PJ Rudden has been involved in waste management since the embryonic waste plans in 1992 through to the current ‘rx3’ programme which focuses on developing markets for recyclable material in Ireland.
“In 1992 the focus was on the bottom of the waste hierarchy and we landfilled 90 per cent of our municipal waste,” he comments. Landfill sites were really dumps that were un-engineered and unregulated. There was no EPA.”
Rudden was involved in the first real national waste policy in 1998, ‘Changing Our Ways’, which looked to the countries in Northern Europe which were landfilling less that 10 per cent. RPS was also involved in the Dublin Waste Plan which sought to maximise the resource value of waste and also started a new public conversation on what to do with our waste.
The 1992 Environmental Protection Agency Act and the 1996 Waste Management Act led to the regulation of landfill sites to a high standard. The focus in policy moved towards the top of the waste hierarchy. Two initiatives on waste prevention were brought forward by the regional waste management plans. The first was the appointment of environmental awareness officers in local authorities and an national awareness campaign: ‘Race Against Waste’. “Waste has always been a huge communications challenge and as with other things perception is reality. The ‘Race Against Waste’ campaign played a major part in changing people’s views about waste,” says Rudden.
Seven major regional waste plans were put in place, with RPS working on five of them. The focus was on recycling and there was some scepticism about the economics of recycling but it was shown that a three-bin kerbside system would be cheaper than landfill because of increased taxes from the Landfill Directive. The Dublin Waste Plan had a breakdown of 60 per cent recycling, 15 per cent landfill and 25 per cent waste to energy, which was being used for residual waste in most European cities. Each plan took an integrated approach to waste management, which is still the basis for waste policy in Ireland.
The Dublin plan included a waste to energy plant at Poolbeg in Dublin, which was progressing well until 2007. “The Poolbeg project was stalled through a mixture of political naivety and private waste interests who want to use inferior technologies such as MBT and landfill. What is now driving waste up the hierarchy is the landfill levy which has been increased by €10 per tonne each July for the past couple of years,” states Rudden.
“With removal of the remaining obstacles to this urgent infrastructural project, it will proceed to construction later this year to ensure Ireland meets the Landfill Directive targets by 2016.”
The present situation is that although there is one waste to energy plant online at Duleek, County Meath, much of the waste is exported: “We have to address the waste hierarchy and not just talk about it. The export of our waste resources to Sweden and Holland for incineration is indefensible as we should have sufficient infrastructure capacity ourselves and not be exporting renewable resources and sustainable employment.”
In July 2012, Minister Hogan launched a new waste strategy, ‘A Resource Opportunity’, which Rudden says is consistent with the waste hierarchy. He concludes: “I welcome the new policy to eliminate landfill. We need the integrated approach of the greener cities in Europe who recycle the maximum, landfill the minimum and recover as much energy as possible prior to landfill.”
P.J. Rudden is Group Business Director with RPS responsible for infrastructure planning and development.