The ‘Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy’ (the “Plan”) outlines an ambitious roadmap for Ireland’s waste policy up to the period of 2025. Taking a holistic view of resources, the Plan actively encourages a more circular, sustainable waste management model that will maximise the value of materials throughout a product's life cycle, putting climate action at the core of national resource management policy. The Plan contributes to the Government’s commitment to move towards a circular economy (set out in the Programme for Government) and is complemented by a number of Government publications at various stages of approval, namely: the recently published All of Government Circular Economy Strategy 2022-2023; a National Waste Management Plan currently in public consultation phase; and the Circular Economy Bill in pre-legislative scrutiny before the Oireachtas. The Plan represents a key element of the Government’s climate and sustainability agenda, building on both the Climate Action Plan (2021) and the recent carbon budget produced by the Climate Change Advisory Council.
Ireland has a real opportunity to become a leader in the EU and internationally by embedding a strong circularity ethos across society and the economy. Over the past number of decades, the country has made significant progress in the advancement of sustainable waste management practices. We have transitioned from landfill disposal as the primary waste treatment option and started to focus on recycling and extracting value throughout the product life cycle. Both the private and public sectors have gradually begun to integrate process innovations into business models which design-out harmful waste, extend product lifetimes and, in some instances, prevent waste from arising in the first place. There is a growing consensus among industry leaders and policy makers as to the economic potential of the circular economy business model. However, many companies are still struggling to incorporate circular thinking into their corporate strategy and day-to-day operating models due to a lack of understanding and technical capabilities.
The Plan provides Ireland with coherent and actionable objectives that look at how we consume materials and resources; how we design the products that households and businesses use; how we prevent waste generation and resource consumption; and how we extend the productive life of all goods and products in our society and economy.
Impact on Households
Under the Plan households are challenged with reducing waste, improving recycling activities and generally embracing and expanding their social responsibility efforts. To encourage engagement, a deposit and return scheme for plastic bottles was signed into regulation in November 2021 and is set to become operational during 2022. Waste bin colours will also be standardised across the country and apartment complexes will be required to properly segregate waste. Further changes are proposed to the regulation of the commercial and household waste collection market, aimed at improving consumer protection and ultimately promoting more equitable market competition. Nevertheless, many of the measures aimed at waste collectors, such as recycling targets and the levy on waste disposal, may ultimately be paid for by the consumer as pass-through charges. To smooth out the transition to a lower-waste household economy, targeted education and awareness campaigns are proposed to encourage better-informed consumption decisions and buy-in to a shared responsibility.
Impact on Business
All business in Ireland will be affected by the requirements for circularity and the shift to a new macro perspective of holistic, zero-waste resource management. Indeed, the impact on some may be even more acute that our carbon ambition, demanding behavioural and mindset changes that are difficult to appreciate fully as we move from the linear make, use and dispose model to something with increased circularity. For example, the hospitality sector will be impacted by restrictions on single-use plastics (SUP); the construction industry will see changes to the guidelines on construction waste; the textile and fashion sectors will be encouraged to develop circularity and eco-design practices; and the waste management industry will likely see further regulatory change, including additional fixed penalty notices for breaches in waste law. Under the SUP Directive, producers of plastic packaging will soon be required to take responsibility for the collection and recycling of their products and such extended producer responsibility measures may be extended over time to other manufacturers such as textiles, furniture and medical.
In light of these headwinds, business leaders should embrace and implement a proactive and sustainable business approach, addressing head-on any compliance or regulatory requirement risks associated with the implementation of the Plan. Organisations should review their existing business models and integrate a focused circular economy strategy to help fulfil circular expectations, reduce resource dependencies, anticipate legal constraints, generate cost savings and drive business value.
Capacity to Deliver
Critical to the successful implementation of the Plan will be the capacity and overall ambition of both the private and public sector to comply with and deliver on the Government’s ambitious agenda. The culture towards waste disposal in Ireland must further regenerate and evolve, with Government ensuring that the right leadership, governance, procurements, incentives and forms of contracting are in place. The transition to a circular economy offers the real possibility of a sustainable alternative future; it is an essential step towards a decarbonised economy and will create measurable long-term value for everyone. Ireland can be a leader – we were one of the first nations to ban single use shopping bags and move to the “bag for life” concept. We are proven innovators and adapters when it comes to waste reduction. Now we need to leverage that resilience and innovative spirit to find new pathways to zero waste.