A consortium representing six Northern Ireland councils says the country must invest in modern waste infrastructure ‘fit for the Northern Irish economy of the 21st century’, following the release of the latest waste and recycling figures.
Northern Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA)’s latest local authority collected municipal waste management statistics show that the volume of waste which Northern Ireland councils are managing has continued to increase.
Recycling rates also fell compared to the same quarter last year while the total amount of waste sent to landfill increased.
Overall, waste collected by councils grew by 9.2% (to 255,810 tonnes) compared to the same period in 2019. Although the proportion of waste sent to landfill fell from 24.1% to 23.3%, the actual tonnages increased, up by 5.7% to 59,683 tonnes.
The report suggests that the increase in collected waste from the same period in the previous year “may be due to greater numbers of people spending more time at home because of Covid-19 restrictions and advice pertaining during the period. With higher numbers of people working from home, household type waste increased along with greater use of kerbside collections”.
47.3% of waste collected in the period October – December 2020 was sent for recycling, down 1.6% on the previous year.
‘Phase out landfill’
Tim Walker, arc21’s acting Chief Executive said: “COVID-19 and the impact of working and studying at home for prolonged periods has had some impact on recycling habits and where waste is being generated, but the underlying picture has remained the same.
“We still continue to produce too much waste, we send too much to landfill and too much for incineration overseas. COVID-19 has not changed those fundamental problems.
“If we want to build a resilient waste and resources management system and tackle carbon emissions from the waste sector, we need to invest in modern waste infrastructure fit for the Northern Irish economy of the 21st century.
“If we’re serious about meeting net zero targets, then we need to act upon the recommendations of the Climate Change Committee which were accepted by the Prime Minister last week.
“That means Northern Ireland will need to phase out landfill more rapidly than is being done under the current unplanned, incremental approach, and increasingly reduce our reliance on waste exports.
If we’re serious about meeting net zero targets, then we need to act upon the recommendations of the Climate Change Committee which were accepted by the Prime Minister last week.
“This compels us to put new transitional facilities in place, such as those proposed by the arc21 councils which are looking to discharge their statutory functions by developing new infrastructure at Hightown Quarry.
“Northern Ireland has talked a good talk for many years, but now is the time to start making decisions and to catch up with the other devolved administrations.”
The report also noted that recycling rates suffered from seasonal variation, with lower rates of waste sent for dry recycling and composting during the winter compared to summer due to smaller quantities of garden waste.
Over a quarter of waste collected (67,623 tonnes) in this recorded period was sent to energy recovery facilities. This figure increased by 2.6% on the same time last year to 26.4%.
The majority of this waste that is sent to energy recovery facilities is currently exported to facilities overseas,a practice which is ‘neither environmentally nor financially sustainable’, according to arc21.
The vast majority of waste collected by councils is household waste (89.3%) with a recycling rate of 47.9% (down 1.9%). The proportion of household waste sent to landfill fell by 0.6% to 23.8%.
arc21 is an umbrella waste management group in Northern Ireland representing 6 councils in the east of the Province. It was established in 2003 and formally incorporated in 2004 after a gradual process of closer co-operation between its councils which numbered 11 at that time prior to local government reform in 2015.
arc21 works on behalf of its member councils to guide, support and help them meet their legal requirements and drive forward innovative waste management programmes including the development of infrastructure.
The six constituent councils of arc21 are Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council, Belfast City Council, Ards and North Down Borough Council, Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council, Mid and East Antrim Borough Council and Newry, Mourne and Down District Council.
arc21’s work is governed by a legally binding collaborative agreement between all of its councils.