Ireland has made significant progress towards the achievement of its EU recovery/recycling obligations. The current recession has also led to a noticeable decrease in waste generation, particularly in the commercial and construction and demolition waste streams. Because of the economic downturn, Ireland is also moving towards achievement of the EU landfill Directive targets for biodegradable waste diversion. See the latest waste report here.
The majority of landfills in Ireland are run by local authorities.There were 87 local authority landfills in 1995, which decreased to 76 in 1998 and to 50 by the end of 2001. This downward trend has continued to 25 landfills as of 2011, and just 6 landfills in 2016. Unfortunately, these landfills, despite landfill gas management, still result in some emissions.
The public sector contributes indirectly to greenhouse gas emissions by the use of new materials. Goods from recycled materials generally require less energy than producing goods from virgin materials.
When new products are used rather than re-using or using products made with less material, more energy is needed for extraction, production, processing, treatment and transportation. This results in more energy being produced at power stations or used during the production and transportation stages and therefore results in more greenhouse gas emissions. Using new materials will also ultimately result in more waste ending up in the landfills, and therefore more methane.
This area has largely been overlooked to date, since each of the impacts due to the extraction, construction, processing and transportation of the material are largely unseen by customers, suppliers, producers and retailers alike. However, more recently, the idea of green procurement has become more commonplace. Green procurement is essentially choosing services and goods, which have less of an impact on the environment. It requires businesses, individuals, government or large industry to make the responsible choice, and thereby limit the impact which their action or consumption will have on the environment.
The impact of the choices that business, individuals and the government make with regard to materials, although extremely difficult to measure, cannot be overstated. Fundamentally, the climate change challenge begins with these choices.
Since the public sector is the largest property owner and tenant in the country, it can exert considerable pressure on Ireland’s water resources. Not only does the water used by the public sector have the potential to strain supplies, but it also consumes energy required for the treatment and distribution of the water, thereby using energy and adding to greenhouse gas emissions.
With Ireland’s population growing, an increase in the demand on water resources is almost inevitable. The population of the Dublin Region is projected to increase to 2 million by 2040.
It is important to remember that every litre of water used in Ireland has been cleaned and treated to drinking water standards, meaning that our treatment plants are consuming energy to produce high quality water which may not be needed at all, or is not needed to be of this high standard. This results in unnecessary consumption of energy.
Although climate change may bring wetter winters to Ireland they will not fully offset the reduction in water from the predicted longer, hotter and drier summers. Because of the projected change in precipitation patterns, water will become more expensive to store and manage and as energy costs rise, so too will the cost of treating and pumping.
The change in precipitation patterns and the resulting necessary changes for water management, along with the increased demand, will present significant challenges for the public sector in the future. The most effective way to deal with tomorrow’s problems is to formulate and implement solutions today.
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