Ireland ahead of schedule on recycling

The Irish government believes it has severed the link between economic growth and rising waste levels, publishing figures this week showing that the Celtic Tiger has managed to meet European waste targets seven years early.

According to the country’s Environmental Protection Agency’s National Waste Report, Ireland has already met its 2013 municipal recycling target of 35%.

“Irish people are recycling more than ever,” said Environment Minister Dick Roche, speaking at the Recycling Consultative Forum at Dublin castle this week.

“They have shown that given the right infrastructure and the right incentive, they will make the switch to recycling. There is also evidence that we are breaking the link between economic growth and waste generation and this is a welcome and encouraging trend.”

Mr Roche described his pleasure at hitting the EU target well ahead of schedule and said governmental commitment to promote recycling and provide incentives and infrastructure had been key to the improvement.

“When this target was set in 1998 in the Government’s policy document, Changing Our Ways, we were recycling as little as 9% of our municipal waste,” he said.

“No-one then imagined that in less than a decade, we would be where we are today. The Government put in place the policies and resources to support this achievement – more bring facilities, more segregated collections for recyclable materials, the roll-out of Pay-by-Use and increased awareness through the Race Against Waste.”

Ireland’s waste management revolution is made more remarkable by that fact that it has coincided with a period of rapid economic growth as increase in wealth usually leads to a sharp rise in the rate at which households throw out waste.

While waste arisings did grow over the period analysed by the EPA report, the increase did not keep pace with the economy.

“In recent years we have started to see a break in the link between economic growth and growth in waste,” said Mr Roche.

“The Irish economy grew by over 18% in the period 2001 to 2005 but growth in waste arisings was nearly 6% lower over the same period.

In 2005, this trend has continued with waste arisings growing by 1.6% while the economy grew by 5.3%.

“This is a significant event in waste management terms. A key to sustainable development is decoupling economic growth and environmental degradation and this is being achieved when it comes to waste.

“The challenge now is to endeavour to maintain this positive trend in the years ahead.”

Sam Bond

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