Irish households and businesses need to improve their waste separation

 “That doesn’t belong there!” is the key message from the Environmental Protection Agency’s latest report which examined what Irish households and businesses are putting in their bins.

The study found that;

  • The increased use of brown bins in the past ten years has resulted in a significant reduction in organic waste (food and garden waste) in the household residual ‘black’ bin.
  • However, almost 50 per cent of household organic waste is still being disposed of in the “wrong bins”, i.e. recycling or black bin.
  • Similarly, almost 70 per cent of the content of the black bins of Irish businesses is in the wrong bin and could potentially be diverted either to recycling or to brown bins.
  • Plastics have replaced organic waste (food and garden) as the largest waste type in the general waste from households, while the share of plastic in waste from businesses has almost doubled.
  • Food residue in containers and non-recyclable materials in recycling bins is causing contamination and reducing the amount of waste that can be recycled into high value products.

Commenting on the report, Laura Burke, Director General, EPA said

“It’s ten years since the last National Waste Characterisation study and the 2018 study shows that while we are doing some things well, home owners and businesses still have a lot to improve upon when it comes to what we are putting in our bins. This is an important study that can support future waste management policy and infrastructure. It also highlights the changes we need to make as individuals and businesses to live more sustainably and meet Ireland’s waste recycling and recovery targets”.

On receiving the report, Mr Richard Bruton, T.D., Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, said,

“This report provides a very important insight. We can see that if we want to achieve our goals, we need to do more to support people in understanding and using their bins. We can see that most misplaced waste goes in the black bin, with 36 per cent being more appropriate to the compost or recycling bin. While recycling volume has risen, it is still modest and we need to do more to encourage people to recycle. General waste is rising rapidly, at 580 kilograms per head per year (2016 figures) but it is the composition of this waste that is also of concern, with an increased percentage of this waste coming from plastics, cardboard and metal. This raises concerns about unnecessary packaging.

“While capture rate in some areas is doing well, for example gardening and paper, it is much lower for other materials such as plastic and metal. This information shows us that we need to really focus efforts on recycling in these areas. There are real gains to be made in ensuring waste is categorised correctly. This report provides really valuable data and will be important as we continue to develop policy in this area. Finally, I would urge people to visit mywaste.ie for all the advice they need on managing their waste.”

Three areas highlighted for future focus include plastic, food waste and single use materials:

  • Single-use materials (e.g. coffee cups, and tissue paper/ napkins) have become a very significant part of what we throw away and measures will be needed to address this.
  • Policy measures to roll out brown bins and home composting have reduced food waste in the other bins. More can still be achieved to improve the separate collection of food waste.
  • Two thirds of the plastic waste that ends up in our bins isn’t currently being targeted by Irelands recycling list. A broadening of the scope of what can be recycled by Irish homes and businesses will be needed to meet our future targets.

Other key findings from the report include the following:

  • Good separate of cardboard is happening within the commercial sector which is reflected in the dramatic reduction in cardboard as a proportion of commercial waste. Conversely, the share of cardboard has increased slightly in household waste.
  • Coffee cups were separately identified in the commercial and business survey. The result suggests 14,000 tonnes of coffee cups are being generated annually, about 4 per cent of commercial and business waste.
  • While the overall share of paper waste has declined significantly, particularly for households, tissue paper/ napkin form a significant part of both household and non-household waste. Tissue paper accounted for 10 per cent of non-household waste.

Concluding Dr. Eimear Cotter, Director of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Sustainability said:

“In considering the findings of this study it’s important to examine how we can reduce the use of resources and the generation of waste so that we prevent large quantities of waste getting into our bins at all. By avoiding waste in the first place, you reduce the need to collect, process, treat and or dispose of it. Through the EPA’s National Waste Prevention Programme we are targeting the most pressing waste prevention priorities, with plastics and food waste identified as key areas for 2019.”

The report and infographics relating to Household and Business Waste Characterisation 2018 are available on the EPA website here http://www.epa.ie/pubs/reports/waste/wastecharacterisation/.

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