Existing business models must be transformed into circular ones to address Ireland’s rising waste volumes and falling recycling rates, Ireland’s Environmental Protection Agency has urged.
Waste generation in Ireland continues to rise while recycling rates are falling, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Waste Statistics Summary Report for 2019, which publishes the most recent official data on waste generation and management in Ireland.
The report reveals some ‘worrying trends’, according to the EPA.
Waste generation in Ireland increased significantly in 2019. Municipal waste increased by 6 per cent to 3.1 million tonnes, packaging waste increased by 11 per cent to 1.1 million tonnes and hazardous waste increased by 10 per cent to 0.6 million tonnes.
Ireland’s declining recycling rates are a significant cause for concern.
Sharon Finegan, Director of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Sustainability, said: “A circular economy is one that is based on less waste and more reuse of materials; these trends show Ireland is going in the wrong direction.
“Our rising levels of waste are unsustainable and need to stop. Systemic change is needed across all economic sectors to shift the focus to designing out waste and promoting reuse and recycling.”
The past decade in Ireland has seen dramatic changes in waste management, the EPA says. 15 per cent of municipal waste was landfilled in 2019 compared with 61 per cent a decade earlier.
There has been a ‘significant increase’ in the share of municipal waste sent for incineration with energy recovery over the same period, from 4 per cent in 2009 to 46 per cent in 2019, the EPA says.
Ireland’s recycling rates for municipal and packaging waste have been in ‘gradual decline’ for a number years, according to the report, as efforts to improve recycling have been ‘outstripped’ by the growth in waste being generated and the amount being sent for energy recovery.
Ireland’s recycling rate for municipal waste has fallen from 41 per cent in 2016 to 37 per cent in 2019, while the recycling rate for packaging waste has declined from 70 per cent in 2013 to 62 per cent in 2019.
The trends show that Ireland is facing a ‘widening gap’ to meet ambitious new EU recycling targets from 2025 onwards, the EPA says.
Commenting on the trends, Dr Tara Higgins, EPA Senior Scientist said: “Ireland’s declining recycling rates are a significant cause for concern.
“Recent moves to allow soft plastics such as films and wraps into our recycling bins, continued expansion of brown bin services to households, new requirements for all packaging to be reusable or recyclable by 2030 and a levy on waste recovery are among the suite of measures needed to increase recycling and close the gap to new EU recycling targets”.
According to the EPA report, Ireland also continues to have some significant waste infrastructure deficits and relies on export for a number of key waste streams, including municipal, packaging and hazardous waste.
These trends point to the need for expansion of Ireland’s waste treatment and recycling capacity in order to extract the maximum value from waste materials in Ireland and reduce the emissions associated with transporting waste over long distances, the EPA says.