Recycling is a significant element of the Government's overall integrated policy framework on waste management — based on the internationally recognised waste hierarchy — prioritising waste prevention, minimisation, reuse, recycling, energy recovery and the environmentally sound disposal of residual waste which cannot be recycled or recovered.
This significant emphasis on recycling is reflected in the 1998 policy statement, Changing our Ways, which provided a national policy framework for the adoption and implementation by local authorities of strategic waste management plans under which specific national objectives and targets would be achieved. Specifically, Changing our Ways set ambitious recycling targets to be achieved over a 15-year timescale, as follows: recycling of 35% of municipal waste; and recycling of at least 50% of construction and demolition, C&D, waste by 2001, with a progressive increase to at least 85% by 2013.
Changing our Ways set a number of complementary targets aimed at increasing recycling rates, to be achieved over the same timescale, including: a diversion of 50% of household waste from landfill; a minimum 65% reduction in biodegradable waste consigned to landfill; and the development of composting and other biological treatment facilities capable of treating up to 300,000 tonnes of biodegradable waste per annum.
National waste statistics are published at three-yearly intervals by the EPA. The most recent national waste database report in respect of 2001, which was published in July 2003, estimated that out of total municipal — household and commercial — waste of 2,297,603 tonnes in that year, 305,554 tonnes, 13.3%, were recycled. This is an increase from 166,684 tonnes, or 9%, in 1998 and 117,732 tonnes, or 7.8%, in 1995. These figures indicate that significant progress is being made in this area and that we are now moving towards EU average municipal waste recycling rates. In addition, the 2001 EPA report estimated that of the 3,615,163 tonnes of C&D waste sent to landfill that year, just under 2.4 million tonnes, or 65.4%, was recovered and used for construction purposes or as landfill cover, thereby achieving the initial C&D waste recycling target set in Changing our Ways.
All the indications are that the recycling position has improved even further since 2001 arising from the implementation of the local and regional waste management plans, as follows: the progressive roll-out of household segregation and separate collection of dry recyclable and organic waste in urban areas — approximately 500,000 households nationally are now served by segregated household collection of recyclables whereas minimal numbers of households were served by such service in 2001 and separate collection of organic wastes has recently commenced in a number of areas and is to be extended to further areas in the near future; the continued expansion of the bring bank network — over 1,800 bring banks are currently in place compared to around 1,400 in 2001 and 850 in 1998; and the increased network of civic amenity recycling centres and waste transfer stations being progressively put in place — there are now approximately 50 civic amenity sites or recycling sites around the country accepting a wide range of materials for recycling.
In addition, new packaging regulations introduced last year requiring the segregation and recycling of specified back-door packaging waste by producers have influenced increased recycling rates in the commercial sector.
The expansion in the waste recycling infrastructure outlined has been assisted by significant funding provided to local authorities from the environment fund, which is financed by the proceeds generated by the landfill and plastic bag levies. In addition, an intensive waste awareness and communications campaign Race against Waste was launched in October 2003, aimed at heightening awareness among businesses and householders alike of the need to increase recycling rates. This campaign is being funded by the environment fund.
With a view to providing further impetus in this area, I will shortly be announcing implementation details of commitments contained in the Delivering Change policy statement published in 2002, as follows: the establishment of a market development programme to ensure that end markets exist for the materials which are collected for recycling; the publication of a national biodegradable waste strategy which will set out measures to progressively divert biodegradable municipal waste from landfill and to provide an effective basis for the achievement of the 2013 target set in Changing our Ways; and the development of further producer responsibility initiatives, in addition to existing initiatives on packaging, farm plastics and C&D wastes, on specific waste streams, that is, end-of-life vehicles, waste electrical and electronic equipment, newsprint and tyres.