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How Ireland is building its circular economy

The Irish Department of Communications, Climate Action and the Environment published its Waste Action Plan (WAP) for a Circular Economy last month.

This Plan is intended to give direction to waste planning and management in Ireland for the period up to 2025 and replaces the previous national waste policy, A National Opportunity – Waste management policy in Ireland 2012-2020.

According to Irish legal firm A&L Goodbody which has authored an article on the WAP, they note that it is needed to help Ireland ensure that it will comply with onerous EU waste targets over the next 10 years, which include targets for 2030 of recycling 65 per cent of municipal waste, recycling 75 per cent of packaging waste and reducing landfill to maximum of 10 per cent of municipal waste.

The circular economy is an important part of the European Green Deal. It aims to minimise waste and resource use, with the value of products and materials maintained for as long as possible. It seeks to limit environmental damage through efficiency, smart design, and comprehensive recycling and re-use of a product to create further value. The European Commission announced its Circular Economy Action Plan earlier this year which has informed Ireland’s Waste Action Plan.

The Waste Action Plan contains over 200 measures across various areas including plastics and packaging, construction and demolition, extended producer responsibility, waste enforcement, green public procurement, municipal (household and commercial) waste, food waste, consumer protection and textiles. The plan can be found here.

Some of its key elements include:

  1. Plastic & Packaging Waste: A deposit and return scheme for plastic bottles and aluminium cans is proposed to be introduced, along with the implementation of the Single Use Plastics Directive (by 3 July 2021). Extended producer responsibility requirements for tobacco products, balloons, wet wipes and fishing gear are referenced. Producers will be made liable for a minimum of 80% of the costs associated with the management of packaging placed “on the market”. The proposed deposit and return scheme for plastic bottles and aluminium cans will be open to public consultation on design options in Q3 2020, with a further public consultation on the preferred model, and draft regulations, anticipated to be held in Q1 2021. The scheme itself is expected to be introduced in Q3 2022. The waste industry has expressed concern that the removal of such higher value waste from the dry recyclable household waste collection bins, will put the economic viability of that collection in jeopardy.
  2. Construction and Demolition (C&D) Waste: There will be a revision of the 2006 Best Practice Guidelines for C&D waste, and the streamlining of by-product notifications and end-of-waste decision making processes, particularly focusing on identified priority waste streams; there will also be the introduction of a fee for all Article 27 notifications to the EPA. These measures are consistent with the Circular Economy principles. Clarity in this area will be welcomed as it has been a source of dispute and controversy over recent years.
  3. Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR): The Waste Action Plan outlines the plan to introduce mandatory EPR for all packaging producers before 2024, and the end of self-compliance as an option under EPR. This will mean that all producers will be liable for the eco-modulation of fees (i.e. fees are adjusted according to the environmental performance of packaging, meaning that recyclable packaging will have lower fees and non-recyclable, composite packaging and over-packaging will be more heavily penalised).
  4. Waste Enforcement: An expansion of the role, capacity and responsibilities of the Waste Enforcement Regional Lead Authorities (WERLAs), with a specific focus on (i) monitoring and enforcement of household waste kerbside collection practices, (ii) enforcement of producer responsibility initiatives and (iii) the introduction of an Information Communications Technology strategy to help achieve this. The Waste Action Plan commits to the introduction of a fixed penalty notice for appropriate offences, and also notes that a new funding model has been introduced for the allocation of the local authority enforcement measures grant scheme, in addition to a commitment to develop a financing model which broadens the cost base for the enforcement system.
  5. Green Public Procurement (GPP): GPP-specific measures will be developed as part of the National Waste Prevention Plan, including training for public bodies, updated Green Procurement Guidance and extended monitoring and reporting of GPP in government departments and public bodies.
  6. Municipal (Household and Commercial) Waste: A waste recovery levy of €5 per tonne will be introduced and will apply to recovery operations at municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills, waste to energy plants and co-incineration plants and the export of MSW. Municipal waste recycling targets will be incorporated as conditions of waste collection permits (collectors will be required to achieve a 55% recycling rate of municipal waste by 2025, 60% by 2030 and 65% by 2035).
  7. Food Waste: Data will be collected (particularly in relation to commercial food waste) to improve the nature of Government interventions. This is intended to assist the development of a Food Waste Prevention Roadmap, with its objective being to halve food waste by 2030.
  8. Consumer Protection: An expansion of the role of the National Waste Collection Permit Office to become a collection market oversight body, with a focus on consumer rights and complaint escalation, charging structures and penalties and service provision and a requirement for waste collection firms to provide accurate and timely pricing information to the public.
  9. Textiles: A short-term textile industry action group will be established to explore options of improving the future circularity on textiles. Other elements within this plan include the promotion of eco-design for clothing, the banning of textiles from the general waste, bin and the development of collection framework proposals that take account of the potential global impacts of the international trade in used textile. This is especially topical during Covid 19 where vast stockpiles of used clothing is building up as the economic structure of that market is under enormous strain.

The authors note that one of the most striking lines in the report is the statement “that if we continue at the current rate of consumption, the world will need three planet earths to meet our resource needs by 2050.

“An accelerated transition to a circular economy is therefore needed, and with greater urgency. Crucial to this is the Government’s Waste Communications Strategy Group, which will co-ordinate campaigns targeted at businesses and households. More support and guidance may also be needed for businesses, as they make this transition,” they conclude.