Farm Ireland

Thursday 18 January 2018

Embrace recycling methods to save nation's countryside

Recycling technologies, such as biogas fermentors or digestors, convert waste into electricity and produce fertiliser from the by-products
Recycling technologies, such as biogas fermentors or digestors, convert waste into electricity and produce fertiliser from the by-products
Recycling technologies, such as biogas fermentors or digestors, convert waste into electricity and produce fertiliser from the by-products
Joe Barry

Joe Barry

Did you know that a tractor-drawn tanker of pig slurry has the potential to provide enough energy to run an average family home for four months? Or that 1,000t of food/vegetable waste can supply the energy requirements of 50 houses for a year?

It gets even better. Having provided all this power, the remaining by-product is then available as a rich fertiliser for growing crops on farmland.

The technology to convert so-called 'waste products' into energy, and then subsequently into compost and fertiliser, has been successfully used for many years.

Combined heat and power (CHP) facilities that create electricity from organic materials are in operation throughout the world, yet here in Ireland we continue to dump huge quantities of valuable reusable material in holes in the ground.

Many of our landfill sites have been causing serious pollution for years to the groundwater in their vicinity and inflicting offensive odours on those unfortunate enough to live nearby. This form of vandalism cannot continue and while efforts are being made to make us alter our behaviour, they are meeting strong opposition.

We still appear to have our heads in the sand regarding sensible waste management. There are wonderful opportunities available to use the by- products of farming and industry to generate power and save on imported oil and fertiliser.

Despite this, there was business-led lobbying against the recently proposed landfill levy. The point of the levy was to encourage a gradual change in behaviour where businesses would be weaned off the cheap 'quick fix' of dumping and instead move to reusing and recycling wherever possible.

Food waste, instead of ending up in landfill, would be used to generate power and the residue would then be spread on farmland as a valuable, organic soil enricher.

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The objectors to the levy reminded me more than anything else of the lobby that fought against the abolition of slavery in the 1800s. In those days, slavery was considered essential for the continuing viability of agriculture, especially in the southern states of the US and also on the plantations in the colonies then owned by Britain, France and Belgium.

Would anyone nowadays dare suggest that the sale of slaves was anything other than a prime example of man's inhumanity to man and of greed overcoming reason? Move forward a few hundred years and look at the initial opposition to the hugely successful plastic bag tax. Yet that scheme helped to greatly reduce waste and litter, and, at the same time, save us money.

In times gone by, most Irish households bought little and reused whatever they could. Perhaps the principal reason was that most of us could not afford to live any other way.

However, sometime around the 1970s things started to gradually change. We began to enjoy what became known as 'disposable income' and, with it, we disposed of the habits of earlier generations.

From being a nation of careful and prudent reusers and recyclers, we altered our behaviour and, sadly, Ireland is now ranked, along with the UK, as being among the most wasteful countries in the EU. The fact that litter is to be found in every roadside ditch and bog is proof of our appalling lack of regard for our own countryside.


The short-term thinking of the landfill lobby, which wants us to keep dumping all our waste in holes in the ground, is a prime example of greed ignoring the long-term needs of our nation. We have seen what greed has done to our banking system and our economy at large.

We must stop burying ourselves under piles of our own waste and start using it cleverly to replace imports. Ireland has one of the poorest organic recycling rates in the EU and faces potential fines totalling many millions of euro for breaching EU directives. These directives are designed to prevent pollution, and it is abundantly clear that dumping materials that could be profitably recycled is both profligate and unsustainable.

The current difficulties with dumps in Wicklow, Kildare and elsewhere are ample evidence of the long-term cost to the nation of the irresponsible use of landfill.

Recycling delivers jobs, reduces carbon emissions and adds to our national wealth through reduced imports. In contrast, landfill is a short-term and shortsighted way of disposing of waste that, in the long term, produces huge additional expenses for taxpayers.

We must embrace the technologies for creating energy from wind, water and waste. We must keep our countryside clean and, above all, we must relearn how to reduce, reuse and recycle.

Indo Farming