Fairytale ending to EU's recycling plans tough for Northern Ireland
Waste management is sometimes called a Cinderella service, unloved and unseen. For businesses and ratepayers, however, who ultimately bear the cost of handling waste, such an attitude is unsustainable, particularly given the prospect of a landfill-free future within decades.
Just 30 years ago waste was generally viewed as something to be dumped in a hole in the ground. As a solution the upfront costs of landfill were low – but a greater appreciation of environmental complications and the staggering waste of recyclable material have helped provide a more holistic appreciation of the true value of waste. Legislation from Europe has also created a legal imperative to reduce, reuse, recycle and recover – and the targets are set to become tougher.
In July, the European Commission issued proposals to increase recycling and phase out landfill. The aim is to turn the EU into a 'circular economy' which produces virtually no waste, and where raw materials are reused and recycled within a closed loop.
While not yet adopted, the proposals seek to ban landfill for all recyclable and biodegradable waste by 2025 and recoverable waste by 2030.
In current circumstances Northern Ireland may struggle to locally satisfy existing landfill diversion targets due to a lack of infrastructure, let alone zero landfill. Not so in Europe, particularly in countries such as Germany and Holland where there has been significant investment in new infrastructure such as Energy from Waste (EfW) facilities which use non-recyclable waste to create green energy.
Such technology, in addition to supporting recycling rates up to 50% higher than in Northern Ireland, also help ensure waste is traceable, managed properly and turned to good use.
For its part, arc21 aims to deliver Northern Ireland's first municipal EfW plant, a £250m investment that will create and sustain 337 jobs and enable us to put our waste to good use locally – rather than export it, and its full value, elsewhere.
Waste isn't rubbish; it is a resource which has an economic, environmental and social value. Just like Cinderella, we need to appreciate its full worth.