Independent report recommends new approaches to waste management

Ireland can take advantage of its late-mover position and leap-frog the waste management performance of other European countries, if it addresses blind spots in its waste management policy.

These findings were revealed in a hard-hitting independent report - 'Waste Policy, Planning and Regulation in Ireland' - which addresses the challenges facing the Irish waste management - undertaken by leading European environmental consultants, Eunomia.

Commissioned by Greenstar - Ireland's largest waste management company - and written in association with Irish consulting engineers - TOBIN - the aim of the report is to stimulate debate and inform waste policy decisions on a variety of issues confronting Ireland.

Published at a time when waste management activities are being increasingly scrutinised through the lens of climate change, the report is an audit of Ireland's current capability for managing its waste, the regulatory environment underpinning waste planning and the issues that will confront Ireland down the line if solutions-based planning does not occur now.

The report is critical of the over-emphasis on incineration in regional waste plans and the lack of consideration of alternative waste treatment options. These are identified as major impediments to ensuring Ireland builds world-class waste infrastructure in time to meet the EU Landfill Directive targets - which become progressively tighter from 2010. The length of time needed to bring incineration plants on line, coupled with local opposition, suggests that Ireland needs a 'Plan B'.

The report recommends serious consideration of alternatives such as Mechanical Biological Treatment (MBT), which have established track-records internationally, lower capital costs and shorter lead times than incinerators. MBT facilities include sorting, composting-style processes and recycling facilities and are, increasingly, being used to deal with waste remaining after segregation at source, in countries with progressive waste management systems - such as Austria and Germany.

The report also expresses concerns over the reliability of data collected on waste in Ireland - particularly in relation to the amount of waste being produced, the projections for future waste generation and the targets for recycling.

A key finding is that there is a significant gulf between the projections of future waste volumes outlined in the National Biodegradable Waste Strategy and the regional waste management plans created by local authorities and that there has been a lack of analysis of data. The report asserts that waste planning - based on inaccurate projections of Ireland's future waste needs - will result in the wrong technologies and solutions being developed.

Mirroring the concerns held by the private sector and confirmed in the recent Forfás report - Waste Management in Ireland: Benchmarking Analysis and Policy Requirement (Click Here) - the Eunomia Report identifies the dual role of local authorities as both regulators of and competitors in the waste management services market as that of 'poachers and gamekeepers'. It concludes that the potential for abuse, whether real or perceived, ought to be removed.

The report also highlights the way that the regulatory system differs for public and private operators and that this is a significant disincentive to private sector waste management companies willing to invest in urgently-required waste infrastructure. This situation also runs contrary to the National Development Plan, which relies on the private sector providing the bulk of investment in waste infrastructure.

Commenting on the report, its author Dr Dominic Hogg, Director and Founder of Eunomia, said - "Irish waste management has made enormous strides over the past decade and has led the world with initiatives - such as the plastic bag levy and the 'Race Against Waste' campaign. However, Ireland is significantly behind other European countries in putting systems and supporting infrastructure in place that will allow Ireland meet its targets under the EU Landfill Directive and provide sustainable, waste treatment options that will also impact minimally on climate change.

"Ireland can use its late-mover position to its advantage by learning from experience elsewhere to leap-frog into international leadership. This must include full consideration of all waste treatment options - particularly solutions which can be brought to market quickly, cost-effectively and are flexible in use. Incineration runs the risk of 'crowding-out' recycling options in Ireland's battle to meet EU targets - especially given the way targets are set and projections are made."

Welcoming the report, Steve Cowman, Chief Executive of Greenstar, said - "The Eunomia Report brings invaluable national and international insights to bear on the Irish situation. While the report recognises that there is no 'magic bullet' solution, it looks at the best practice available to us now, that can help us meet our EU-mandated targets and explores a wide range of technologies not widespread here. As we find ourselves at a pivotal point in this industry, it is imperative that all policy makers and companies involved in waste management work together to pursue best practice solutions to the issues facing us.

"Looking back to 1998, Ireland thought it was setting ambitious recycling targets. We now know we can achieve more - it's time to set more ambitious targets."

Key findings and recommendations of the report include -

  • Ireland lacks the regulatory environment crucial to ensuring sufficient private sector investment in waste infrastructure
  • Local Authorities act as regulators for markets in which they also compete. This potential for abuse, whether real or perceived, should be removed
  • There are difficulties in reconciling the logic for the waste targets set in national policy documents or those in the multiple Regional Waste Management Plans.
    The report finds that the methodology used in projections is 'worrying' - with an 'enormous gulf now existing between what is projected nationally.....and the sum of all the projections in the RWMPs'
  • In order to ensure that there is a sound basis for planning future waste management facilities and structures, the report recommends that RWMPs be subject to independent scrutiny regarding both projections and targets
  • There has been a virtual absence of consideration of any facilities other than incineration for the treatment of residual waste. Alternatives - known collectively as Mechanical Biological Treatment (MBT) - can be brought to market quicker than incineration facilities. The absence of consideration of MBT, constitutes a blind spot in Irish waste management policy, plans and regulation.
    Ireland needs to consider these alternative options to incineration if it is to meet its obligations under the Landfill Directive
  • A further cause for concern is that, given the issues surrounding the data on waste, there are questions over the data sent to the EU in 1995 to form a baseline for measuring Ireland's performance under the Landfill Directive

The final report was completed in February 2007 and published on 4th April 2007.
To download a full copy of the report - Click Here


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