How society deals with its waste has become one of the big environmental issues of our time. The quantity of waste being produced is continuing to increase. This combined with the increasing opposition to landfills and other waste management options, most notably thermal treatment, means that waste management continues to be one of the most challenging environmental issues of our time. As long as waste is produced appropriate and responsible ways of dealing with it must be found.
Ireland is no longer a low-volume waste producing country. As our economy grows and more goods and services are consumed, the inevitable consequences are that more waste is being produced particularly post-consumer waste. The National Waste Database Report 1998, was published by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in March 2000. The report presents national waste statistics for the year 1998 along with information about waste disposal and recovery facilities throughout the state. National waste arising for 1998 were estimated to be over 80 million tonnes. Of this approximately 64.6 million tonnes originated from agricultural sources.
With reference to “Draft Waste Management Plan for Galway City/County 1999-2004” , the present non-agricultural waste generation in the Galway region is 231,518 tonnes of municipal and industrial (incl. Mining/quarrying) waste per annum. In addition, it is estimated that there are 2,191,702 tonnes per annum of agricultural waste arising in County Galway from cattle. sheep, pigs and poultry. Since the closure of Tuam (October 1998) and Carrowbrowne (Dec.l998/Jan 1999) landfills, there has been a substantial reduction in terms of waste landﬁlled with some 90,000 tonnes/annum on average of non-recycled waste being landfilled at Ballinasloe. The only other public landfill is at Kilronan (600 tonnes/annum).
At the moment every household produces over one tonne of waste per year. The relative absence of existing infrastructure for separate collection and recovery of wastes such as household wastes, commercial wastes, construction and demolition waste and waste from electrical and electronic equipment means that materials and energy that could be usefully recovered from these waste streams are being discarded, mainly to landfills.
There is therefore an urgent need for the necessary infrastructure to be put in place for the separate collection, recovery and safe disposal of waste so that a truly integrated approach to waste prevention/minimisation and management becomes standard practice in Galway City and County.
The Waste Management Act 1996 and the Waste Management (Amendment) Bill 2001 are the primary instruments used to manage and control waste in lreland. Recent Government policy relating to waste management stems primarily from “Sustainable Development — A Strategy for Ireland”, published in 1997. In September 1998, the Minister for the Environment published a policy statement on waste management in Ireland entitled “Waste Management – Changing our Ways”, in which the internationally recognised hierarchy of options is firmly established. The well-known waste hierarchy states an order of preference in managing waste. The hierarchy goes from the best option, which is the prevention of waste occurring; through to the least favoured disposal option which is landfill.
Specific targets are set out in Changing our Ways, which are to be achieved over a fifteen year period, with an initial five-year interim target period for recovery of construction and demolition (C&D) waste. These targets are:
A diversion of 50% of overall household waste away from landfill.
A minimum 65% reduction in biodegradable wastes consigned to landfill.
The development of waste recovery facilities employing environmentally beneficial technologies as an alternative to landfill.
Recycling of 35% of municipal waste-.
Recycling of at least 50% of C&D waste within a five-year period, with a progressive increase to at least 85% over fifteen years
An 80% reduction in methane emissions form landfill.
In terms of preferred options Recycling is in the middle of the waste hierarchy. It has some good points but also some limitations. In theory, practically all solid waste can be recycled, but in practice most products in Ireland are not. Recycling means taking a discarded product, cleaning it, processing it (with water, heat or chemicals) and turning it into a raw material. Energy is required to process the product and to transport the discarded products to the processing plant.
A distinction is sometimes made between closed-loop recycling and open loop recycling. In closed-loop recycling, after processing into raw material the discarded product will be used to make the same product again i.e. newspapers into newspapers. Closed-loop recycling can reduce the amount of virgin material in the new product by 20-90%. Open loop recycling converts the discarded product into the raw material for a different kind of product. This allows for up to 25% savings in the quantity of virgin material needed for the new product.
There are 4 stages in recycling:
Some criticisms of recycling are:
It is promoted as a good thing regardless of cost.
It costs more than disposing of that waste to landfill.
It’s not really necessary when you have enough landfill space.
It’s not economic for cheap materials e. g. steel, or for materials, which are expensive to recycle e.g. plastics.
It’s not worth it for plentiful material resources e.g. silica – the raw material for glass.
These are economic arguments, and it must be remembered that comparisons must also include the environmental costs of the disposal alternatives and the social cost where one community feels aggrieved at taking waste from everywhere else.
Some benefits of recycling:
It reduces the use of virgin resources.
It reduces the environmental pollution, landscape alteration and loss of bio-diversity associated with use of virgin resources (mining, forest destruction, transportation over long distances, provision of bigger roads, disputes over control of raw materials)
It reduces the overall throughput of energy and materials.
Plastic products are a particular group of products which many people want recycled. Plastics are quite expensive to recycle, and if the price of oil goes down, the virgin material can cost less than the recycled material. Because plastics are manufactured from oil and gas, which are not renewal resources, there is a very strong argument for recycling them. Also, PVC and uPVC contain chlorine, which is a dioxin precursor, and should not be disposed of by burning. Plastics contain binders, colorants and heat stabilisers, and it is thought that these may diffuse into the landfill leachate. Some of these additives may contain lead and cadmium, which must be prevented from leaking into groundwater and surface water.
An EPA report published last year found that in 1998; 85% of paper waste, 70% of glass and 95% of metals were still being sent to landfill. The Connaught Waste Management Strategy stated that only an estimated 3.5 %of municipal waste was being recycled. This is very low when compared to the new target of 35% of municipal waste.
Recycling in County Galway
The current levels of domestic and commercial recycling in the county are comparatively low, less than 5%.
The Local Authority and a number of private operators carry out the recycling activity. The main materials collected for recycling are metals, glass, paper/cardboard and to a lesser extent pallets, oil, batteries and timber.
The recycling services that are provided and can be availed off in the County are as follows:
Community Recycling Centres at Tuam and Ballinasloe.
Proposed Community Recycling Centres at Clifden and Athenry to be operational early 2002.
Bring Banks located at over 50 sites.
Household Hazardous Waste collection.
Home Composting Scheme in Ballinasloe to be operational February 2002.
Vermi-Composting initiatives undertaken by schools and communities.
Glass collection from Commercial sector.
Implementation of Packaging Regulations.
Implementation of clean technology and Waste minimisation rogrammes in industry.
Aran Islands Recycling Scheme.
Green Area Pilot Project.
Community Recycling Initiatives.
Green Schools Project — Green Flag awarded to Carnaun National School and Scoil Chroí Naofa.
Environmental Information Packs.
The greatest barrier to increased recycling in the county is the cyclical nature of markets for recycled materials. The recommended purchasing of recycled materials by Local Authorities and the appointment of a Regional Industrial Waste Management Officer, whose role incorporates the examination of new market opportunities for recycled products, represent positive steps towards market creation.
Waste reduction initiatives can begin in the home. It is everyone’s responsibility to contribute to environmental protection. With the current economic boom in Ireland, we have become an even more throwaway society and a change in attitude towards the waste we produce is required to improve the situation.
There are many ways in which people can actively reduce the amount of waste that they put out for collection, and increase the amount of waste that they recycle. This is what waste prevention means for households. It is everyone’s responsibility.
Written by Christy Coffey
Published here 13 Jul 2023 and originally published Christmas 2001