Ireland’s packaging recycling rates ‘going in wrong direction’ – EPA

Ireland’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has published its latest figures on waste packaging in Ireland.

They indicate that Ireland continues to generate significant amounts of waste packaging, amounting to just over 1 million tonnes in 2018 remaining unchanged since 2017.

Packaging includes paper and cardboard, plastic, glass, wood and metal packaging.

While Ireland met current EU requirements and achieved high recycling rates in some packaging material streams, in particular glass, paper and cardboard, there are some worrying trends.

Overall, recycling rates are on a downward trend with 64% of packaging recycled in 2018 compared with 74% in 2012.

To get the most from our resources in this area, we need to reduce packaging and reverse our falling recycling rates

This has coincided with an increase in the quantity of packaging sent for incineration with energy recovery in recent years. In relation to plastic packaging, Ireland’s recycling rate has dropped for the third year in a row to 31%.

Dr Eimear Cotter, Director of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Sustainability, said: “To get the most from our resources in this area, we need to reduce packaging and reverse our falling recycling rates.

“Households and businesses can drive this change by avoiding over-packaged goods which sends a strong signal back to producers to innovate for reduced packaging and reusable alternatives.

“We must also maximise recycling of the remaining materials, and waste collectors have a critical role here in ensuring their customers segregate correctly and use the appropriate bin.

“To support this, Ireland’s recycling list should, as a matter of urgency, be reviewed to expand the variety of waste types that can be recycled.”

Circular economy

Maximising the prevention, reuse and recycling of packaging materials is an important element of developing a circular economy in Ireland, the EPA says, which aims to reduce waste throughout the economic cycle, and ensures that materials are used efficiently. Developing a circular economy is also ‘strong and effective climate action’, it says.

Commenting on the figures, Dr Tara Higgins, EPA Senior Scientist said: “Each tonne of packaging releases greenhouse gases during extraction of raw materials, manufacture, transport and waste management process.

“The quantity of packaging waste generated needs to be reduced to bring about environmental and climate benefits.

“The Government’s forthcoming Waste and Circular Economy Action Plan provides an opportunity to set out concrete actions that will address the worrying trends highlighted in these figures and help Ireland meet challenging new EU targets in the coming years.”

Key data

  • Ireland generated over 1million tonnes of waste packaging in 2018
  • Approximately 214 kg of waste packaging was generated per person in 2018.  This includes 54 kg of plastic, 25 kg of wood, 12 kg of metal, 34 kg of glass, 86 kg of paper and cardboard and 2 kg of textile packaging.
  • In 2018, 64 per cent of waste packaging generated was recycled, exceeding the current EU target (55%). The future recycling targets that will apply from 2025 (65%) and 2030 (70%) will be more challenging for Ireland.
  • In 2018, 25 per cent of waste packaging was plastic. Approximately one third (31%) of this was recycled in 2018.  While this exceeds the current EU target for plastic packaging recycling of 22.5%, the target is set to increase significantly to 50% in 2025 and 55% in 2030, which will be challenging for Ireland.
  • The recovery rate for plastics, which includes recycling and incineration/energy recovery was 95% in 2018.
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