We've tidied up our act to top recycling league
An incredible 42 million electrical items ranging from irons to televisions to fridges were thrown out in the dying days of the Celtic Tiger, new figures show.
But more than 180,000 tonnes of household waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) has been diverted away from landfill in the five years since an EU recycling directive came into force, with Ireland becoming one of the best-performing member states.
And the range of items disposed of shows the extent of our consumer culture during the heady boom years.
Despite having a population of just 4.2 million, we have disposed of more than half-a-million fridges and freezers, more than 920,000 PC monitors and 1.1 million TV sets since 2005.
We have also thrown away almost 500,000 power tools and more than 950,000 pieces of unwanted sports equipment and toys.
The WEEE directive, which was introduced in August 2005, requires producers and retailers to take back unwanted electrical items and dispose of them safely.
Consumers pay a fee when they buy equipment, ranging from €2 for a small TV, €5 for a washing machine and up to €30 for a large fridge/freezer.
The money is used to help pay for recycling.
The directive was introduced because the amount of waste electrical equipment was rapidly growing, with huge amounts being dumped in rural areas.
The waste also found its way to developing countries, where it was disassembled by low-paid workers for valuable parts, often in hazardous conditions.
WEEE Ireland, the Irish compliance scheme for electrical and battery recycling, said the figures showed that Ireland was one of the best-performing countries in the EU for recycling the waste.
Each person has recycled 9kg, compared with the EU average of 5.5kg.
Environment Minister John Gormley said yesterday there had been a "magnificent" response by consumers keen to dispose of the waste properly.
"There was no shortage of negative comment and general nay-saying when we set out on this journey to implementation in Ireland, nor was there any shortage of critics who told us it couldn't be done," he said.
"The figures speak for themselves and are testament to the importance that Irish people place on protecting our environment."
Mr Gormley reminded the public that local authorities are required to take back waste electrical equipment deposited at collection points free of charge, and retailers are obliged to take back waste electrical equipment from householders free of charge on a one-for-one, like-for-like basis.
This includes fridges, large household appliances, televisions, power tools, and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs).
The directive is being rolled out to include waste batteries. A quarter of what is placed on the market must be recycled by 2012, and 45pc by 2016. Last year, 266 tonnes of batteries were collected.
"Many people tend to hoard old batteries or throw them into the bin destined for landfill," Mr Gormley said. "No spent battery should be placed in a bin; they contain hazardous substances such as mercury and cadmium, which must be kept from landfill, while some contain valuable metals such as silver which should be recovered."
The Environmental Protection Agency has conducted 1,200 inspections of producers and retailers to ensure the regulations are complied with. Since 2005, 10 companies have been prosecuted, including Boots and Argos.
The maximum penalties under the Waste Management Acts are a fine not exceeding €15m or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years, or both.