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Ireland surpass all EU recycling and recovery targets in 2021

Despite continued challenging conditions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, we surpassed all EU recycling and recovery targets in 2021 and successfully progressed the implementation of key legislative requirements across the Circular Economy Package, Single Use Plastics Directives, and the Programme for Government. 

The news that we have surpassed all EU recycling and recovery targets for the 24th consecutive year was announced at this morning’s annual general meeting and publishing of our annual report. The report, titled ‘Environmental Responsibility in a Circular Economy’, reflected our ongoing commitment to ensure the objectives of the Circular Economy are placed at the core of all operational, educational and advocacy activity on behalf of  our Members and wider stakeholder groups. The report confirmed that we delivered on all key compliance, waste management, educational and financial objectives. 

Recycling and Recovery in 2021

In 2021, we achieved an overall recycling rate of 66% and recovery rate of 96% - surpassing EU targets set at 65% for recycling and 75% for recovery. Also in 2021, we funded the recycling and recovery of 1,020,580 tonnes of packaging material – surpassing the one million mark for the third time. Overall, recycling rates increased by 15,639 tonnes (2.2%) to 718,683 tonnes. The increased rate of recycling was primarily driven by households (4% increase). Repak funded the recovery of 302,000 tonnes of packaging – a decrease of 33,000 tonnes (10%) on 2020 which was due to the diverting of more material to recycling. 

Plastic tonnes recycled and funded by Repak was 96,412 tonnes – 8% increase on 2020. The overall plastic recycling rate in the year increased from 29% to 31% In 2021, we funded an additional €3.8m funding for the certified recycling of plastic packaging. This was targeted funding – applicable only to tonnes recycled above 2020 activity levels. The industry responded very positively to this support, recycling an additional 7,291 tonnes of plastic packaging in 2021.

All key materials surpassed current EU recycling targets: Glass 86% (EU target 60%), Metal 71% (EU target 50%), Paper 84% (EU target 60%), Plastic 31% (EU target: 22.5%), Wood 69% (EU target 15%).

Paper was also up on 2020 with an additional 5,757 tonnes being recycled on 2021. Glass (6,361 tonnes) and steel (1,827 tonnes) showed a small drop off on 2020 with prolonged closures caused by Covid-19 for businesses during the year being the main reason and in line with expectations due to the pandemic.

Speaking on the strong performance for the Irish waste industry despite another year of challenging conditions caused by Covid-19, our CEO, Séamus Clancy said:  

“2021 was another year of major challenges for our Members, recovery operators and the staff of Repak in managing the pandemic. However, once again I am pleased to announce, that despite the continuation of difficult operational conditions, the Waste Packaging Recycling Sector operated efficiently and in unison to ensure continuity of service resulting in positive results across key materials in 2021. Working with our stakeholders is an integral part of Repak’s success. On behalf of Repak, I wish to thank the Department of the Environment Climate & Communications (DECC), Environmental Protection Agency, Local Authorities, Regional Planning Offices and the Waste Enforcement Regional Lead Authorities. 

“Ireland has been a leading nation in waste management for the last 23 years, surpassing all targets to date, but we are now reaching a critical juncture. Policy created to achieve future recycling targets is now being implemented and this demands an evolution of how we manage our packaging waste. To date, excellent progress has been made in implementing key legislative requirements and this is with thanks to the significant work done by Repak to progress policy in a financially prudent and innovative manner.”

Policy Developments 

We continued making the necessary preparations to introduce the Net Necessary Costs model for plastics and composites. The model will be rolled out in 2022 to gather statistics for all recycled and non-recycled packaging materials (e.g. Paper, Plastic, Metals, Glass, Wood) and eco-modulated fees will then be applied to these packaging materials in 2023. Repak Members will then be compliant with the requirements of the legislation by the required implementation date of 2023.

In 2021, we implemented Eco Fee Modulation (EFM) and Net Necessary Cost (NNC) models for plastics effective from the 1st of July. 

Many of the actions listed in the Circular Economy Action Plan were progressed in 2021 and will lead to further improvements in Circular Economy practices by businesses in the coming years. Actions included the revision of the EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive, the establishment of rules for the safe recycling of plastic into food contact materials, a feasibility study on an EU wide Circular Economy Labelling and Information System (CELIS), and the development of a policy framework for the use of biodegradable or compostable plastics.

Our organisation and our Members were also central to Soft Plastics being reintroduced for acceptance in the recycling bin in September 2021. This was a major shift in making recycling easy for householders and with strong support from Minister Ossian Smyth TD provided a robust messaging platform.

Plastic Pledge
In June, we launched our third Plastic Pledge Annual Report which highlighted the achievements of pledge signatories against the five Plastic Pledge objectives. By year end, 141 signatories reduced or replaced 23,000 tonnes of plastic packaging from the market. Plastic Pledge Members reported an average plastic packaging use reduction of 18.6%. 

Speaking on the future of recycling and recovery in Ireland and the challenges facing Irish businesses in the current economic and political climate, our CEO, Seamus Clancy, said: 

“The Board of Repak and I recognise the challenges the European Green Deal, the Circular Economy Package and the Single Use Plastics Directive bring for all our Members and for Ireland. These in conjunction with the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, supply chain disruption, the indirect consequences of Covid-19 and current inflationary pressures bring further challenges which the Board of Repak carefully considers in its risk management of the scheme in the best interest of Members. We will work with our Members and all relevant stakeholders to ensure we continue to provide a packaging compliance scheme in an environmentally responsible and cost-efficient manner”.

Increased membership 
Despite a second consecutive year of a challenging business environment caused by Covid-19, Repak member numbers remained stable – increasing from 3,414 to 3,431. Read our full annual report here.