Landfill Going in Wrong Direction as Focus on Net Zero Increases
04 February 2022
Northern Ireland is still overly reliant on landfill – the least environmentally desirable way to treat rubbish - according to the latest quarterly waste figures for council collected waste.
Although, the recycling rate (53%) was in line with the data for last year, the proportion of rubbish sent to landfill increased to just under 24% and the actual tonnages landfilled grew by almost 5% to 65,423 tonnes. This appears to have been impacted by a decline in waste sent for energy recovery. The figures were recently released against the backdrop of the Northern Ireland Assembly voting to go beyond the Climate Change Committee’s (CCCs) recommended Net Zero target for Northern Ireland. The persistent reliance on landfill, however, does not fit with the CCCs target to phase landfill out, starting with a ban on bio-degradable waste by 2025. Such targets are necessary because methane emissions from decomposing rubbish are over 80 times more potent as a Greenhouse Gas over a 20-year period than CO2. Part of the reason why the region remains so dependent on landfill (and export) is that a lack of decision-making has meant that modern waste infrastructure capacity has failed to be developed resulting in a lack of local facilities, such as Energy from Waste, to deal with the rubbish which can’t be recycled. The best solution, of course, remains to stop producing so much rubbish in the first place, but it will take many years to make the structural and behavioural changes necessary for society to transition to a fully functioning Circular Economy. In the meantime, arc21 is seeking to develop new local facilities to provide a better environmental solution than landfill. The technology proposed has a long track record of working successfully across Europe, and aligns with arc21 councils’ waste management plans and existing and emerging Stormont policies on the environment, Green Growth and Net Zero. The need for modern waste infrastructure has also featured in the recently published draft Infrastructure Strategy for Northern Ireland (ISNI). According to the document:“Too much of our waste is exported each year to become someone else’s opportunity to recycle into higher-value material, generate energy; or unfortunately in some cases, to become someone else’s disposal problem.”One of the consultation’s objectives is to develop Northern Ireland’s Circular Economy: “by establishing a coherent, resilient and robust waste management system and investing in facilities to reduce waste generation, increase recycling and reduce landfill and the export of waste”.Tim Walker, arc21’s CEO said: “It’s been clear for the past 20-years that Northern Ireland needs to develop modern waste infrastructure to deal with its rubbish. For too long we’ve been living on borrowed time, exporting and landfilling waste instead of using technology to turn our rubbish into something valuable. The proposed arc21 solution will provide a positive way in which its councils can deal with their rubbish without affecting recycling, while also generating energy and jobs. “Hopefully, the political commitment to addressing climate change and the mounting call for action in documents such as the draft ISNI, will break the log-jam and translate into evidence-based decisions being made at last.”