HAZARDOUS waste should be destroyed in incinerators or buried in landfill here instead of being exported abroad, the State environmental watchdog has said.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says Ireland must become more self-sufficient in dealing with hazardous waste and warns large amounts of it will go unreported unless a home-grown solution to the problem is found.
Some 284,000 tonnes of hazardous waste was generated by industry, hospitals and households here in 2006 and half of it, plus 400,000 tonnes of contaminated soil, was exported for disposal abroad. An additional estimated 30,000 tonnes went unreported and illegally dumped — including large quantities of asbestos.
Much of the waste comprised solvents, used oils, sludges and chemicals from industry while the dismantling of the Irish Steel plant in Cork and clean-up of the surrounding site was responsible for much of the contaminated soil.
But households, farms, small businesses and the healthcare and construction sectors also contributed to the headache by disposing of batteries, electrical equipment, solvent based paint, varnish, sheep dip, fluorescent lamps, medical waste and other refuse that is difficult or impossible to recycle.
The EPA says much of that could be dealt with here if existing incinerators were used and some extra facilities developed. Its
National Hazardous Waste Management Plan states: “A significant proportion could be dealt with in Ireland at existing authorised facilities and in cement kilns.
“One cement kiln operator has indicated their intention to see authorisation to burn waste, including hazardous waste. If Ireland were to become fully self-sufficient, hazardous waste landfill and incineration or alternatives would be required.
“It is noted that while a hazardous waste incinerator is licensed to operate in Ringaskiddy, Co Cork, there are no equivalent proposals for hazardous waste landfill or for technologies that can provide a realistic alternative.”
The recommendation is controversial given the widespread community opposition to landfill and incineration across the country but EPA director general, Dr Mary Kelly, said there was a need for a realistic approach.
“Ireland must find new ways to become self-sufficient in dealing with our hazardous waste,” she said. “Whilst there has been some improvement in Ireland’s infrastructure, there is still a deficit and this plan recommends alternative methods for the reduction, collection and management of this waste within Ireland.”
The plan makes 29 recommendations for minimising and managing hazardous waste, including a network of local drop-off facilities for householders and small businesses.
The EPA says this would help tackle the problem of unreported waste, particularly from garages and farms.