Plastics recycling is improving in Ireland, but we are still a long way off hitting tough new targets that will become mandatory in the next three years.
Figures from Repak show more than 96,000 tonnes of plastic packaging waste were recycled last year, which was 31pc of the plastic packaging taken from goods sold in the country.
That was better than the 29pc achieved in 2020 and is well above the 22.5pc target that currently applies in EU countries.
A fast improvement is needed, however, to reach the 50pc target that comes into effect in 2025 and the 55pc target that follows in 2030.
The overall packaging recycling target, which includes paper, glass, metal, wood and plastic, should be easier to achieve.
In total, 66pc of packaging was recycled in 2021, ahead of the 55pc current target and the 2025 target of 65pc, and not far off the 2030 goal of 70pc.
Hitting the targets only goes so far in handling the excess packaging waste problem, however.
It still means an enormous amount of plastic wrapping and containers does not make it to recycling and has to be dealt with by way of ‘recovery’ instead.
Recovery means waste is burnt either as fuel for heavy industries – in Ireland’s case cement kilns – or in incinerators that generate electricity.
Currently, around 215,000 tonnes of plastic packaging is recovered annually and around 300,000 tonnes of packaging in total.
With more than one million tonnes of packaging either recycled or recovered in 2021, reducing packaging waste is a major challenge.
That is particularly true in Ireland, which has little capacity for recycling domestically so most of the recyclable materials are exported.
Most of the materials not recycled or recovered end up in landfill.
Repak is a not-for-profit organisation that collects packaging waste from 3,500 large businesses in Ireland and also provides household green bins, bottle banks and other recycling facilities.
Chief executive, Séamus Clancy, said Ireland’s performance to date in achieving and surpassing EU targets was exemplary but efforts needed to intensify.
“We are now reaching a critical juncture,” he said.
“Policy created to achieve future recycling targets is now being implemented and this demands an evolution of how we manage our packaging waste.”
Under the Government’s waste action plan and ‘circular economy’ legislation due to be enacted by the end of the year, businesses using large amounts of packaging or hard-to-recycle types of packaging will face a variety of levies.