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Drop in waste sent to landfill as more is shipped abroad

By Linda Stewart

Published 29/01/2016

The amount of waste sent to landfill in Northern Ireland has dropped to a record low - but not because we are recycling more
The amount of waste sent to landfill in Northern Ireland has dropped to a record low - but not because we are recycling more

The amount of waste sent to landfill in Northern Ireland has dropped to a record low - but not because we are recycling more.

In its latest statistics for July to September, the Department of the Environment said landfill waste had fallen below 100,000 tonnes for the first time.

But most of the municipal waste that had previously been taken to landfills has instead been manufactured into refuse-derived fuel and exported to be burned in energy-from-waste facilities across Europe.

The highest rate of municipal waste energy recovery was recorded in Derry City and Strabane at 36.6%, while the lowest rate in Northern Ireland was 1% in Fermanagh and Omagh.

Just over 100,000 tonnes of waste was exported between January and September last year, shipped off to Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, the Republic of Ireland and Spain.

Friends of the Earth NI director Dr James Orr said we were dumping our problems elsewhere.

"Burning or gasifying waste is a 19th-century solution to a 21st-century problem," he added.

"Incineration produces hazardous ash that is a toxic legacy for generations to come.

"It is a gross injustice to export our waste and leave unsuspecting communities elsewhere with the problem of dealing with this hazardous legacy.

"Given the amount of illegal landfill sites in Northern Ireland, we would also seek urgent clarification that material sent for landfill was actually landfilled.

"There remains ongoing problems with waste sent for landfill ending up in an illegal dump."

Green Party leader Steven Agnew added: "We need to create Northern Ireland solutions for Northern Ireland waste, with an emphasis on waste reduction and recovery.

"Much waste can be recycled into a valuable commodity."

The proportion of landfilled household waste stands at 38%, the lowest rate to date - a 2% drop on the same period last year.

During the quarter, 42,000 tonnes of local authority-collected municipal waste was sent for energy recovery - an energy recovery rate of 16%.

The tonnage of compostable recycling increased by more than 900 tonnes, but that of other recycling remained static - a drop in proportion as more waste was collected overall.

Environment Minister Mark H Durkan said the figures were disappointing and urged people to take time to recycle.

Two years ago, the Belfast Telegraph revealed that Mallorca had agreed to take around 30,000 tonnes of waste from Northern Ireland for incineration.

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