The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is calling for urgent action against increasing volumes of waste and falling recycling rates in Ireland.

Data published in the EPA’s National Waste Statistics Summary Report for 2019 shows Ireland’s packaging waste rose by 11% to 1.1 million tonnes in 2019.

Paper and cardboard accounted for 42% of this waste, while plastic made up 28%.

The waste also included smaller amounts of glass, wood, metal and textiles.

Recycling rates for both packaging and municipal waste fell from their 2018 levels, with more waste being taken for energy recovery.

The recycling rate for packaging fell from 70% in 2013 to 62% in 2019, while recycling rates for plastic packaging declined to 28%.

The EPA report also revealed that Ireland continued to export several key waste streams for treatment, with just 16% of all packaging waste recycled domestically.

There was also a 4% decline in the amount of municipal waste being recycled, from 41% in 2016 to 37% in 2019.

Ireland recycled around 690,000t of packaging waste in 2019, equivalent to 61% of all packaging waste generated in the country.

The European Commission’s revised Packaging Directive includes a target of recycling 65% of packaging waste by 2025 and 70% by 2030.

EPA Office of Environmental Sustainability director Sharon Finegan said: “A circular economy is one that is based on less waste and more reuse of materials; these trends show Ireland is going in the wrong direction.

“Our rising levels of waste are unsustainable and need to stop. Systemic change is needed across all economic sectors to shift the focus to designing out waste and promoting reuse and recycling.”

The EPA said that for several years, Ireland’s municipal and packaging waste recycling rates had been in ‘gradual decline’.

This is due to efforts to increase recycling being outstripped as more waste is generated and sent for energy recovery.

Earlier this year, the EPA faced legal action in Washington, DC, for allegedly failing to regulate polyvinyl chloride (PVC) as hazardous waste.