New Binding EU Waste Recycling Targets Require Major Rethink on Ringaskiddy Incinerator

15 April 2019

‘As EU advises ‘caution’ on increasing incinerator capacity in Ireland, we must invest in recycling and green jobs’

Ireland South Labour European election candidate, Sheila Nunan has warned that new binding EU waste recycling targets due to take effect from July 2020 and covering the period to 2035, should prompt a major rethink of the plans to build a commercial incinerator at Ringaskiddy.

Under existing EU legislation, adopted in 2008, Ireland has a binding target of recycling at least 50% of household waste by 2020. According to the latest European statistics, while the proportion of waste going into landfill fell from 38% to 26% between 2013 and 2016, the proportion recycled only rose from 37% to 41% while the proportion incinerated shot up from 16% to 29%.

As part of a package of measures to achieve a more ‘circular economy’ – reusing resources as much as possible and bringing residual waste close to zero – in 2018 the EU revised the waste directive to introduce more ambitious recycling targets, namely 55% by 2025, 60% by 2030, and 65% by 2035. This new legislation has to be enacted into Irish law by July 2020.

Sheila Nunan said: ‘The new waste directive’s targets will require a very substantial increase in recycling in Ireland over the coming years. We should remember that countries that do not achieve these targets could ultimately be fined by the European Court of Justice.

‘In the short-term, we need to be fully aware that these new binding targets do have major implications for Ireland’s current waste policy. For example, the latest European Commission report on the implementation of EU environmental laws in Ireland (published on 4 April) now urges the Government to reconsider plans to increase incinerator capacity in Ireland.* This report:

  • Points out that ‘The rate of increase in recycling is flattening out with movements away from landfilling tending to go to incineration’. (p.3);
  • Advises that ‘The increased use of incineration must be closely monitored. Ireland must ensure that increased incineration does not prevent it from meeting the post-2020 recycling targets’; and, as a ‘priority action’ for 2019, recommends that Ireland ‘shift reusable and recyclable waste away from incineration and landfill’. (p.7)
  • A related Commission report includes Ireland among the countries that should ‘shift reusable and recyclable waste away from incineration by gradually phasing out subsidies for incineration or by introducing an incineration tax.’**

‘These new Commission recommendations come on top of its February advice to the Government that ‘caution is required regarding the increase in incineration capacity’, and that ‘Investments should rather focus on projects higher up in the waste hierarchy to shift reusable and recyclable waste away from incineration and landfilling and thus ensure that the achievement of the post-2020 municipal waste recycling targets is not compromised.***

‘The Commission is now clearly expressing its concern about a potential over-capacity in incineration in Ireland that may result in Ireland not being able to meet its long-term recycling targets. The Government must pay head before it is too late.  This should give rise to a major rethink of plans to build the Ringaskiddy incinerator.

‘At the same time, we should give greater consideration to the economic and employment potential of increasing recycling. A 2018 study for the European Commission estimates that moving towards a more circular economy could create an additional 700,000 jobs by 2030, with these results ‘mainly driven by employment demand in the waste management sectors to cope with higher demand for recycled materials.’**** ‘In 2018, France introduced an ambitious target of 100% recycling for plastics by 2025, and estimated this could create 300,000 new green jobs. A similar effort in Ireland could potentially create thousands of new green jobs here.

‘Ireland should be planning for more waste recycling, not more waste incineration while investing in green jobs.’ Sheila Nunan concluded.


Notes for editors:

The new waste directive (2018/851) forms part of the package of new measures to achieve a circular economy, including by setting more ambitious recycling targets.

Other related measures are the new directive on end-of-life vehicles (i.e. old cars), batteries, and waste, electrical and electrical equipment (2018/849), the new landfill directive (2018/850), and the new packaging and packaging waste directive (2018/852). All of these must also be enacted into Irish law by July 2020.  

About Sheila Nunan

Sheila Nunan has been at the helm of the Irish Trade Union movement for the past decade; she is currently President of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and General Secretary of the country’s largest union, the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation. Sheila is the first woman to hold the office of General Secretary of the INTO in its 150-year history.

During her career, Sheila has been at the heart of all recent public sector pay negotiations.

In recent years, Sheila has led efforts within the trade union movement to challenge the Government’s housing strategy, which has failed to keep pace with need, especially in Irish cities.

Sheila is a member of the Governing Authority of Maynooth University and a Director of Agriware, the Irish agri-food educational body.

A former primary school teacher and principal, Sheila is a graduate of University College Dublin and St. Patrick’s College, Drumcondra. She is married to John and together they have three children, Irene, Molly and Mulcaire.

Reports cited in the press release:

*European Commission (4 April 2019) The Environmental Implementation Review 2019, Country Report Ireland


*** European Commission (28 February 2019), Country Report Ireland 2019.

****Cambridge Econometrics, Trinomics, and ICF (May 2018) Impacts of circular economy policies on the labour market

Stay up to date

Receive our latest updates in your inbox.
By subscribing you agree to receive emails about our campaigns, policies, appeals and opportunities to get involved. Privacy Policy

Follow us

Connect with us on social media