State fails to make progress on latest European Commission waste report

 

ANALYSIS:THE EUROPEAN Commission’s latest report on waste management shows Ireland has barely kept ahead of the poorest performers among member states.

The head-in-the-sand attitude of countries such as Greece, Bulgaria and Lithuania has meant a failure to develop modern waste infrastructure and left them relying almost entirely on burying waste in landfill.

Landfill was yesterday described by EU environment commissioner Janez Potocnik as “the worst waste management option”. It is also a disposal option which in coming years won’t be available to EU members when dealing with household waste.

States are already obliged to meet targets to stop biodegradable waste, which could be composted, going to landfill and the use of landfill for municipal waste is set to be phased out altogether in the coming years.

In the report on the Waste Management Performance of EU Member States, published yesterday, Ireland makes it into the average range – but only just.

The commission makes a point of noting that Ireland and Hungry barely scraped in to the middle group with a rating just one point higher than the Czech Republic and Poland, which are ranked as having a poor waste management performance.

It reserves quite stinging criticism for Ireland, which it says “has in particular problems with the fulfilment of the reduction targets for biodegradable waste going to landfills, insufficient collection coverage, and decoupling”.

These problems are reflected in a “high number of infringement procedures that were issued and brought to court”, it said.

The reference to “decoupling” is a requirement of member states to ensure that waste production is not linked to economic growth. The amount of waste produced by Irish people has fallen, but this has happened in line with the worsening recession. Ireland, according to the commission, has not put the measures in place to ensure that if there’s an economic upswing waste production will not start to increase correspondingly.

The Department of the Environment said it accepts that the State has an unsustainable dependence on landfill, but indicated it was a bit piqued its progress was not recognised.

“The fact is that we have made considerable progress – we are not among the 10 worst countries to be targeted by and we have in fact exceeded our own targets,” said an official.

Ireland had moved from a situation of 126 operational landfills in 1998, to 28 by 2010, and was working to eliminate landfill use within the next decade, he said.

The criticism that Ireland has insufficient collection coverage, is however hard to defend. The 2010 National Waste Report published by the Environmental Protection Agency last March found an estimated 29 per cent of houses did not avail of a waste collection service, with this rising to 63 per cent across local authority areas.

This problem has been targeted by the department’s waste policy which contains measures that requiring householders to sign up to a waste service.

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