Each year, Irish households produce around one tonne of waste. Whether it is recycled or ends up in landfill, all that waste must be transported, treated and disposed of. Any material that goes through that process represents a waste of resources, materials, fuel and energy. The process also contributes over 50% of some countries' greenhouse gas emissions.
In order to protect resources and help fight climate disruption, we need to change the way we approach production and consumption and work towards a more sustainable system. Moving away from the carbon heavy, linear model of the present "produce, use and dispose", to a circular economy will change the way products and services are designed and delivered across Ireland.
The Government has already adopted a number of sustainable consumption measures internally by banning single use plastics, moving towards Green Public Procurement, and commencing efficiency reviews and upgrades in areas like energy, waste and water consumption.
The Climate Action Plan includes specific targets combatting waste including reductions in household waste, landfill reliance, plastics and food waste. It also sets out ambitious recycling targets for municipal, plastic and packaging waste.
Policy frameworks will also be developed to encourage and promote the circular economy and eco-friendly design which will filter positive choices through to consumers. In tandem with these developments, we can all take steps to familiarise ourselves with sustainable consumption.
Making small changes at home can have a big environmental impact and save you money at the same time. An easy first step is to reduce the amount of waste that we produce. Avoid single use disposable items like razors, batteries and wipes. Opt for rechargeable batteries and washable cloths instead – they last much longer. Say no to junk mail – put a no junk mail sticker on your letterbox to avoid disposing of unwanted paper.
If you cannot avoid items or products ending up in your home you can still make the most out of their potential by giving them a new lease of life through reuse. This concept of extending an object's life cycle past its original use is at the heart of the circular economy.
Economic growth does not depend on the mass production and disposal of products. It can be separated from the use of resources through production models based on long life products that can be renewed, reused, repaired, upgraded or refurbished. This keeps the added value in objects for as long as possible while eliminating waste and protecting precious resources.
If reusing is not an option for you then recycling your goods is the next best alternative.
Waste is an inevitable part of our daily lives but the more stuff we buy, the more waste we generate – so the ideal solution to dealing with waste is to change our consumption habits and start at the beginning. Sending our rubbish to landfills is not just bad for the environment; it is also a missed opportunity for recovering some of the useful life left in what we are throwing away.
Recycling offers a way to keep these useful resources working for us and avoids the need to use new materials through mining metals, cutting down trees or drilling for oil.
The separation of waste at source makes it cheaper and more efficient for waste companies to sort waste at a later stage. As a customer it is usually cheaper to fill your recycling or brown bins, providing a financial incentive to recycle.
Most waste collectors will have information about what can go into your bins or you can visit mywaste.ie for further details.
- Recycling (Green bin): cardboard, paper, plastic bottles, drinks cans, tins and Tetra paks
- Organic Waste (Brown bin): kitchen food scraps, fruit and vegetables, plant trimmings, tea bags. By now most houses will have organic waste or brown bins to collect food waste. The contents are brought to a composting facility, where it is used to produce high quality compost.
- Residual or general waste (Black bin): Your residual waste bin is for anything that you cannot put into your recycling or organic bins. By keeping this waste to a minimum and correctly using your other waste bins you will help to reduce Ireland's waste and save money at the same time.
There are also bring-banks in nearly every town and village for glass, textiles and larger volumes of recycling or bulkier items that won't fit in your green bin. Many people also opt in to take-back schemes run by furniture and electronics retailers.
Recycling also provides a safe and regulated system for dealing with hazardous waste that could otherwise end up in a landfill. Oils, acids and metals can pollute our water supplies if they are washed away or cause harm to the public if dumped illegally around the country.
There is now a route for recycling almost every product – sometimes these routes are free and sometimes a charge is applied. To help you find the right place to bring your waste, mywaste.ie provides information about recycling sites across Ireland with searchable maps, information on opening hours and the types of waste accepted.
Almost one quarter of the food we buy ends up in the bin, costing the average Irish household around €700 each year.
Managing food waste from the start can make a really big difference. We have to be mindful of avoiding waste when we buy our food, when we take it home to store it and finally when it gets cooked or eaten.
- Make a list over the course of a week of all the produce that gets thrown away. Once you realise how much goes in the bin, it is hard to ignore.
- Don't go shopping when you are hungry, you will buy more than you need.
- Before you shop, take a photo of the inside of your fridge and presses so you can avoid buying something you already have.
- Don't forget to do a shopping list and stick to it, this will reduce impulse purchases.
- Check use-by-dates to avoid buying food that might have to be thrown out if not eaten immediately.
- Beware of special deals – these are great for toilet rolls and shampoo but bad for anything that can go off quickly like fruit, veg and salads.
- Try shopping online for the basics - you get only what you need because you are not distracted by all the other goods on shelves, saving on waste and the food bill.
If you do end up with food waste, make sure you deal with it in the best way possible through your brown wheelie bin or by doing some composting at home.
Composting turns organic materials like garden waste and vegetable food scraps into dark, crumbly material called compost. When done correctly, composting at home is an effective way of dealing with garden and unavoidable food waste which can save you money on your waste bills and reduce the strain on waste services.
Doing it at home means you reap the benefits of the compost too as it can be used to improve the soil in your garden and protect Ireland's biodiversity and environment. Successful composting requires sufficient moisture and aeration. The size of the heap to be composted is very important, as is the size of the particles and the surface area of the material.
Consumers can reduce waste by looking at the purchases they make, but producers also need to make these choices easier for customers.
A lot of companies are now looking at different ways to become more sustainable either by reducing the amount of packaging that their products come in or changing that packaging to one with less of an environmental impact. Plastics are being phased out in favour of biodegradable or recyclable containers and many shops and supermarkets are reverting to selling loose produce.
Where companies have decided that packaging is necessary, they can take part in one or more Producer Responsibility Initiatives (PRIs) which reduce the impact of their waste on the consumer and the environment.
- Repak is a not for profit organisation made up of companies who are charged membership fees which subsidise the collection and recovery of waste packaging. Some of the biggest waste producers in Ireland are dealing with their waste more efficiently by being members.
- All retailers that sell batteries and accumulators must accept waste products free of charge. You can also return to other authorised collection points including local authority civic amenity sites.
- Legislation is in place to make sure that households can dispose of some of their Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) in a safe and convenient way through retail outlets or local bring centres. You can recycle many items for free such as power tools, fridges, computers, washing machines and lighting equipment.
- Legislation is also in place to ensure that companies that deal with end-of-life vehicles and tyres are compliant in recovering, reusing and recycling them correctly. Owners can also dispose of their end-of-life vehicles at designated centres free of charge.
- The correct management of farm hazardous waste is essential for protecting the environment and many farmers across Ireland participate voluntarily in a national campaign to collect, recover and dispose of this waste correctly.
The bioeconomy encompasses the production of renewable biological resources and their conversion into food, feed, bio-based products and bio-energy. It includes agriculture, forestry, fisheries, food, and pulp and paper production, as well as parts of chemical, biotechnological and energy industries. Its sectors have a strong innovation potential to support Ireland's transition to a more integrated sustainable, low carbon economy.