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Seeing the light

In 1998 the Republic of Irelands municipal waste recycling rate was a paltry 9% and it had risen by just one percentage point in three years. Now the country is recycling in excess of 20% and its government is understandably pleased to announce it is on target to hit its 35% target for 2013.

This turnaround is the direct result of the first serious policy plan from the Irish government, launched in 1998 and called Waste Management: Changing Our Ways. A recently published report highlights the dramatic change. Waste Management: Taking Stock and Moving Forward was published by the government this year to summarise the progress between 1998 and 2003.

The report reveals the unsophisticated and significantly underdeveloped refuse infrastructure in Ireland when the waste-management plan was drawn up. It summarises:

l The extent of source segregation and kerbside recycling was very limited. Such services were available in respect of domestic waste in only a few towns, plus about 50,000 households in the Dublin region. There was only one pilot scheme for kerbside collection of organic wastes

l There were less than 850 bring sites, with an uneven geographical distribution, which meant that some, particularly rural, areas were not serviced by these facilities

l There were 30 operational civic amenity sites, many of which were located at existing landfill facilities and were operating on a limited basis, i.e. accepting little more than the materials typically collected at bring banks

l There were six local authority transfer stations in the Clare/Kerry/Limerick region, primarily supporting the operation of landfills, as opposed to sorting waste for recovery/recycling purposes. Several private transfer stations were also in operation

l While there were a number of in-house hazardous waste incineration facilities associated with pharmaceutical and chemical plants, there were no waste-to-energy or thermal treatment facilities for municipal waste, and no specific plans for the provision of such capacity

l With limited recycling facilities in place and no thermal treatment, landfill was the main outlet for waste arisings. According to the Environmental Protection Agency National Waste Database report for 1998, there were 76 local authority-operated landfills in the country. It was generally accepted that their operation did not reflect modern environmental standards and the process of licensing such facilities by the Environmental Protection Agency had barely begun

So Waste Management: Changing Our Ways was published to guide local authorities making waste management plans. It strongly endorsed a regional approach to municipal waste management planning and set the following targets for 2013:

l Diversion of 50% of household waste from landfill

l Reduction of 65% of biodegradable waste sent to landfill

l Recycling of 35% of municipal waste

l Recycling of 85% of construction and demolition waste



Investment

The government accepted that significant investment would be needed to allow authorities to meet these ambitious targets. So it established the Environment Fund in 2002 to receive the proceeds of both the Plastic Bags Levy, introduced in March that year, and the Landfill Levy, introduced four months later.

A E55 (£36.32) million environmental expenditure programme from the fund was announced in 2003 and heavily weighted in favour of activities in the waste area.

Around E26m of this was assigned to a capital grants scheme, which is targeted at recycling infrastructure that reflects the waste hierarchy. All but E4m of this has already been allocated to 71 local authority recycling projects, involving the provision of about 580 bring banks, 25 civic amenity sites, nine composting facilities and a materials recycling facility.

And more than E20m was earmarked for a range of other waste and environmental measures, including a programme of significantly improved enforcement of waste laws and a national w

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