The move towards sustainable waste management

[This is yet another guest post written by one of the dept’s 3rd yr Sngle Hons / Major students. Please feel free to add constructive comments]

The importance of waste management in Ireland is often ignored. For many years Ireland’s solution to waste was to bury it in the ground. We have had an over-reliance on landfill as our only option for the treatment of waste. The collection and build-up of municipal solid waste from settings such as households and businesses was piled up with no form of segregation or recovery present. This process was becoming increasingly unsustainable as space in landfill was running out but also mainly due to negative environmental effects. Their visual impacts on the natural landscape are upsetting and are evidence of society’s over-consumption. Environmental impacts such as contamination of groundwater from leaching processes and impacts to the soil and air quality are cause for concern.

Accelerated economic growth experienced since the 1990’s has seen Ireland develop patterns of increased production and consumption. We are now more affluent than previous generations and this has catered for our tendencies to have the latest commodity. The quality of the food we eat has also improved including more variety and increased packaging, but what products and processes like these leave behind are incredible amounts of waste. With current global pressures of environmental sustainability and an ever increasing strain on natural resources the issue of sustainable waste management is of major importance in society. 

The most groundbreaking piece of legislation in the Irish context is the Waste Management Act 1996. This was the first legal act concerned with reducing the amounts of waste generated and tackling the over reliance on landfill. Each member state within the EU has to comply with directives set out in the Waste Framework Directive and this was achieved by the transposition of the waste management hierarchy into policy. This hierarchy is the foundations of the 1996 act which places landfill at the bottom as the least preferred option. The next preferred options are thermal treatment (recovery), re-use, recycling and prevention of waste respectively. There is a large body of research done on the implications of these new policies in Ireland. Much work has been done by Anna Davies of Trinity College where she examines the effects of waste management strategies and governance in Ireland.

My undergraduate research thesis centres on the move away from landfill as disposal of waste to new and sustainable waste management practices. I am focusing on Mullingar, Co. Westmeath as a location for study. The last census has seen population grow to 19,794 due to huge development of residential areas expanding from the outskirts of the town. My research will focus from the consumer perspective in residential settings and to see how people are responding to the need to change away from landfill options and towards recycling of waste. I aim to uncover some of the public attitudes towards recycling. How much of their waste to these households actually recycle? Do people see segregating their waste as a nuisance? Or are people even aware of the importance of recycling?

Gary Nolan



  1. Anna Browne · · Reply

    As a mullingar resident, I’m frustrated at how difficult it is to organise recycling of organic waste – I have lots of compost bins, but not all my organic material goes in there. The waste companies don’t make it easy to get brown bins.


  2. Gary Nolan · · Reply

    Thank you for your comment Anna. It has given me insight into what I can include in my research into waste management issues in Mullingar.


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