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Urgent action needed over 'worryingly low' plastic packaging recycling rates, says EPA

There’s “significant cause for concern” from these figures according to an EPA Senior Scientist.

Waste generation is up and recycling rates are down.
Waste generation is up and recycling rates are down.
Image: Gareth Chaney/Photocall Ireland!

THE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION Agency (EPA) has warned that urgent action is needed to reverse a rise in waste generation, and significantly improve recycling rates.

Recycling rates for packaging and ordinary household or municipal waste declined, while rubbish production went up in 2019.

Plastic packaging rates of recycling are “worryingly low” at 28%, with a continuing trend towards energy recovery (incineration.)

Municipal waste recycling fell by 4% between 2016 and 2019, it currently stands at 37%.

The recycling rate for packaging dropped from 70% in 2013 to 62% in 2019.

Its National Waste Statistics Summary Report for 2019 has found that waste generation increased substantially that year.

  • Municipal, or household waste was up 6% to 3.1 million tonnes.
  • Packaging rose 11% to 1.1 million tonnes.
  • Hazardous waste also went up by 10% to 0.6 million tonnes.
  • Waste from construction increased by about a third, to 8.8 million tonnes.

A significant portion of Ireland’s waste was exported for treatment, that includes 40% of municipal waste and 65% of hazardous waste.

Just 16% of packaging waste was recycled, that was mostly glass and wood.

One fifth of the Republic’s waste that was treated with composting or anaerobic digestion was taken to Northern Ireland.

Anaerobic digestion is a process that uses bacteria to break down organic matter in an environment with no oxygen present, like animal dung, leftover food and wastewater.

waste The Environmental Protection Agency has created a visual Waste Hierarchy for 2019. Source: EPA/Waste Report 2019

 Falling rates

There’s “significant cause for concern” from these figures according to the EPA Senior Scientist Tara Higgins.

But she’s hopeful that changes made since 2019 may turn this around.

“Recent moves to allow soft plastics such as films and wraps into our recycling bins, continued expansion of brown bin services to households, new requirements for all packaging to be reusable or recyclable by 2030 and a levy on waste recovery are among the suite of measures needed to increase recycling and close the gap to new EU recycling targets.”

Ireland met all current EU recycling and recovery targets in 2019, and is on track to do so again in 2020.

However the EPA warns “significant improvements” will be needed in the near future to continue hitting those marks.

It says striking the goal of 50% plastic recycled by 2025 and 55% by 2030 will be “very challenging.”

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16 Lockdown Dublin Almost half (46%) of Ireland's municipal waste was sent for incineration in 2019. Source: Leon Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Circular economy

The EPA has also called for existing businesses to be “transformed” to fit a so-called “circular economy.”

That is a system that’s based on re-using materials rather than sending them to landfill.

The report specifically mentions construction, food processing and manufacturing as examples of sectors that need “systemic change.”

Sharon Finegan, Director of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Sustainability, says “our rising levels of waste are unsustainable and need to stop.”

However, she says the changes compared to a decade previous (2009) are clear to see, but that pace needs to be kept.

“Ireland’s recycling rates for municipal and packaging waste have been in gradual decline for a number years, as efforts to improve recycling have been outstripped by the growth in waste being generated and the amount being sent for energy recovery.”

 

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