Five years to get our house in order

To those working in waste and resource management, the coming of winter signals the approach of the European Week for Waste Reduction (EWWR). This is an exciting time when the whole of the EU focusses on the challenge of reducing waste, and increasing recycling & re-use. It’s a busy time with individuals, local groups, Governments and even entire regions pledging actions that will help achieve these goals.

The success of EWWR is in its inclusivity. While waste prevention and resource management are important issues we all participate in daily through our own household recycling, they’re issues many people perhaps don’t consider that often. EWWR helps people renew their relationship with the things we discard. Indeed, EWWR is something at which Northern Ireland excels and last year we were second only to Italy in the number of pledges made. Quite an achievement when you consider the difference in the two population sizes.

This is a good example of how driven Northern Ireland can be in taking action on waste across all areas of society. In homes, in local communities, in businesses and in the public sector there is real motivation behind being ‘greener’. And this is just as well, as the clock is ticking and we have some urgent work to do.

The good news is we’ve already made significant changes that will help prepare us for a more resource-limited future, where demand for diminishing resources will become more intense. The provisional local authority statistics for household waste, published in July, show that as a nation we are becoming less wasteful. These recorded a drop of almost 2% on waste going to landfill between January and March 2014. It’s good to see too that our recycling and composting rates are rising, with Northern Ireland’s household recycling rate hovering a little over 41%.

That we’ve broken the 40% barrier is testament to the hard work and dedication of many people over many years. People at home, sorting their recycling, and those in local government delivering recycling schemes; and to the many businesses dealing more sustainably with their resources and wastes. But we still have a lot more to do to meet the 50% European household waste recycling target by 2020, or face costly fines. It is time to make an even greater effort to be the green nation we aspire to be.

To achieve that extra 10% we need to capitalise on this good work, while learning from best practice happening around the country. The Northern Ireland government has been instrumental in making change happen already through its proactive waste strategy and policy commitments. The Rethink Waste Programme is an example of enabling work to succeed on the ground and WRAP, in partnership with the DOE, has administered grants of over £10 million to councils since 2011. This investment has helped develop and increase our domestic recycling infrastructure and today 60% of councils are collecting all five key recyclate materials, and more are introducing separate food waste collections. Our work with Ballymena Borough Council is a case in point.

WRAP worked with Ballymena Borough Council on a range of initiatives and awarded a Rethink Waste capital grant of £680,000, which helped pay for a household waste and recycling centre that opened in 2013. The facility achieved a recycling rate of 80%, helping the Council win a Sustainable Ireland award for excellence in waste management. Overall, the council has increased its recycling rate from 28% to 44% in the time it’s worked with WRAP.

So with renewed focus on recycling and re-use in Europe, it’s important that we focus on our own future today, and where else we can bring positive change. This is why WRAP Northern Ireland's annual conference is taking place as a centrepiece to EWWR, and why we will look at the fundamental questions around waste prevention, resource management and partnerships.

I want the Waste Prevention through Partnerships Conference to bring people together to hear about successes, to work through problems, to share best practice and to establish new partnerships and new ways of working. I’m delighted that Mark H Durkan, Minister for the Environment has made time in his schedule to join our CEO Liz Goodwin in headlining the morning session at the Derry City Hotel, on November 27.

Following the success of last year’s conference on food waste, and with the recent successful launch of the Love Food Hate Waste 10 Cities campaign in Belfast still fresh in our minds, I expect food waste to be a big part of the conversation again this year. Especially ahead of the impending ban on source segregated food waste from landfill in 2015. The WRAP conference will be a chance to ask the Environment Minister first-hand about his priorities for the future of Northern Ireland.

So with successes like Ballymena becoming more common since the Rethink Waste Fund began in 2010, this year’s EWWR provides a very timely platform on which to focus our minds on what we can do to drive success even further. The best way to prepare for the future, I believe, is by working together and so while Europe is busy with EWWR I invite you to follow WRAP’s annual conference (www.wrapni.org.uk) and join the Environment Minister, Liz Goodwin, myself and the many other delegates as we ready ourselves for 2020, and beyond.

Ian Garner
Head of WRAP Northern Ireland