You would be surprised how long a history environmental regulations have. They go back not decades but centuries, preceding the industrial revolution by hundreds of years.
In 1306 King Edward 1 of England introduced a whole raft of regulations, designed to reduce smog, prevent pollution of the Thames, and to control flooding. The problems have not changed! We are still battling air and water pollution, and rising water levels.
What has changed is the scale of the problem. Since the industrial revolution we have been losing the battle, but the war is not lost. And in recent years tighter regulations, both national and international, are allowing us to hope we might yet get on top of the problem of waste management.
How is waste managed in Ireland?
For many years local authorities handled waste. They had a weekly collection. The garbage truck would drive around town, and bins were emptied directly into the back. The rubbish was brought to the local landfill site, where it was decanted onto the ground. While some was buried quickly there was always a large area of unburied waste, with kids sneaking in to grab pram wheels for their soapbox cars, and rats the size of cats scurrying over the surface.
The smell could be overpowering two parishes away.
Eventually landfills were regulated and run in a way that didn’t give offence to every nose in the county. And the local authorities stepped aside so that waste collection is now in the hands of private collectors.
Wheelie bins were introduced which allowed waste to be sorted into recyclables and non-recyclables. The price structure from the private operators encourages people to separate out the recyclables and compostables. That makes the job of disposal easier to manage, and has made a significant reduction in the amount of waste going to landfill.
Commercial businesses also use wheelie bins, but they are far larger. But the same principles apply – separate out the recyclables. A large hotel, for instance, will have all their bottles in one bin.
Local authorities still have their own landfill sites, and recycling plants. But there are private facilities as well. The options for your waste management are expanding all the time.
It all sounds like progress, but landfill and incineration are the two most popular ways of disposing of waste still. So there is a lot of work to do.
What is the current legislation relating to waste management?
How long is a piece of string? It is not an easy question to answer. There are so many different types of waste, and each requires its own disposal method. Waste disposal often has negative impacts on the environment, so there are a whole range of Irish and EU regulations governing how everything is disposed of.
The EU has an Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Directive, and a Waste Framework Directive, among others. These ensure that the disposal and recovery of waste doesn’t present a risk to water, air, soil or ecosystems. It also protects against public nuisance through excessive noise levels, nasty smells, and visual destruction of areas of special interest.
Dumping is regulated (no fly dumping in beauty spots!) and areas must have a network of waste disposal plants, all licenced.
Waste collectors are also regulated, and must keep scrupulous records. They are subject to periodic inspections.
On top of the EU regulations the Irish government has added its own regulations, to protect our environment and ensure our waste is disposed of safely and efficiently.
There are strict regulations when it comes to the disposal of hazardous materials, such as medical waste, chemicals, old batteries, and radioactive or poisonous materials. And sewage is processed rather than being piped directly into the rivers and seas, as it was a generation ago.
By 2018 Ireland had upped its game to meet targets set by the EU regulations. The directives are implemented here by the Environmental Protection Agency Act of 1992, the Waste Management Act of 1996 (amended in 2001), and the Protection of the Environment Act of 2003. Overall responsibility rests with the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications.
The waste policy is implemented largely by the Environmental Protection Agency and the local authorities. Full details can be found in A Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy: Ireland’s National Waste Policy 2020-2025.
How can we reduce food waste in Ireland?
Food waste is a big problem on so many levels. The first is the sheer waste – no one wants to see perfectly good food dumped. But there are other problems. When food begins to go off, it encourages the growth of fungi and bacteria, many of which are very dangerous to our health.
Outbreaks of food poisoning can be dangerous to the reputation of a business, but can also cost lives.
Food waste begins with production. Misshapen or discoloured fruit and vegetables are thrown away before even leaving the farm. Up to a third of food grown is wasted in this way. Then food can go off during transportation. Offcuts and food not long past their use-by dates are binned by both retailers and consumers, and cooked but uneaten food is often binned. Eating leftovers seems to be a relic of the past.
The good news is that food waste can be controlled through careful management. This is an area in which management really is key. Food waste in the home can be eliminated through easy steps. For businesses such as grocery retail, or hospitality, food waste can also be vastly reduced or even eliminated. Again, it is down to management. And at CEC we are specialists in this area. We can help a business do a waste audit, and use the results to improve their performance dramatically.
Here are a few tips which will help a householder or a business take the first steps.
- Don’t over buy. Keep a track of what you buy and use, and what is already in stock. Don’t buy onions when there is already a full bag in your vegetable tray.
- Check the use-by dates of products you buy, and don’t buy anything unless you are sure you will use it before that date.
- Plan ahead. This goes for consumers and businesses. If you think your restaurant will sell forty steaks over the weekend, don’t buy fifty. If you are at home, plan your meals, and consider turning leftovers into tasty new dinners.
- And use your freezer! If you do get it wrong and end up with more food than you can use, a freezer will allow you to store it until it is needed.
Reducing food waste – as in reducing any waste – does come down to planning and management. It is a good place to start on your journey towards zero waste. Contact us to get started towards reducing business waste and creating a sustainable business with ease!