Big Drops Show Better Waste Management

14 Jun 2018

The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) has recently published the results of a study on the composition of household waste collected at the kerbside in across Northern Ireland (NI) at a workshop and consultation event in Belfast Castle. The Study, commissioned by WRAP Northern Ireland, provides contemporary waste composition data and informs efforts to divert more waste from landfill.

The Study was conducted over two phases during 2017 by RPS and covered all 11 local authorities. The two-phase approach was taken to give a broader scope of results across seasons, improving representative annual estimates. RPS constructed a sampling plan to produce a socially representative sample for each local authority. The sampling methodology was designed using a combination of mosaic socio-economic data, local authority specific service provision information, collection schedules and extensive liaison with local authority officers. NI Local Authority Municipal Waste Management Statistics 2016/17 data was used in conjunction with compositional results from this study to calculate the overall composition of waste. Compositional data from this analysis was applied to the total waste arisings from the municipal statistics to generate accurately scaled compositional figures for NI.

The Study concluded that householders in NI generated an annual residual waste-per-household figure of 478kg, or 9.2kg per week.

Northern Ireland is no different to the rest of the UK in that the most commonly occurring material by weight in the residual waste stream is food. Just under one-quarter of the residual waste in NI is comprised of food. WRAP continues to lead the national conversation on reducing consumer food waste to tackle this statistic.

Paper and card was the second most commonly occurring material in the residual waste stream, making up 15.6% of the residual waste stream.

The study also calculated that on average over half the weight of the contents of the residual bin (55%) in NI was made up of recyclable materials.

The Study reports that an annual average of 138 kg, or 2.66 kg per week, of dry recycling is collected from each household. DAERA and WRAP are striving to improve the quality of recyclable materials in NI and it is recognised that this is likely to become a significant issue following the recent ban on recycled plastic into China and as recently reported in the CIWM Journal Online that China has added 32 materials to its prohibited list. Target materials (recyclable materials which are placed in the correct container) in commingled kerbside collections ranged from 75.8% to 90.5%. Target materials in source separated kerbside collections ranged from 90.4% to 99.3%. Capture rates for key recyclable materials show that there are still significant opportunities to increase recycling rates in NI as shown in Table 1 below.

Senior figures from the resources sector across NI were in attendance at the workshop to discuss the next steps and chart a common consensus on the way forward on dealing with some of the challenges highlighted by the Study.

Challenges highlighted which are common throughout the UK are;

  • Lost capture of food waste and dry recyclable materials;
  • Non-target materials in the recycling;
  • Cleanliness of targeted materials; and
  • The collection of potentially recyclable materials not currently targeted at the kerbside.

Delegates welcomed the study and agreed that the new waste composition data helped identify where time and resources needed to be targeted. Some delegates noted that new policy interventions could support increased diversion of quality recyclable materials from landfill. Suggestions included the introduction of recycling incentive schemes and extension of producer responsibility. The importance of sustained communications (and funding for communications) was reinforced to provide householders with the information necessary to recycle correctly. On this topic, delegates called for consistency of messages, particularly around difficult materials like black plastics, plastic straws and compostable products. Delegates noted barriers to identifying, sorting and storing materials in the home and discussed how these might be addressed. Furthermore, the need for affirmation of statutory targets was noted.

While the Study exposed a number of challenges; it also showed the progress made in NI since the last compositional analysis occurred ten years previously. The total residual waste collected at the kerbside in 2017 was 351,806 tonnes; the 2007 figure was 455,692 tonnes. This is a 23% drop in residual waste arisings. Food waste collected in the residual bin in 2017 was 87,062 tonnes; the 2007 figure was 174,424 tonnes – a 50% drop in food waste to landfill.

Recycling rates are still climbing in NI. Provisional local authority collected municipal waste management statistics for October to December 2017, published on the 26th April by DAERA show that the household waste preparing for reuse, dry recycling and composting rate was 47.1%. This represents an increase on the 42.1% recorded during the same three months of 2016. At council level, rates varied from 40.1% to 54.6% with the highest recycling Council being Mid Ulster.

The principles of Proximity and Self-sufficiency should remain prime considerations for waste and secondary raw materials from a circular economy and sustainability perspective. Local authorities continue to drive initiatives in a bid to increase recycling, reuse and circular economy initiatives. The study revealed there is potential to recover significant additional tonnes of readily recyclable material from household residual waste. Increasing the capture of this material through kerbside recycling services, to support meeting statutory recycling targets and to maximise the potential value of the materials collected, presents a challenge to both local and central government.

The current pressures of no devolved government, with a constrained policy and fiscal environment and the imminent approach of the UK exit from the EU, adds to this challenge. But against this backdrop, the waste composition study is providing important strategic information and will inform the forthcoming review of the waste management strategy for Northern Ireland during 2018.

It should also guide the strategic and operational decisions required to enable effective partnerships between DAERA, councils, regional waste management groups and WRAP to make the most of the opportunities presented for Northern Ireland.

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