High ambitions in Recycling Bill

Climate Change, Recycling tires, Noyon, France, 26/1/2010 The DoE wants to increase recycling from 38 per cent to 60 per cent in seven years. Plans to reach that target will be set out in next year’s Recycling Bill.

The Recycling Bill will be one of the Department of the Environment’s major pieces of legislation over the next year. It will follow on from its revised waste management strategy, drafted last October, and a consultation held between May and September this year.

Outgoing Environment Minister Alex Attwood had planned to write a 60 per cent recycling rate into law, with the aim of achieving it by 2020. The Bill would give the department the power to set that target (and to whom it should apply) with regulations providing the detail on how it should be reached.

In previous consultations, the province’s three waste management groups have opposed a 60 per cent target, saying that it would be too challenging. Based on the DoE’s analysis, Attwood concluded that 60 per cent was stretching but achievable and would provide more certainty.

Reaching the target would essentially mean reversing the population’s current attitudes to waste disposal in a short space of time: just seven years. In 2011-2012, municipal waste was disposed of in the following ways:

• 58.1 per cent went to landfill;

• 38.4 per cent was recycled;

• 2.7 per cent was reused as fuel; and

• 0.8 per cent was reused for other purposes.

The official definition of recycling covers both dry recycling (22.5 per cent of all municipal waste) and composting (15.9 per cent).

Out of the 26 councils, just four recycled more than 50 per cent of their waste: Antrim, Banbridge, Larne and Magherafelt. The latter council had the province’s highest rate, at 59.1 per cent. The province’s performance was held back by a low recycling rate in its largest local authority: Belfast at 26.9 per cent. Down, Newry and Mourne, and Strabane also performed poorly.

The DoE, though has spent £12.4 million on advertising, grants, technical advice and research over the last three years.

In 2010, Wales introduced statutory targets for waste recovery (i.e. recycling and re-use). The long-term target is 70 per cent by 2025 and the Welsh Government expects to reach the first stage (52 per cent) this year. Interim targets are also being considered for Northern Ireland but, unlike those in Wales, these would not be backed up with fines.

The DoE wants to commission an independent analysis of waste composition in Northern Ireland, to improve its evidence base, and used the consultation to ask organisations for help with this project.

A single waste disposal authority for Northern Ireland is still on the table. However, the authority would have to be formed after the new councils are set up (April 2015) and this step may come too late to make a difference. Opposition to a waste disposal authority from some councils contributed to the stalling of local government reform in June 2010.

Once Minister Durkan has considered the responses, a second consultation exercise will be held to gather views about the necessary regulations. The Bill itself is due to come before the Assembly in early 2014 and is expected to become law by early 2015.

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