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Irish waste and recycling special

Is Northern Ireland looking likely to achieve its recycling targets for household; commercial and industrial; and construction, demolition and excavation waste?

A great deal of effort is being put in by local authorities and their waste partnerships to make sure these targets are met. WRAP is keen to be at the forefront of efforts to achieve these targets in partnership with them and with Northern Irelands government departments.

New targets for these waste streams were set in the recently revised Waste Framework Directive, which impacts across the UK. At some stage the Northern Ireland government will probably need to revise its targets in line with the Directives requirement for 50 per cent recycling by 2020.

Meeting the targets will be a challenge in Northern Ireland. Apart from the approximately one million tonnes of municipal waste produced annually, there are greater amounts of commercial and industrial waste and Construction, Demolition and Excavation waste (CDE). So waste recovery presents a rich vein of opportunity for the recycling sector and service providers. WRAP continues to provide support to increase growth in recycling businesses, to help build the capacity to collect, sort and reprocess these materials.

Household waste recycling reached 31.7 per cent in 2007/8. That figure looks set to increase when we see the results for this year. WRAP is keen to continue working with local authorities and waste management partnerships to support the drive to 50 per cent by 2020, for example, by expanding the collection of food waste for composting or anaerobic digestion.

How do WRAPs four priority areas of collection systems, food waste, packaging and quality of materials set out in its Business Plan 2008-2011 fit with Northern Irelands priorities?

All aspects are relevant to Northern Ireland and its strategy targets. WRAPs Local Authority Support activities involve working with councils in Northern Ireland, to develop and implement plans for increasing household collections of recyclable materials and improve their quality so that they can find high value markets.

Diverting biodegradable municipal waste from landfill is a key target for the Landfill Directive and our support in Northern Ireland for trials on the collection of food waste from households have shown good participation responses from householders. 

Belfast City Council ran its own food waste collection trial in 2008 for 7,000 households and it reported that 32 tonnes of food waste was collected each week. Other councils are due to roll out food waste collection services in 2009, which will herald a big and positive change in Northern Ireland. We are available and keen to help with our knowledge of food waste collections from across the UK when asked.

Materials prices for recycled materials are being closely monitored as elsewhere. So far, barring some short-term accumulation of steel cans as elsewhere in the UK and Europe we have no reports of collected materials in Northern Ireland requiring abnormal levels of storage.

This highlights the drive by Northern Ireland recyclers to produce quality recyclate. WRAP activity over the past few years has helped steer this across all activities involved in household recycling collections.

Eleven major grocery retailers, and a larger number of their suppliers, are signatories to WRAPs Courtauld Commitment, a voluntary agreement which supports less packaging and food waste ending up in household bin.

Last summer we were able to announce that as a result of the agreement the growth in the amount of packaging waste had been halted and of course the benefit of that is felt in Northern Ireland as it is in the rest of the UK. The next target is to achieve an absolute reduction. 

This is very much in line with the Department of the Environments waste prevention strategy.  

WRAP has a separate business plan for Scotland but does not have one for Northern Ireland. Does Northern Ireland need its own?

While we have not developed a separate business plan for Northern Ireland we have agreed a specific delivery plan with our sponsor - the Department of the Environment - that reflects its priorities in the areas we cover. Scotland has specific national policies which differ significantly from the rest of the UK, for example its zero waste ambition, and WRAP Scotland wished to have a business plan that matched those policies.

Does Northern Ireland have specific waste and recycling challenges that differ to the UK and the Republic of Ireland?

The need to meet the requirements of European and national legislation on waste management and recovery and recycling, provides the same focus in Northern Ireland as in the rest of the UK.
The Republic of Ireland is similarly affected. Their physical separation from the British mainland and Europe does present extra challenges in devising solutions as do the comparatively smaller populations of 1.7 million in Northern Ireland and 4.4 million in Ireland. 

This does suggest the need to look for cross-border opportunities to support more investment in reprocessing and recycled content product manufacture. The Quinn Glass plant in County Fermanagh has managed this, supporting collectors across the island that send waste glass containers to be recycled into new containers.

Recycling growth in Northern Ireland has largely been in the collection and sorting of commodity materials for export, such as paper, card and plastic as well as heavier materials like wood and aggregate.

This investment is leading to a steady increase in the tonnages captured and improved quality of the recyclate which is produced. In turn, some indigenous reprocessing and manufacturing is beginning to develop and in some instances may need to compete with the export brokers for the recyclate.

In time, reprocessors may become net importers of recovered materials to support their manufacturing output, so competition on price and quality will be important. WRAP is able to assist businesses in exploring development strategies, assess materials availability through its market knowledge programme and guide development.

