While Northern Ireland may have the smallest of the four UK populations, its approach and achievements in waste management and recycling should not be overlooked.
When it comes to resource efficiency, reuse and recycling, we have had our own measure of success and have plenty of good practice to share with those across the Irish Sea.
The headline news from July’s provisional Northern Ireland local authority statistics for household waste show a drop of almost 2% on waste going to landfill in between January and March this year. And while the amount of household waste that is landfilled continues to fall, the rate for recycling and composting keep on rising.
Our overall household recycling rate hovers at just over 41%, meaning that while Northern Ireland still has much to do to reach the 50% EU recycling target by 2020, we are heading in the right direction.
Our achievements are testament to the commitment and hard work of a lot of people that began well over 10 years ago: from people recycling at home to those within local governments implementing and delivering schemes to capture recyclates, to those in businesses dealing with their waste more sustainably; and businesses finding innovative uses for valuable materials.
The Northern Ireland Government has led the way through its waste strategy and policy commitments. The Rethink Waste programme is one example of the Government enabling work to succeed on the ground. WRAP, in partnership with the Department of the Environment, has administered more than £10m in grants to councils since 2011, helping to increase our domestic recycling infrastructure in a drive to get to that 50% target.
WRAP continues to advise councils on their recycling systems and support with our communications packages. Our local government support programme is a key part of WRAP’s delivery in Northern Ireland, and has helped many councils to make the most of their assets and push up recycling.
In part, as a result of this funding, there has been a noticeable increase in the range of materials collected across the country. Two thirds of councils now collect the five key materials of glass, cans, plastic bottles, paper and card, and more are introducing separate food waste collections. Rethink Waste funding is also helping to develop and modernise household waste and recycling centres (HWRCs) across the nation, and such improvements that make it easier for more people to recycle more materials by more routes.
A case in point is Ballymena Borough Council, whose recycling rate has increased from 28% to 44% in the time WRAP has been working with it. Our involvement has been on a range of areas, from collections guidance to service reviews at HWRCs. The council was awarded a Rethink Waste capital grant of £680,000 for a HWRC, which opened in 2013. Soon afterwards the facility had a re- cycling rate of 80%, helping the council to win an award for excellence in waste management.
WRAP’s work has also helped to inform the Government where the focus needs to be to overcome barriers to recycling, and increase recycling and composting. We have addressed capturing the waste streams that have the biggest impact, in particular, food waste, glass and plastics, which remain the most prevalent wastes that we could recycle more of.
Improving and increasing collections also needs effective communications as a key part of driving positive behavioural change. We must draw on these experiences to reach the next stage of recycling. We have the knowhow, and must use it to generate further action to get us to the 50% target during the next six years.
Recent policy commitments made by the Department of the Environment will lead to banning source-segregated food waste from landfill from 2015. Phased requirements for commercial food producers will help maintain the momentum in recycling this material.
The prospect of a ‘ban’ may concern some commentators that waste costs will rise. But the collection of source-segregated food waste will help ultimately to develop a reprocessing and energy generation supply chain that can get committed investment for anaerobic digestion (AD) processes for renewable heat and power generation. WRAP is helping to support the development of Northern Ireland’s AD capacity for food waste, and is promoting the commercial use of digestate products.
We know that waste management and resource efficiency are heading in the right direction in Northern Ireland, but more can always be done. WRAP and its partners are striving to achieve the country’s goal for recycling and to better manage our resources. Developing a more circular economy is at the heart of WRAP’s work here, and the prospects for environmental and economic benefits are good.
Ian Garner, manager of WRAP Northern Ireland