European, national and regional waste policy are all predicated on the management of waste in line with the waste hierarchy, whereby the prevention, preparation for re-use, recycling and other recovery of waste are preferred (in that order) to the disposal of waste. For instance, collectors of waste must conduct their activities in accordance with the relevant legislation and the conditions of their waste collection permits which, inter alia, require that waste is managed in line with the waste hierarchy.
Waste management planning, including infrastructure provision, is the responsibility of local authorities under Part II of the Waste Management Act, 1996. The three Waste Management Planning Lead Authorities monitor on an on-going basis the generation and management nationally of municipal solid waste and other waste streams. Under section 60(3) of the Waste Management Act 1996, I am precluded from exercising any power or control in relation to the performance, in specific cases, by a local authority of their statutory functions under the Act.
The Government's policy of increasing the landfill levy to its current level of €75 per tonne has provided a real financial incentive for waste operators to divert as much material as possible from being disposed of at landfill. The success of the above and many other policy and legislative measures, including the National Waste Prevention Programme and the phasing-out of flat rate fees for household waste collection, which encourage waste prevention, preparation for re-use, recycling and other recovery, has meant that more waste can be put to environmentally sustainable and productive use as opposed to being buried in the ground.
Up until November 2017, different household waste collectors accepted different items for recycling, which lead to some confusion on which items go in which bin. Now, however, following co-operation between my Department, the regulatory authorities, the waste industry, Repak and environmental NGOs, we have a single, standard national list of items and materials that can be placed in the recycling bin. Removing confusion will play an important role in improving the quality of the waste presented for recycling. This will help to ensure that these items are actually recycled, as opposed to being contaminated accidentally by householders and sent to landfill. Supporting householders in terms of recycling is important. Householders are also being supported through a number of awareness and education initiatives such as the Recycling Ambassadors Programme and recyclinglistireland.ie.
Statistics compiled by the Environmental Protection Agency show that we have come a long way in a relatively short period of time in terms of improving our recycling and recovery rates and reducing our reliance on landfill. In this regard, National Waste Statistics are available to download at https://www.epa.ie/nationalwastestatistics/, including the State's progress in meeting targets under EU waste legislation including the Waste Framework Directive; the Landfill Directive; and the Producer Responsibility Directives (Packaging, End-of-Life Vehicles, Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment, Batteries and Accumulators).
Of particular note is the reduction in the disposal (landfill) rate of managed Municipal Solid Waste, which fell from 41% in 2012 to 21% in 2014. Furthermore, 79% of managed municipal waste was recovered in 2014 (compared to 59% in 2012). Recovery includes treatment processes such as recycling or use as a fuel (e.g. incineration which converts waste to energy or co-incineration, including the use of solid recovered fuel as part of the cement manufacturing process).