireland has one of the fastest growing recycling rates in Europe, he added. "However, (we) continue to show a substantial reliance on recovery of municipal waste abroad." Some 73 per cent of waste is exported to other markets and the agency readily admits that a more sustainable policy has to be agreed.

"Some future targets remain at risk of not being met," Dr Derham warned.

"Ireland's continued reliance on landfill means that we are at risk of not reaching strict biodegradable waste diversion targets by 2016." He also pointed to underperformance in relation to reuse, recovery and recycle rates for vehicles which have reached end-of-life.

Repak, the industry body which promotes packaging recycling, welcomed the report.

Darrell Crowe, head of sales and marketing said: " In 2012, Repak funded packaging recovery again showed positive growth, being up 2.5 per cent to 668,000 tonnes. Since Repak was established in 1998, with the unstinting support of its members, it has helped divert nearly seven million tonnes of used packaging from going to landfill."

The EPA National Waste Report is particularly detailed, including data that must be collated under EU legislation as well as other categories. There is currently no EU requirement for national waste reports