The waste licensing regulations are due to be brought into force by 1 May. They will implement a series of EU environmental laws dating back to a 1975 EU framework waste directive, which required waste disposal operations to be licensed by an independent body.
Ireland incorporated the 1975 directive into national law within a few years. But nearly a decade later the Commission informed the environment ministry that it had not "transposed" the directive correctly.
Ireland had introduced a permitting system for waste disposal operations. These included landfills, which take the bulk of the country's waste. But the system applied only to privately-owned landfills, whereas local authorities operate 100 of Ireland's 120 main landfill sites. This meant that the majority of Irish landfills were not covered by the rules..
The new regulations will extend the licensing system to the public sector, including landfills operated by local authorities. Licences will be awarded by the Environmental Protection Agency.
An environment ministry official told ENDS Daily today that "we could see closure of up to 75% of the existing local authority-owned landfill facilities as a result of the new requirements." He said that tougher environmental standards are expected to raise the costs of landfilling waste by a factor of three to four which could make many landfill sites uneconomic.
However, he emphasised that decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis following an environmental evaluation of each site. The ministry expects a further 25 new landfills to be built "in the mid-term", leaving Ireland with about 50 main facilities.
The waste licensing regulations will be the third in a series of legislative initiatives on waste to be announced this year. Regulations governing industrial farm plastics were introduced in January and packaging waste regulations were announced last month. In the next two months, regulations directing the content of local authorities' waste management plans and a system of permits for waste collection operations will be announced. All these initiatives stem from the 1996 Waste Management Act which modernised the principles underpinning legislation in this field.
Irish Environment Ministry, tel: +353 1 679 3377.
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