Ireland needs to take next big step on road to recycling rate rise
Over the past decade Ireland has seen recycling change from an almost-unheard-of activity to a normal part of daily life, but more changes are needed in the near future if it is to meet its EU targets.
In 1998 the recycling rate for municipal waste was just 5% but by 2003 that had shot up to 23%.
"Before the Waste Management Act came into play in 1996 it's fair to say we had a system that was very much based on landfill," she told delegates.
"Since then we've made considerable progress in moving up the waste hierarchy and getting our recycling levels up."
The current hurdle, said Ms Clarke, was that most of the quick wins had now been implemented and Ireland now needed to think big.
"Local authorities themselves can quite easily procure and implement the smaller facilities, but the larger facilities that can have a regional impact have been slower coming through," she said.
"We still have very few large scale biological plants or waste to energy plants treating municipal waste."
These larger facilities were, she argued, key to making the next step change in recycling rates.
Ms Clarke said she believed they would likely be delivered by partnerships between the public and private sector.
"It's up to the regions to ensure the further progress we need is made," she said.
"But I'm optimistic that we'll see good progress over the next few years as the will is there and local authorities have now got the staff in place and one of the problems in the past was that regulations were not being backed up by action.
"There is now a much stronger emphasis on enforcing legislation."
Changing public perceptions of waste have also been a driver in progress, some of which came about through the catalyst of the famous plastic bag tax.
"Ireland seems to have adapted remarkably well to that regulation," Ms Clarke told edie
"I understand Malta tried to bring in something similar but it failed and shops have gone back to giving out the bags, but here people seem to have embraced it.
"Anything that encourages the public to make a difference themselves has got to be a good thing, especially if it makes them think about the wider issues."
by Sam Bond