Ireland ill-equipped to handle the hazardous waste it is producing, EPA says

11 Mar 2020

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The EPA says that three-quarters of Ireland’s hazardous waste has to be shipped abroad because we don’t have the facilities to deal with it.

The Irish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has calculated that Ireland produced 500,000 tonnes of hazardous waste in 2018, three-quarters of which was shipped abroad for treatment.

Hazardous waste can come from a variety of sources including lead-acid batteries, waste electrical and electronic equipment, which can contain heavy metals. If not contained and disposed of properly, it could have major ramifications for the environment.

The EPA’s findings showed that Ireland’s hazardous waste for 2018 increased by 90,000 tonnes compared with the year before, mainly driven by a large increase in the quantity of ash from waste incinerators.

In addition, contaminated soils generated from old industrial sites such as gas works, mines, tanneries, dock yards and petrol stations amounted to almost 18pc of all hazardous waste produced in Ireland.

A need to reduce reliance on exports

The EPA said that Ireland does not have the facilities to deal with all this hazardous waste, with nearly three-quarters exported to European countries including the Netherlands, UK, Germany and Belgium. However, more than 20pc of this waste was treated in Ireland, marking an increase of 29pc on the previous year.

“Striving for more self-sufficiency nationally in the management of Ireland’s hazardous waste is a key action of the National Hazardous Waste Management Plan,” said Mary Frances Rochford, programme manager at the EPA.

“While it is encouraging to see an increase in the amount of hazardous waste being treated in Ireland, exports of this type of waste continue to grow. The increase of ash from waste incineration in 2018, which arose from increased incineration capacity in the country, highlights the need for an end-to-end approach to waste management practices in Ireland and a reduced reliance on waste exports.”

The EPA recently announced funding for 60 different projects, proposed under its 2019 annual research calls and various schemes, worth €10m. The largest awards have been made to University College Cork and NUI Galway for projects looking at plastic packaging and pesticide management for better water quality.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic