The majority of Ireland’s plastic packaging waste is sent for incineration rather than recycled, according to new figures from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Less than a third (28 per cent) of plastic packaging was recycled in 2019, according to the EPA data on packaging waste, with almost all remaining plastic packaging sent for incineration.
The share of plastic packaging waste incinerated for energy recovery has grown year-on-year, now standing at 69 per cent.
The EPA said Ireland generated over 1.1 million tonnes of packaging waste in 2019, an increase of 11 per cent on the year before and the third year in a row it has exceeded one million tonnes.
The largest increases were seen in the generation of plastic, paper and cardboard packaging waste. Almost all plastic, paper, cardboard and most metal packaging waste was sent abroad for recycling.
Declining recycling rates
The EPA said an increase in the amount of plastic packaging being recycled was offset by an even greater increase in the amounts of packaging waste being generated and incinerated.
As a result, Ireland’s recycling rates have shown a generally declining trend since 2013.
Sharon Finegan, director of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Sustainability, said the country must “implement measures at policy, industry and individual level to halt the rise in packaging waste.”
“Businesses need to place less packaging on the market. We need to rethink how we make, transport and use products and move to a system where unnecessary packaging is avoided and any remaining packaging is designed either for re-use or recycling,” she added.
“Policy commitments to support this shift such as those outlined in Ireland’s Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy need to be implemented without delay.”
Nearly 39,000 tonnes of recyclable plastic were sent for incineration
The EPA figures also show many readily recyclable plastic items, such as drinks bottles, are still being put in the general waste bin and then end up being incinerated instead of recycled.
EPA senior scientist Dr Tara Higgins said improving how households and businesses separate waste can have a big impact on Ireland’s recycling rate.
“In 2019, over 13,000 tonnes of aluminium packaging and nearly 39,000 tonnes of recyclable plastic were sent for incineration,” she said.
“Allowing soft plastics such as films and wraps into our recycling bins and new deposit-return schemes are positive actions that are now being rolled out to support an increase in the capture of high quality material for recycling into new products.”