NI Covid Pandemic Waste Figures Highlight Urgent Need for Robust Integrated Waste Management Infrastructure

23 April 2021

The latest Local Authority Collected (LAC) Waste statistics from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) is the third quarter of data since the covid pandemic began and highlights the growing challenge to manage Northern Ireland’s waste sustainably. This latest data makes it clear that waste arisings in NI remain on the increase and is in keeping with recent trends. In this latest quarter, waste arisings have increased year on year by 9.2%, just as it did in the previous quarter (+5.3%).


Data for the last full year 2019/20 prior to the covid pandemic showed that waste levels have risen by nearly 10% since their lowest point in 2012/13 to reach 998,985 tonnes.  The first three quarters of data for this year indicate that we are likely to exceed this amount again, potentially surpassing 1 million tonnes once again. They also indicate a decline in recycling levels from the same period last year meaning that when taken together there is even more waste that needs to be treated in other ways.


At the same time, the latest figures show that while there has been a small reduction in percentage terms of waste going to landfill in volume terms it is still up 5.7% year on year, from 56,488 tonnes during October to December 2019 to 59,683 tonnes between October and December 2020. The report identifies a notable increase in energy recovery from our waste – now accounting for over a quarter of our waste. It does however fail to point out that the majority of this energy recovery from waste is currently achieved via exporting Northern Ireland waste at great environmental and financial cost to fuel energy from waste plants abroad.


Speaking about the latest covid period waste data John Ahern, Indaver UK and Ireland, the European waste management experts planning to invest £240m in integrated waste management infrastructure to meet the needs of six NI councils said;


“These latest waste figures for the covid-19 period identify the scale of the problem but also point to the opportunity if we view our waste as a resource, just like the rest of Europe has been doing for years.


“The data provides further evidence that waste is on the increase here, which reinforces the need to deliver more robust and integrated waste management infrastructure locally, especially to deal with our residual, largely non-recyclable waste. The proposed arc21 infrastructure, alongside existing infrastructure will directly contribute to Net Zero Carbon and Circular Economy Package targets which include a 10% cap on landfill by 2035. This will be achieved by firstly increasing recycling levels from black bin waste by up to 10%, diverting waste from landfill and then generating valuable energy from the remaining non-recyclable waste.


“While the DAERA report rightly celebrates the increase in energy recovery from NI waste it doesn’t tell the whole story as the majority of this energy recovery is happening abroad. We continue ship our waste at significant financial and environmental cost to Europe and further afield – meaning the value from that waste is being extracted elsewhere. This is an unsustainable and high-risk approach as export capacity is fast reducing globally as more prioritise their own waste and impose taxes on imported waste. In any case it runs contrary to the proximity principles which make it clear that waste should be treated close to where it is generated and is entirely illogical at a time when we also continue to import fossil fuels to meet our local energy needs.     


“The arc21 project has been in planning for over 7 years now and the need for it is even greater than when it was first conceived. As well as addressing the clear waste management needs, it can, in time enable other important decarbonisation opportunities such as district heating and hydrogen fuel production. This will only further increase its valuable contribution to achieving the post-covid ‘green recovery’ being espoused by NI political leaders,” he concluded.


The latest DAERA waste data report can be found here