Upward trend in incineration continues in Ireland
The Environmental Protection Agency, in its report on waste statistics for 2019, has highlighted concerning trends with waste volumes increasing at the same time as a marked decline in recycling and an overreliance on incineration. Continuing economic growth is generating more waste and the future targets for recycling will become challenging to achieve.
Almost 3.1 million tonnes of municipal waste was generated in Ireland in 2019, up from 2.9 million tonnes in 2018. Of this, 52 % originated from households and 48 % from commercial sources. This amounted to 628 kg of municipal waste per person in Ireland (compared to EU average of 502 kg) in 2019, an increase from 600 kg per person in 2018. 37 % was recycled in 2019 (38% in 2018), 46 % was used in energy recovery (up from 43% in 2018) and 15 % was landfilled (14% in 2018). Over 60 % of household organic waste continues to be placed in the residual (black) or recycling bins and therefore not recycled (either because residents do not have a brown bin (52 %), or they are not using it properly).
Ireland is very reliant on export markets for final treatment of municipal waste. In 2019, some 1.2 million tonnes representing 40 % of Ireland’s municipal waste was exported, up from 35 % in 2018. Of the municipal waste exported in 2019, 701,000 tonnes went for recycling, 447,000 tonnes for energy recovery and 90,000 for composting.
Of the 528,000 tonnes of waste (municipal biowaste, industry waste, and wastewater sludge), treated by composting or anaerobic digestion in 2019, 55 % underwent composting while 45 % was treated by anaerobic digestion. In relation to packaging waste, 690,000 tonnes were recycled, 370,000 tonnes were sent for energy recovery at either municipal waste incinerators or cement kilns that co-incinerate packaging material to generate energy. The share of plastic packaging waste sent for incineration with energy recovery increased from 64 % in 2018 to 69 % in 2019. Two-and-a-half times more plastic packaging waste was sent for incineration/energy recovery than was recycled. If all the readily recyclable plastic (PET, PE and PP) that went for energy recovery in 2019 (almost 39,000 tonnes) was recycled instead, Ireland’s recycling rate would increase from 28 % to 40 %.
The latest EPA data highlight that urgent action is necessary to reverse the rise in waste generation, significantly improve recycling rates, and increase Ireland’s self-sufficiency in treating its waste. Ireland needs to move to a circular economy model for key sectors, supported by policy, legislation, and targets.