In Ireland we are only a few generations removed from the time when everything that was thrown out ended up in a landfill site. Or a dump, as they were more likely to be called back in the day. However, as of 2020, there are in fact only three municipal landfill sites in operation in Ireland.
“In 2008, there were 31 landfill sites in operation,” says Margaret Murphy, Resource Efficiency Officer with the Southern Waste Region.
It’s a sign of how much has changed when it comes to waste management, and how interventions and new ways of thinking about waste management from design and production through to reusing and recycling have resulted in considerable changes.
“I know we keep hearing the phrase about diverting waste away from landfills, but only 14 per cent of municipal waste goes to landfill now,” says Murphy.
As she outlined, these positive changes are a result of local, regional, national and European action plans and directives on everything from bin collection to the recycling of electronic goods.
The Southern Waste Region, one of the three waste management offices in Ireland, covers ten local authorities across the south and west of Ireland. It’s an area that covers more than 40 per cent of the island and includes 1.5 million people.
Working with local authorities the Southern Waste Region has a wide remit covering everything from developing and overseeing waste action plans to education awareness, and working to reduce waste generation with commercial partners in the manufacturing, retail and construction industry.
The Southern Region Waste Management Plan which expires in 2021 has been the guiding policy for the past five years where waste has been identified as a resource rather than a problem.
“There will be in the future a new “National Waste Management Plan for the Circular Economy” with a focus on embracing the circular economy,” says Margaret Murphy, Resource Efficiency Officer with The Southern Waste Region.
Murphy says that principles of circular-economic thinking, moving beyond the take-make-waste model have informed previous waste management plans and will be key to the next national plan.
"The overall goal is to move up the waste hierarchy,” Murphy says. “The top is waste prevention and re-use, then recycling and recovery and finally disposal. We are moving further up this hierarchy, but of course we want to do more on a national, regional and local level.”
As Murphy says, about 40 per cent of municipal waste is now recycled, but the goal is to improve on that.
The Southern Waste Region and its two other counterparts, Eastern-Midlands Waste Regional Office and Connacht Ulster Regional Waste Management Office, have co-operated closely and been highly effective in setting up the mywaste.ie platform – a website and associated social media platforms aimed at households across the country in helping them understand waste management and recycling in Ireland.
A new initiative, a Commercial Waste Toolkit, which the Waste Regions are currently working on with stakeholders in waste management and the business community, aims to further assist the retail, food and hospitality industry better manage waste segregation.
“It’s a toolkit we are developing which will cover a broad area but in simple terms,” says Murphy. “There’s still confusion as to what goes in what bin, and we want to make that very clear.”
Murphy cited a survey from the Environmental Protection Agency which revealed that a lot of what ends up in the general waste bin could and should have been directed to the food waste and recycling bins.
“We’re encouraging waste prevention of course, but whatever is generated, you should then think about segregating waste for recycling. That’s the big aim, and we’re looking forward to launching that.”
For more information, see mywaste.ie