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Thursday 28 September 2023 Dublin: 13°C
# crisis levels
China took 95% of Ireland's plastic waste - but now it's changed its mind and we're in trouble
Ireland is the top producer of plastic waste in the European Union.

IRELAND’S INCREASING WASTE and plastic levels are soon to meet emergency levels following China’s ban on imported plastics, according to one government source.

China – the world’s largest recyclable materials importer – decided to ban the importing of plastics from European countries, such as Ireland, last year. The policy came into effect on 1 January.

China took 95% of Ireland’s plastic waste in 2016, but a ban will mean that’s no longer possible. While many other European nations are searching for alternative waste-management solutions, Ireland is in a particularly dire situation.

20180105_Plastic_Waste Statistia Statistia

Ireland is the top producer of plastic waste in the European Union, according to the latest Eurostat figures.

The statistics show that of Europe’s top five plastic waste offenders (calculated per capita), Ireland is top of the pile, producing 61 kilogrammes per person, per year.

Only two other countries produce plastic waste over 40 kilogrammes. Luxembourg comes in at second place below Ireland, producing 52 kilogrammes per person, while Estonia produces 46 kilogrammes.

In fourth place as one of the worst offenders, Germany produces 37 kilogrammes, followed by Portugal which produces 36 kilogrammes per person each year.

China won’t take any more of Europe’s plastic waste

Ireland’s waste levels are to reach crisis levels following the move by China, with government sources stating that there will be no more landfill sites available from next year.

It’s understood government officials and Environment Minister Denis Naughten have held meetings on the issue in recent days, with a document on Ireland’s waste issues and what we are doing to address it due to published in the coming weeks.

Ireland is simply producing too much waste for a country of our size, said one official.

The Green Party has called on the government to take decisive action in light of the Chinese ban, stating that the UK’s plastic waste is already mounting.

Since the announcement of the new bin charges regime, whereby people are encouraged to recycle in a bid to reduce costs, there was much confusion about what exactly can be recycled and what cannot.

To clarify matters for householders, the government produced the first national list of what can be recycled.

Recycling List Ireland / YouTube

The definitive list of recyclable items includes plastic bottles and egg cartons – and excludes coffee cups and tissues.

An awareness campaign across radio, social media, and print was also launched to improve people’s understanding of the list of acceptable recyclables.

Before Christmas, Naughten also established Ireland’s new Recycling Ambassador Programme, which will be managed by the environmental charity VOICE.

The programme will host 650 workshops throughout the country to help people understand that recycling has evolved, and clarify what items should now be placed in the recycling bin.

The workshops will be led by trained Recycling Ambassadors who will educate, support and encourage the public to recycle more effectively.

shutterstock_735096832 Shutterstock / Shutterstock / /

Currently 28% of all material placed in household mixed dry recyclable bins is incorrect, with 12%-38% of recyclable material in recycle bins found to be contaminated, according to a 2016 survey carried out by Repak Ltd.

Such contamination is not just frustrating for recycling companies: it costs money.


Last year, an official investigation got underway after 160 containers of green bin waste from Ireland were stopped in Rotterdam en route to China because of contamination.

While the minister said a lot more needs to be done, he believes Ireland has come a long way.

“In 1997 we were at a very low base, now we are one of the leading recycling nations in Europe. Let’s take last year’s figures as an example of this change. A total of 594,000 tonnes of packaging waste was sent for recycling,” Naughten said at an environmental awards ceremony last year.

The minister said Ireland can and must do more, stating that the country has to move on from dumping. He said the public need to reduce and to reuse.

Naughten said the principle of the Waste Reduction Bill last year was to reduce the amount of plastic waste in our environment.

“One million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute and this number is set to increase so there is no-one here, including myself, that doesn’t accept the facts around plastic waste and its detrimental effect on our environment. The reckless discarding of plastic waste is environmental sabotage, nothing less,” said Naughten.

Read: ‘We need reverse vending machines in shops with a 25c deposit on containers’>

Read: What can be recycled? Government publishes first national list to help you out>

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