Ireland is creating more waste amid falling recycling rates, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has warned, with urgent action required to address the issue.
New data from the EPA’s National Waste Statistics report for 2019 shows that national waste generation is continuing to rise, while recycling rates for municipal and packaging waste decline and more waste is sent for incineration.
In 2019, municipal waste from households and businesses increased by six per cent to 3.1 million tonnes, packaging waste increased by 11 per cent to 1.1 million tonnes and hazardous waste increased by 10 per cent to 0.6 million tonnes.
This growth in waste being generated is outstripping efforts to improve recycling, the EPA said, with recycling rates for municipal and packaging waste in gradual decline for a number of years now.
Ireland’s recycling rate for municipal waste dropped from 41 per cent in 2016 to 37 per cent in 2019, while the rate for packaging waste declined from 70 per cent in 2013 to 62 per cent in 2019.
EPA senior scientist Dr Tara Higgins said Ireland is facing a widening gap to meet new European Union recycling targets from 2025 onwards.
“Ireland’s declining recycling rates are a significant cause for concern. 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,” she said.
The EPA also noted that Ireland continues to have “some significant waste infrastructure deficits” and relies on export for a number of key waste streams, including municipal, packaging and hazardous waste.
Ireland is going in the wrong direction
This points to a need to expand Ireland’s waste treatment and recycling capacity, in order to extract the maximum value from waste materials and reduce the emissions associated with transporting it over long distances, the EPA said.
Director of the EPA’s office of Environmental Sustainability, Sharon Finegan, said a move towards a circular economy is required to address Ireland’s rising waste volumes and falling recycling rates.
“A circular economy is one that is based on less waste and more reuse of materials; these trends show Ireland is going in the wrong direction,” she said.
“Our rising levels of waste are unsustainable and need to stop. Systemic change is needed across all economic sectors to shift the focus to designing out waste and promoting reuse and recycling.”