The Emerald Isle is becoming greener as the Republic of Ireland charts a new course toward more sustainable waste management.
Key features are increased waste minimization and recycling coupled with reduced environmental risks and impacts. The means to achieve these goals include improved regulation and planning, broader responsibilities for all parties and increased funding.
Though a member of the European Community since the early 1970s, Ireland is a relative latecomer to the environmental controls arena. Still largely rural and agricultural, with fairly limited industrial development, Ireland has avoided some of the environmental problems that plague more heavily industrialized countries.
Pastureland covers about two-thirds of the total area, forests 5 percent and cropland 14 percent. However, farms are being consolidated for more intensive production, and urbanization is accelerating. Ireland has about four million citizens, 40 percent of whom now reside within 60 miles of Dublin. Other urban centers are Cork and the Shannon/Limerick region.
The average household generates one metric ton of waste annually. As of 1994, less than 1 percent of household waste is recycled, in contrast with an estimated 8 percent of the combined household and commercial waste streams.
Because incinerators are virtually nonexistent, the remaining waste is landfilled. The 114 operating public and private landfills reportedly are expected to decrease to 50 by 2005, following a trend toward larger sites and upgraded or better designed facilities to meet more stringent standards.
As much as 85 percent of Ireland's household and commercial waste is potentially recyclable or compostable, but insufficient markets and technical and institutional barriers keep the recycling rate low, according to a study reported in the Warmer Bulletin.
Currently, paper is Ireland's number one recycled commodity. An estimated 60,000 metric tons of newsprint was generated in 1994; 8.3 percent was recycled by the paper and board industry and 5 percent was used for animal bedding.
In 1992, the capital city initiated a three-year pilot recycling program, called Kerbside Dublin. Nine percent of the residents in the greater metropolitan area received green boxes and instructions for separating their paper products, glass, tin and aluminum cans and plastic.
The recyclables, which were collected on regular garbage pickup days, were sorted and shipped predominantly to domestic processors. Paper products made up 65 percent of the materials recovered. A 1995 program analysis showed a 23 percent reduction in household waste and an actual recycling rate of 70 percent for the recovered materials.
To modernize its waste management nationwide, the government has introduced a range of measures focused on shared responsibility, waste prevention and recovery and higher environmental standards. A comprehensive statutory basis is provided by the 1992 Environmental Protection Agency Act together with the 1995 Waste Bill. Initiatives range from the study of economic options for promoting desirable waste management practices to facility investment (see figure on page 14).
New facilities will provide collection, separation or preliminary processing of municipal waste; organics composting; hazardous waste recovery or special treatment; and modern nonincineration treatment for healthcare wastes.
Through reuse, recycling and composting, the objective for landfill diversion of household and commercial waste is 20 percent by 1999. Ireland's new approach places more responsibility on business and industry for managing packaging waste as well as other priority waste streams such as batteries, construction and demolition waste, electric and electronic waste, end-of-life vehicles and tires.
Recovery/recycling targets for packaging waste have been set at 55 percent for glass and 25 percent for paper, plastic and metals, for an overall goal of 33 percent.
For the first time, the planning process will include a formal procedure for public input.