Circular Economy opportunities in Ireland
“An estimated 100 million tonnes of materials are used annually in Irish economy with a 5% material improvement across the economy could yield €2.32bn p.a. Yet this opportunity is largely uncapitalized on to date – highlighting the circularity knowledge, capacity building and implementation gaps or circular innovation gap that exists in Ireland”
– CIRCULÉIRE, the national platform for circular manufacturing.
Facts & Figures: Economic indicators
- Population 2021: 5.1 million
- GDP per capita (+ ranking): €63,700, 9th
- Corporate tax rate: 12.5%
- Purchasing power 2019: €80,504
- Export from the NL: €2019: 5 billion
- Economic growth 2019: 5.8%
- Ease of doing business 2020: 24/190
- Unemployment rate 2019: 5%
- Currency: Euro €
- Time difference with NL: -1:00
Circular economy indicators
- Innovation Index rank 2020: 15th
- MW recycling rate (2018): 37.6%
- Circular material usage rate (2019): 1.6%
- Share of energy from renewable resources (2019): 11.9%
- CE potential on GDP & job market: estimated between €1.65 billion and €2.32bn per annum and around 5,000 jobs
In 2020, following the National Climate Action Plan, Ireland introduced a new aid measure called the Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS) to support electricity production from renewable sources, including solar photovoltaic and wind with an estimated budget of between €7.2 billion and €12.5 billion. It will enable Ireland to reach its national target to transit away from fossil fuels and achieve a share of 70% of renewables in its electricity mix by 2030 while contributing to the EU renewable energy target,
Following the DG Grow designation of Lisheen Mine site, Co. Tipperary as a European Model Demonstrator Region for sustainable chemistry and bioeconomy, in 2017 the Irish Government invested over €4.5m to develop this site into a national bioeconomy demonstration and innovation campus (see Irish Bioeconomy Foundation for more information).
A key policy activity related to increasing the circularity of materials and products in the Irish economy is the development of the Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy (2020), a new national waste policy that outlines the prioritization of circular economy principles in waste planning and management in Ireland. A direct outcome of this plan has been the establishment of a cross-departmental Circular Economy Unit that is responsible for the development of an All of Government Circular Economy Strategy and subsequent Circular Economy Bill which will give circular economy commitments statutory footing.
Ireland’s climate action goals:
By 2030, the Irish government aims to achieve the following:
- Cutting greenhouse gas emissions by at least 30%
- Reaching a target of at least 32.5% energy efficiency
- 50% reduction in food waste
- Delivering 70% renewable energy
Promising sectors for circular economy in Ireland are Agro-food & Beverage, Offshore Wind, Construction & Demolition, Plastics, Biopharmachem, and Circular ICTThe Netherlands Embassy in Dublin & HCH
Agro-food & beverage
Agriculture, food, and beverage products represented almost 10% of Ireland’s exports in 2019, the sector also counts for 7.1% of national employment. Ireland generates over 1 million tons of food waste yearly, and that excludes food packaging waste. Some leading industry examples of circular economy in this sector include Heineken Ireland who has embraced a 360 sustainability model along their supply chain, ensuring local sourcing, water efficiency, and CO2 reduction commitments. Another innovative example of circular economy in the brewing sector is a collaboration between Irish companies Panelto Food and St Mel’s Brewery who produced a limited-edition beer in 2020 “SymbioBeer Project#1” which utilizes surplus bread as a material substitute for malted grain.
Image by Annie Spratt
Ireland is prioritizing its commitment to reach its green energy goals, aiming to source 70% of the nation’s energy from renewable sources by 2030. The existing share in 2019 was around 12%, and one of the main methods to reach this goal is by offshore wind. In early 2020, Dutch XELLZ secured land at the port of Rosslare, Ireland to be dedicated to supplying offshore wind components. This area, called The Europort Business Park “will become a hive of activity where businesses directly related to the future Offshore Wind Farms (OWF’s) can establish their companies” according to XELLZ. Offshore wind is expected to deliver at least 3.5 GW in support of reaching the country’s 70% goal. Given the projected growth of this sector, the RE-WIND Network is an interesting initiative that has explored wind turbine blade repurposing solutions starting with piloting a pedestrian bridge constructed from old blades in Ireland.
