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Irish Times Editorial - 10/01/06
Action on waste

There has been a steady improvement in the level of compliance with EU waste directives. And while the latest national waste report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identifies positive developments in the collection and recycling of materials and the enforcement of regulations, it is obvious that a great deal remains to be done.

Specifically, local authorities must clamp down on illegal dumping; ensure better records are kept at all levels and encourage the treatment of both hazardous and recyclable materials here at home.

The report deals with the period from 2001 to 2004 and, in spite of yawning gaps and potential problems identified in our waste management systems, it is strangely complacent in its conclusions. The need for enforcement, education and continued investment is emphasised, but there is no great sense of urgency when it comes to future actions. Given the extent of change in the period under review, that may be understandable. Illegal dumping, particularly by the construction industry, was belatedly challenged in 2001. Wicklow county council became formally aware of hundreds of illegal landfill sites. And, following public outrage and pressure from Brussels, an Office of Environmental Enforcement was established in 2004.

In spite of improvements, there are question marks over the accuracy of official data. Illegal commercial dumping continues. Domestic waste charges and the privatisation of collection services have resulted in 23 per cent of all households not being serviced. This, in turn, means that an estimated 300,000 tonnes of domestic waste are being disposed of through illegal dumping; through "fly-tipping" by way of illegal van collectors or by way of backyard burning.

Elsewhere, the report engages in a mild bout of back-patting by drawing attention to significant improvements in the recovery rates for municipal, household and commercial waste. The EU target for collecting and recycling packaging has been exceeded. But even where recycling projects were a success, almost three-quarters of the materials recovered are being exported to Europe or to Asia for reprocessing.

Of more immediate concern is the conclusion that landfill capacity will run out in eight years, while that for Dublin and Donegal will last less than five. Two facilities for the incineration of hazardous and other wastes were licensed some months ago. But they are not the answer to a looming crisis. Biodegradable waste makes up almost three-quarters of rubbish currently collected. Schemes and incentives will have to be devised to deal with it.

© The Irish Times


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