Responding to concerns that waste from Northern Ireland has been illegally dumped in Romania, the Environment Minister Edwin Poots has confirmed that his department has not been contacted by officials in Romania and that work is underway across the UK to establish where the rubbish came from.
The Minister did, however, reiterate that Northern Ireland is exporting council collected waste overseas to a wide range of countries. The full list is available here, but includes nations in Europe, Africa, Asia and North America. Paying to export waste overseas is less than an ideal way to deal with our rubbish and such an approach makes little environmental, financial or policy sense – particularly as the UK Climate Change Committee has recommended that we phase out the practice because of its negative impact on net zero targets. The other downside is that there is no certainty around the price that councils must pay to export waste as receiving countries are beginning to impose import taxes to discourage the trade. Nor is there any certainty that these markets will exist in the future as countries could decide to ban waste imports altogether on environmental grounds. Northern Ireland exports waste because our current infrastructure is inadequate for the sheer volume of material we produce. One of the UK’s leading waste consultants has concluded that if we drive recycling rates up in Northern Ireland from 50% to 65% and if we develop new waste facilities as proposed by arc21, by 2035 there will still be a 124,000 gap between the waste we produce and our capacity to deal with it locally.Some have claimed that if arc21’s plans to develop an Energy from Waste plant at Hightown Quarry did proceed, then Northern Ireland would have to import waste to support it. Unfortunately, we currently produce so much waste ourselves such claims are difficult to comprehend. Tim Walker, arc21’s acting CEO said: “The reason Northern Ireland exports waste to so many countries is that we have consistently failed to take responsibility for our own waste by developing appropriate facilities locally. “Instead of waste travelling around the world in circumstances where it is difficult to be certain of where it will ultimately end up, we need to build our own infrastructure. arc21’s proposals for its six councils will turn it into energy and recover more materials which will help contribute to development of Northern Ireland’s Circular Economy. “The past decade has shown us that drastically reducing the amount of waste we produce is going to take years– until that happens, we need to increase our recycling efforts and develop new infrastructure to handle various waste streams and ensure our waste services are fit for purpose into the future.” The Energy from Waste technology proposed by arc21 will increase its councils’ resilience and generate new revenues and is already used extensively in the UK, Ireland and Europe. The European Suppliers of Waste-to-Energy Technology recently produced a new video explaining the process. arc21 has also developed a factsheet.