Image by Nicholas Doherty
Construction and Demolition
Project Ireland 2040 and The National Planning Framework envision and lay down a roadmap for building a better Ireland for all who lives there and for future generations. Achieving this vision will require a lot of building, whether it be housing, urban development, road networks, or other infrastructure construction. Throughout 2015 until 2019, roads and housing alone had the share of 35% of the nation’s public spending. In order to keep up with this growth, circular practices must be imbedded from the planning phases of such projects. Construction and demolition waste is usually made of useful materials that can be circulated, including wood, glass, and metals. In 2018, only 9% of recovered C&D waste in Ireland was recycled, 89% was recovered by backfilling. Bam Ireland gives a good example for circular economy commitment in the constriction field, “In 2018 BAM managed to recycle or recover 99% of its waste. By working with our supply chain there is an opportunity for BAM to find more useful purposes than landfill for the remaining 1% of our waste”.
Image by Kerry Rawlinson
Ireland produces the most plastic waste per person in the EU, 54 kg/capita (vs. 33 kg/capita EU average) while having the fourth to last recycling rate for the material. Two-thirds of the plastic waste currently ending up in Irish bins are not being collected for recycling. The Netherlands is a frontrunner in waste recycling and one such example is Van Werven, who is active in the Irish market and could provide support in closing the loop for plastics, and contribute to the country’s goal to achieve at least 55% plastic recycling by 2030. Also worth noting in the context of alternatives to plastics are Irish pioneers like VivaGreen who have developed chemical and plastic-free products for gardens, landscaping and household use.
Image by Brian Yurasits
In Ireland, the biopharmaceuticals sector represents 21.5% of the nation’s export. Being home to 24 of the world’s top biotech and pharma companies, Ireland, through the likes of the National Bioeconomy campus in Lisheen, Co. Tipperary is seeking to evolve into a leading hub for green chemistry and circular economy implementations in these sectors. The European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) mentions that its members constantly work towards resource-efficient innovations such as Process Mass Intensity (PMI) and Green Chemistry to render the industry more sustainable. Examples such as AstraZeneca’s solvent recovery and Novo Nordisk’s involvement in the Kalunborg Symbiosis can demonstrate how circular economy practices can play a role in this industry across its value chain. The impact can happen across the value chain, from limiting the use of natural resources and utilizing renewable energies, to eco-design, re-use and recovery of water, and re-thinking packaging.
Ireland is home to the top 5 global software companies, 9 of the top 10 US tech companies, and 4 of the top 5 IT service companies. The ICT industry includes hardware, software, IT support services, cloud computing, among others; returning €35 billion in exports annually, making it one of the country’s most important sectors. Applying the principles of the circular economy in the ICT sector means better energy utilization, reducing operating and capital expenditures, and tackling WEEE through redesign, refurbishing, remanufacturing, and exploiting urban mines which can provide access to valuable resources, rendering the value chain more resilient.
Dutch multinational ASML is operating in the semiconductor sub-sector in Ireland, and innovative business models such as that of Closing the Loop are replicable in Ireland. Leading Irish companies extending the life of ICT products through re-use and refurbishment include the likes of Wisetek and IQutech alongside key initiatives from Ireland’s WEEE EPR Schemes, WEEE Ireland and European Recycling Platform (ERP).
Given the importance of the ICT sector, circular data centers can establish steps towards the circularity and sustainability of the industry. Countries with enabling infrastructures and expertise in this area tend to attract larger ICT players, such as Eemshaven, the Netherlands which is hosting Google’s newest European-based data center that is powered by 100% renewable energy. Notably, in 2021, construction will break ground on Ireland’s first large-scale district heating network, Tallaght District Heating Scheme, which will utilize waste heat from a nearby Amazon data center to supply the heat to the network.
Image by Taylor Vick
- CIRCULÉIRE – Ireland’s 1st industry-led innovation network and designated EU Circular Economy Hotspot
- Irish Manufacturing Research
- Department of Environment, Climate, and Communications
- Environmental Protection Agency
- Repairmystuff. ie – Ireland’s Online Repair Directory
- CRNI – Ireland’s Network for Community Based Re-use, Repair & Recycling Organisations
- IDA Ireland
- Rediscovery Center, The national center for the circular economy
- Embassy of Ireland, The Netherlands
- Netherlands Embassy in Dublin
Useful links & reports
- Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy
- Realising the opportunities for enterprise in the bioeconomy and circular economy in Ireland
- Moving Towards the Circular Economy in Ireland
- Facts about Ireland, September 2019
- Focus on Energy, Sustainability, and Natural Resources
- Focus on Biopharmachem
- Focus on Agri-food and Beverages
- Renewable Energy in Ireland 2020
- Best Practice Guidelines on the Preparation of Waste Management Plans for Construction and Demolition Projects