Issues dealing with climate change and sustainability have been at the forefront of political conversations for decades. The more humans produce, consume and discard without regard to the current waste management systems, the more irreversible environmental damage will be done. At the core of this issue are the difficulties in implementing and enforcing recycling and sustainable municipal waste mechanisms.
In June 2023, the European Commission issued a report identifying Member States at high risk of failing to meet the 2025 EU recycling and packaging waste standard. Featured on that list is Ireland.
The aim of the Commission is to eventually implement a circular economy model across all Member States. The 2025 target serves as a marker for achieving this goal within the decade. A circular economy refers to a production model whereby existing products and materials are continuously reused, therefore reducing waste significantly as no materials are ever discarded. For example, a plastic water bottle can be recycled and its materials reused in a variety of products rather than discarded to a landfill after only one use.
A circular economy is based on three core principles: eliminating waste and pollution, circulating materials and regenerating nature. A society operating in a circular economy is founded upon strong recycling and municipal waste procedures.
Waste management and recycling trends
Ireland has historically been included in identifying reports issued by the European Commission for failing to meet environmental standards and initiatives. For example, in 2019 the European Parliament reported that Ireland failed to meet the EU energy target due to noted difficulties in separating its economic growth from the use of pollutants, like greenhouse gases in agriculture.
Identifying a nation’s annual municipal waste rate is crucial to bettering the environment. Municipal waste refers to the tonnes of garbage produced per household in a specified country. Garbage is what is sent to landfills whereby a process of chemical waste treatment occurs, emitting harsh pollutants into Earth by way of soil, water and even the air.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) releases annual statistics on Ireland’s waste production and recycling rate with a delay of two years. This means that the most recent data on municipal waste released in November 2022 reflects Ireland’s waste from 2020.
Most notably, Ireland generated over 3.2 million tonnes of municipal waste in 2020. Rather than decreasing the rate of garbage as mandated by EU standards, municipal waste has increased from 2.7m tonnes in 2016 to 3.2m in 2020.
In another report released by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in August 2023, Ireland’s recycling rates have fallen in recent years. From a 62% recycling rate in 2020 to 58% in 2021, the country appears to be receding in the success of its environmental initiatives. The EU 2025 target is 65%, a far reach from where Ireland currently stands.
The EPA announced an urgent call to action in December 2022 due to the unfavourable data from these reports.
Environmentalism within College
Although this is a nationwide issue, it may be beneficial to look at the environmental and sustainability initiatives in place within College as a guide for what students can do to assist in minimising waste and increasing recycling.
In recent years, College has significantly upped its efforts towards encouraging climate literacy and participation in sustainable practices amongst students. The most notable of the initiatives is the Green Campus Programme headed by Professor Jane Stout, Vice-President for Biodiversity and Climate Action.
The Green Campus Programme deals with a number of matters across the sustainability spectrum, including but not limited to resource consumption, waste management, water and energy. Students from any discipline and year, including post-graduate students, are welcome to take part in the programme where they can directly contribute to how College handles environmental concerns.
In terms of waste management and recycling, the Green Campus Programme is central to College’s handling of waste. They have adopted five objectives: 1) Reduce waste generation by 10%; 2) Increase recycling and reuse to 50%; 3) Zero waste to landfill; 4) Zero litter on grounds; 5) Reduce hazardous waste by 10%. In order to achieve this, College has developed resources for students detailing recycling guides, tips for reducing waste production, educational materials on sustainable living, and a map of all the recycling areas available on campus.
In lieu of the nationwide waste management shortcomings, College continues to take environmental concerns seriously. Programs like the Green Campus Committee and societies targeted towards climate awareness (Environmental Society, Vegan Society, etc) all encourage student participation in bettering the environment.
What more can be done at the State level?
In order to meet the 2025 EU target, Ireland must take immediate action via environmental policies and community initiatives. The handling of waste and recycling is a matter for the Government where their behaviour towards the environment directly impacts the manner in which citizens consume material goods.
At this stage, the Government must make recycling more readily available across households and cities in Ireland in order to support efforts to meet the 2025 target. Unless awareness of these matters becomes more public knowledge, Ireland is likely to continue in the cycle of falling short of EU target goals.
But even amidst all this, College is strong in pushing for climate literacy and sustainable action amongst students.