Waste generation and resource use have increased in Ireland over the last decade in tandem with increasing production and consumption of goods and services. Ireland has made significant progress in meeting many EU waste recycling /recovery targets but challenges in relation to waste generation and management remain.
The average Irish household throws out about 1 tonne of rubbish each year - this is the weight of a small car! Over 60% of this waste could be diverted from landfill by composting or recycling. Organic food waste going to landfill results in methane and leachate byproducts. Methane is one of the six greenhouse gases associated with Climate Change and in fact is 20 times more damaging to the environment than carbon dioxide, the oft cited greenhouse gas. It follows that there is potential to increase composting in Ireland even more.
The most effective way to deal with waste is through a Waste Prevention approach. This approach focuses on changes in lifestyles and in production and consumption patterns. By not generating waste, we can eliminate the need to handle, transport, treat and dispose of waste. We can also avoid having to pay for these services.
The Minister of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government launched the National Waste Prevention Programme in April 2004. It is being led by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The aim is to deliver substantive results on waste prevention and minimisation and integrate a range of initiatives addressing awareness-raising, technical and financial assistance, training and incentive mechanisms. One of the many initiatives undertaken by the EPA to achieve this aim has been to fund the Green Home Programme.
The debate surrounding waste management has put forward a method of positive action with regard to waste known as the Waste Hierarchy. At the top of the Hierarchy is prevention and avoidance of the generation of waste, and at the bottom, the least preferred option, disposal.
Summary of the Waste Hierarchy
• Prevention/Minimisation: Before any purchases are made, consider are they even needed. Clever shopping by buying in bulk, using refills etc.
• Reuse: This is where a product is bought and sold on with the same purpose. E.g. clothes banks, jam jars - there is no change.
• Recycling: A waste is processed into a new product often not related to the initial item. E.g. glass, plastics and composting.
• Energy Recovery: Taking waste/part of a waste stream, and using it as a fuel. E.g. making paper logs, waste-to-energy plants.
• Disposal: Landfill is the disposal route for 91% of the household, commercial and industrial waste produced in Ireland.