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Updated Oct 3, 2022

EPA calls for urgent measures to tackle packaging waste in Ireland

On 12 September 2022 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published its latest figures on packaging waste in Ireland.

Ireland is meeting current EU recycling targets and achieving high recycling rates for some streams such as:

  • glass;
  • paper;
  • cardboard; and
  • metals.

However recycling rates remain low for plastic at 29%, and the share of plastic packaging treated by incineration was 71% in 2020.

The EPA data shows that Ireland will face significant challenges in meeting the 2025 and 2030 recycling targets for plastic of 50% and 55%.

The majority of Ireland's recycling is done abroad, with just 18% of packaging waste (204,000 tonnes) recycled in Ireland in 2020, consisting mainly of glass and wood. Most plastic packaging waste was for incineration, with less than one third recycled.

Diversion to energy recovery is happening due to poor segregation at businesses and homes, and challenges finding financially viable markets for lightweight and low-quality plastics. If the current practices continue, Ireland will struggle to meet plastic recycling targets, and the climate emissions associated from managing plastic waste will continue to grow.

Sharon Finegan, Director of the EPA's Office of Environmental Sustainability, said: "While Ireland is meeting current recycling targets, future targets will be more challenging, especially for plastic. Achieving the step change improvement needed in plastic recycling requires fiscal and regulatory measures to be introduced without delay. This could include enhanced recycling subsidies, a levy on incineration, introducing performance targets on waste operators, and the implementation of incentivised pricing to encourage Irish businesses and households to properly segregate their waste for recycling".

"Along with improving recycling rates, measures are needed to prevent packaging waste. Ireland’s generation of 1.1 million tonnes of packaging waste per year represents a poor use of materials and energy and is a growing source of emissions. Packaging waste can be avoided and reduced through better product design and by substituting single use for reusable packaging".

Warren Phelan, Programme Manager of the EPA's Circular Economy Programme noted: "With Ireland’s packaging waste exceeding 1.1 million tonnes per year, we need to intensify efforts to reduce packaging waste. Examples of reusable packaging already in use in Ireland include wooden pallets, kegs, and various plastic bulk containers, trays, boxes and buckets. While just 1 per cent of the packaging placed on the Irish market in 2020 was reusable (approximately 8,000 tonnes), this avoided about 72,000 tonnes of single use packaging".

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