Northern Ireland Exporting Waste to Four Continents
15 June 2021
It was revealed recently that last year Northern Ireland sent c.235,000 tonnes of waste overseas to four continents, including countries such as GB, Turkey, the USA, Ghana and Indonesia. If evidence was required that we do not have the capacity to manage of our own waste, this is it.
Exporting waste in such quantities is not sustainable, either financially or environmentally. It’s also at odds with the ambitions of the NI Waste Management Plan (developed by DAERA in 2019 – NIWMP). Its aim is to work towards a “sustainable and circular economy” with the waste hierarchy as the guiding principle. It also promotes the “proximity principle” which aims to treat waste as close as practicable to where it is created. Sending waste overseas does not align with the "proximity principle". Waste management should focus, in order of priority, on waste prevention, preparing for re-use, recycling, recovery (including energy recovery) and finally, landfill. That will help ensure that the costs to society of dealing with waste, including the environmental costs, are minimised. DAERA’s Plan also acknowledges the role of arc21’s Waste Management Plan (2016), confirming that it “required extensive scoping and review to ensure that the waste management policies …….assisted Northern Ireland in progressing waste management and met all legislative requirements”. More information about arc21’s proposals are available here, but in addition to “Reducing, Reusing and Recycling” waste, we clearly need new waste infrastructure to support “Recovery”. This is in line with best practice in the UK, Ireland and the rest of Europe. New facilities will divert waste from landfill (a source of the potent greenhouse gas, methane), improve recycling rates by c.5%-10%, generate energy and help reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. As the NI Waste Management Plan (NIWMP) explains: “Efficient energy recovery from residual waste – of materials which cannot be reused or recycled - to deliver environmental benefits, reduce carbon impact and provide economic opportunities. The aim is to get the most energy out of waste, not to get the most waste into energy recovery”.For that reason, arc21’s Plan pre-empted the Circular Economy by several years and supports its delivery by majoring on recycling and ensuring that the facilities proposed to deal with the arc21’s constituent councils’ remaining residual waste were appropriately sized to deal with the rubbish we produce which cannot be recycled (circa 250KT at present). It cannot be overstated but arc21’s focus remains on producing less waste in the first place and recycling / reusing the rest, we can’t ignore the reality that for the foreseeable future we will continue to generate – every year - hundreds of thousands of tonnes of non-recyclable rubbish.Importantly, the facilities – proposed for Hightown Quarry – also support the “proximity principle” which the NIWMP describes as the disposal or recovery of waste: “in one of the nearest appropriate installations, by means of the most appropriate methods and technologies, in order to ensure a high level of protection for the environment and public health”.Tim Walker, arc21’s acting CEO, said: “As a recent report from Greenpeace has highlighted yet again, exporting waste overseas is difficult to control. It’s time for Northern Ireland to take responsibility for its own waste and catch-up with the rest of the UK and Europe. We’ve been left behind for too long, we urgently need to develop facilities that turn our rubbish into a resource”.