Revolutionary change to waste management in Northern Ireland began in 2000 with the publication of the province's first waste strategy (ENDS Report 303, pp 38-40 ). This set targets to recover 25% of household waste by 2005 and 40% by 2010. Within these targets, 15% is to be achieved through recycling and composting in 2005 and 25% by 2010.
The strategy also encouraged Northern Ireland's 26 district councils to develop waste plans through a limited number of sub-regional partnerships. Three groups have emerged, representing the northwest, south and east.
Within each area, authorities must strive to achieve "convergence" of contracts. Councils will avoid any new long-term contracts until new area-wide disposal contracts are agreed around 2010.
The new planning policy statement (PPS 11) includes guidance on issues likely to be considered in deciding planning applications for waste facilities. It discusses industrial and commercial waste, in addition to the one million tonnes per year of municipal waste.
Prior to the establishment of a network of facilities, says the paper, landfill capacity for municipal waste should be limited to meet "essential interim regional needs".
Incineration and other thermal treatments must maximise energy recovery "subject to the waste stream and prevailing technology and economics," the paper says. Because the emerging technologies of pyrolysis, gasification and anaerobic digestion are "carried out in enclosed plant which limit emissions", some "could therefore play a more significant role".
The paper notes that the deposit of inert waste on agricultural land is exempt from planning permission if it is for "engineering operations reasonably necessary for...agriculture". However, it stresses that each case should be considered "very carefully". On many occasions the purpose has been to deposit waste "in the cheapest way possible and avoid payment of landfill tax".
The guidance explains the relationship between the planning system and waste regulation authorities. Responsibility for waste site licensing is due to be transferred from district councils to the Environment and Heritage Service later this year.
All three local authority groups had finalised their waste plans by January.2 Each strategy copies the Northern Ireland household waste recycling and recovery targets. They also include the EU landfill Directive targets for reducing the amount of biodegradable municipal waste sent to landfill to 75% of 1995 arisings by 2010, 50% by 2013 and 35% by 2020 - plus an extra target to cut it to 85% by 2005.
In the eastern area, municipal waste arisings from the 11 authorities concerned were 536,000 tonnes in 1999/2000. This is expected almost to double to 966,000 by 2020, according to the plan.
The eastern plan includes two clean material reclamation facilities, windrow composting and an in-vessel composting unit to enable the 2005 recovery and recycling targets to be met. It assumes kerbside participation and capture rates of 70%. Two or three new landfill sites would also be needed.
Longer term, it includes provision after 2010 of a municipal waste incinerator, to be built in Belfast, Lisburn or Newtonabbey, with a capacity of 350,000 tonnes per year. A decision on this is due by 2007, although the plan itself is due to be revised in 2005. Earlier plans to build an incinerator in Belfast fell through five years ago in the face of fierce opposition (ENDS Reports 283, p 6 and 268, pp 15-16 ).
The other two areas are too small to include incineration in their waste plans. The southern area plan proposes a composting facility at Terryhoogan, county Armagh. The northwest plan also proposes an in-vessel composting facility.