Ireland has generally met all the EU waste recycling targets for the past 20 years so missing the 50% waste recycling rate target in 2020 was a big disappointment. Early wins up to 30 or 40% were achieved through massive changes in waste management such as closing most of our landfill sites and rapidly switching to recycling systems and kerbside waste collection. The pace of change in the past 10 years has been lower with a relatively consistent waste recycling rate of 39-41%. What we have really achieved is developing our recycling infrastructure and keeping pace with growth in the waste stream. Household waste in 2020 has increased by 440,000 tonnes per annum compared to the 2010. Population growth is expected to continue at record levels and we will move from 5 million people to 5.5 million by 2029. We are heading for new deadlines for the waste recycling rate with a target of 55% in 2 years, rising to 65% in 2035.
So what can be done to meet EU waste recycling targets? To make big wins we need to make far greater progress with householders in organic waste segregation and collection. Although the data is questioned by some, it is clear that over half the organic matter produced by householders is still placed in the residual bin. While many of those using a kerbside service are recycling other materials well, there has been less success with food waste to date. Of the 40% recycling rate we are achieving two thirds comes from dry mixed recyclables and one third from organics. There is a lot more that can be achieved by pushing up the organic portion of the recycling. To get back on track we need to move from 40% to 55% recycling in less than 2 years. The law of diminishing returns teaches us that this is the hard part.
Ireland has an EU waste recycling targets to meet for food waste collection and pressure is growing to make sure all households are offered an organic bin before the end of this year. It remains to be seen how that works out and how much householders will use these bins.
Packaging waste accounts for 29% of household waste and this figure is still rising. We need to radically revisit the use of packaging and make life easier for consumers who are overwhelmed by the volume of this material. Placing a levy on drinks containers will begin this process but we need to do so much more with supermarkets and food producers.
Municipal waste targets include commercial waste as well as household waste so its not surprising government is turning its attention to the commercial waste stream and applying all the measures used in household kerbside waste collection since 2015. There are gains to be made in this sector although many of the more progressive collectors as already working hard at incentivised commercial kerbside services. It remains to be seen what additional recycling is delivered above the current level of performance in this sector.
So what practical things are happening this year that will make an impact:
- Incentivised charging was introduced into collection permitting in July for all commercial bin collections and mirrors household kerbside services
- Food waste is being tackled on a number of fronts, waste prevention tools, new infrastructure for apartments, full integration into household and commercial waste services to hit the EU target by the end of 2023
- The deposit and return scheme for plastic and metal drink containers will be introduced in February 2024 – expected to deliver +95% recycling of this material
- An increase in landfill tax by €10/tonne taking it to €85/tonne and a new incineration tax (recovery levy) €10/tonne came on line 1 September 2023 – incentivising recycling again instead of disposal and energy recovery
- Levies on single use items beginning with single use coffee cups
- Extended producer responsibility schemes covering specific products like fishing nets are now in place to recycle the material the manufacturer or producer placed on the market
- Further levies on single use products not just plastics, but other takeaway containers and single use items that are not reused
- Mandatory recycling content in packaging by 2025 and compulsory reuse of many packaging materials
- Development of a new Circular Economy Fund fed by the levies and economic instruments to promote recycling awareness and fund infrastructure
There are no silver bullet solutions in this list each one is playing a small role that collectively might get us to 2025 with a 55% waste recycling rate. Overall we need to take a more inclusive look at the entire municipal waste stream, recognising there are gains to be made in commercial waste recycling and not focusing so much solely on household waste.
Keep an eye out on the Irish Statute Book for further new regulations that are due this month. If you would like more detail join one of our legislation courses begins on 13 September. To find out what all of this means for our waste management system. Click here for further details.