Growing demand for recycled content products is also a good stimulus for local market development. This will be a challenge in Northern Ireland, but significantly the Northern Ireland government took the lead in 2006 in setting requirements for recycled content materials use to be included in all its construction procurement. The Investment Strategy for Northern Ireland is a £16 billion ten-year programme which conforms to this sustainable construction policy.

The Irish government is developing similar policies and this is creating the necessary demand for construction products supply chains on the island to expand into manufacture and supply to a large market. 

How much cross border collaboration takes place with the Republic of Ireland to grow the markets and opportunities for the waste and recycling sector?

WRAP has good cross-border relationships with the government and organisations involved in recycling market development and materials resource efficiency. For example, in 2006/07 WRAP led an all-island project on behalf of both governments to assess the feasibility of developing a paper mill. The findings were welcomed by the paper industry and those involved in collecting and managing waste paper, giving guidance to the market on what mill options may be viable.

One outcome was that both governments agreed to maintain a sector forum where ongoing exploration of paper recycling opportunities on the island can be addressed.

This project demonstrated how cross-border collaboration on market development can operate and be of mutual benefit to both governments. In 2007, a North-South Ministerial Council agreement paved the way for a North-South market development steering group to be formed, which will guide this collaboration.

In 2008, Ireland formed its own market development delivery programme which should further strengthen cross-border collaboration with WRAP, working on behalf of the Northern Ireland government.

WRAP has also funded projects with cross-border partners investigating the use of quality composts in agriculture and in the golfing sector. Both arable agriculture and golfing are significant markets for composts on the island. 

Has the weakened sterling affected this relationship?

In the medium term, the narrowing of the gap between the value of sterling and the euro or dollar is not likely to impact on recycling opportunities across our land border. The economic downturn did reveal in Ireland that to maintain export demand, even if prices are depressed, the quality of recyclate must be kept high.

This in turn is driving greater efforts to develop recycling facilities that can produce this higher quality. In due course, consistent higher quality may also trigger competition for recyclate from internal markets on the island with investors in reprocessing and manufacturing capacity being more assured of quality feedstocks.

This is already being seen in Northern Ireland and is supported by WRAPs drive to increase materials quality, working with materials recovery facilities here.  In the medium term, improved quality and volume should also bolster cross-border cooperation along a number of supply chains.

What progress has been made on increasing the infrastructure needed for increasing recycling and reprocessing in Ireland?

There have been some major increases in infrastructure for the recycling of plastics, wood, organics, WEEE, glass and construction demolition and excavation waste over the past five years. WRAP capital grants have assisted the growth in wood and organics recycling capacity, which produces added-value quality products for local and international markets. Plastics recycling is growing at a pace now, as reprocessors are looking at investment in sorting and reprocessing plants to feed on-island manufacturing demand.

There is much more interest in adding new capacity to serve the growth in demand for recycling services due to the increasing cost of landfill and landfill taxes. As the green procurement policies of the Northern Ireland government are becoming more embedded as good practice, its suppliers are seeking more products with recycled content as well as knowledge on how to manage wastes, to help recycling and offset more expensive disposal. WRAP programmes cut across all these aspects in Northern Ireland, and in turn WRAPs presence as a major player is helping boost investor confidence.

What work will WRAP be focusing on in Northern Ireland in the year ahead?

WRAP is committed to supporting the goals of the Northern Ireland Waste Strategy. During this year government investment in infrastructure should boost construction activity and WRAP is keen to help the sector become more resource efficient. One way will be to get more in the Northern Ireland construction sector to sign up to the halving waste to landfill commitment.

Construction activity is also boosting interest in developing recycling and manufacture to serve this supply chain. WRAP activity in the construction and retail sectors provides real support to the strategy waste prevention goals through local action and also national activity - for example, as driven by the retailers Courtauld Commitment. We hope to strengthen this delivery in Northern Ireland so that significant step changes can be achieved during this business plan.

Local Authority support will continue to be a key activity this year. The provision of a £1.5million capital grant for the development of organics treatment capacity will allow more councils to begin introducing food waste collections, some for the first time. Market development for the production of an additional 40,000 tonnes of quality compost each year will be an exciting, but still, achievable challenge.

Helping councils form effective communications plans for increasing collections will continue and also underpin the work WRAP is doing with materials recovery facilities on improving the quality of recyclate.

But to summarise, the main aim will be to do more of the same, to good effect and to maintain strong partnership links with government and other delivery partners in Northern Ireland, to achieve resource efficiency goals.


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