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Friday 1 December 2023 Dublin: 1°C
circular economy

Ireland at risk of missing plastic recycling targets, with most plastic waste incinerated

New figures from the EPA show that just 28% of plastics are recycled in Ireland.

IRELAND’S RECYCLING RATE has fallen by four per cent in a year, with the level of plastics recycling still significantly behind 2025 targets.

New figures published by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indicate that there are high levels of glass (84%) and paper/cardboard (73%) recycling, but plastic is more frequently thrown out.

Just 28% of plastic packaging waste was recycled in 2021, against a 2025 EU target of 50%.

The majority of Ireland’s plastic packaging waste is being incinerated, the EPA said. Less than one third is recycled.

Plastics are made from fossil fuels, so, carbon is built into them and is released as carbon dioxide when incinerated. As much as 2.7 kg of CO2 is emitted for every kilogram of plastic incinerated.

Ireland’s overall recycling rate fell from 62% in 2020 to 58% in 2021. The EU targets require that this figure must reach 65% in 2025.

An EPA statement said: “While the quantity of packaging waste being recycled is increasing every year, it cannot keep up with the total increase in packaging waste being generated in the first place.

The agency has called for fiscal measures to incentivise householders and businesses to recycle their plastics.

Micheál Lehane, the director of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Sustainability, said: “Urgent measures are needed to reduce the quantity of packaging waste generated in Ireland each year. Our current rate of production and consumption of packaging represents a poor use of materials and energy and is a growing source of emissions.

“We need to intensify efforts to avoid unnecessary packaging use in the first instance. Packaging waste can be avoided and reduced by replacing single use with reusable packaging, current examples include pallets, boxes and trays, and through better product design such as lightweighting packaging.”

The EPA also said that poor separation of rubbish in businesses and homes is leading to high volumes of packaging waste going in the wrong bin when it could be recycled.

Approximately 247kg of waste packaging was generated per person in 2021, up from 225 kg per person in 2020. This included 100kg of paper and cardboard, 73 kg of plastic, 34 kg of glass, 19 kg of wood and 17 kg of metal packaging per person.

The majority of Ireland’s recycling is done abroad, with just 18% of packaging waste (225,000 tonnes) recycled in Ireland in 2021, mainly glass and wood.

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