Introduction:

Ireland’s Whole of Government Circular Economy Strategy 2022-23 includes five key objectives, one of which is to significantly improve Ireland’s performance in an EU circularity metric known as Circular Material Use Rate (CMUR) in comparison with other EU Member States. CMUR measures the ratio between recycled materials and overall material use. A higher CMUR score, therefore, indicates greater use of recycled materials, which in turn reduces the need to extract raw materials and the related environmental impacts.

 

Background:

Although primarily focused on recycling, the CMUR metric is currently used to compare the circularity of EU economies. Between 2010 – 2022 EU Member States have recorded large discrepancies in their CMUR scores. For example, while Ireland’s CMUR score has been measured at between 1.6 – 2.1%, the EU average has remained at around 12%, while the Netherlands recorded 30.9% in 2020.

 

Ireland’s consistently low CMUR score is concerning in terms of achieving national and EU policy objectives, and in developing new opportunities in the emerging circular economy. However, the data and data collection practices underpinning CMUR scores have received little scrutiny to date.

 

Objectives of Project:

This research project set out to build an understanding of why Ireland’s CMUR is so low and identify pathways for improvement by:

  • Reviewing data and data collection practices from Ireland and three other EU Member States;
  • Conducting a critical comparative evaluation of data and data collection practices;
  • Identifying pathways for action through which Ireland can improve.

Through these steps the research identified a number of key factors driving Ireland’s low CMUR score, and developed policy recommendations for improving the situation.

General findings and recommendations

Finding:

CMUR and associated data can be utilised as a valuable starting point for developing new policy options in relation to the recycling of large and valuable waste streams that can replace consumption of virgin raw materials.

 

Recommended Action:

Further comparative analysis of Ireland’s consumption and waste data to identify opportunities and develop policies that will support more efficient use of secondary resources nationally.

Finding:

CMUR draws on consumption and recycling data measured in terms of mass. However, CMUR does not account for other impacts of the materials in question, such as GHG emissions.

Recommended Action:

CMUR scores should be read with an awareness of how the metric functions, and its limitations. For policy decision making, CMUR should be used in conjunction with other relevant metrics and/or contextual information (e.g. potential GHG emissions reductions).

Finding:

Certain definitions (e.g. backfilling) are interpreted differently by different member states, resulting in data that are not comparable.

 

Recommended Action:

Irish government agencies should express the importance of consistent definitions for data reporting purposes, especially in the area of waste statistics.

Finding:

The main points of data quality uncertainty relates to the primary data received by government agencies.

 

Recommended Action:

The quality of raw data collected pertaining to consumption and waste treatment statistics should be closely monitored and improved where possible.

Targeted findings and recommendations

Finding:

Certain methodological features of the CMUR metric have a disproportionate negative impact on Ireland’s CMUR score. In particular Domestic Material Consumption as an indicator for national consumption quantities, and the method for identifying waste destined for recycling that is traded across borders negatively impacts on Ireland.

 

Recommended Action 1:

Irish government agencies should query the discrepancy between Ireland’s Domestic Material Consumption and Raw Material Consumption figures. There is scope to recommend improvements to the DMC metric in terms of accounting for material footprint.

Potential CMUR Impact: +1.96%

 

Recommended Action 2:

Irish government agencies should query the categorisation of spent grains imported as animal feed as a waste destined for recycling.

Potential CMUR Impact: +0.44%

Finding 1:

By order of magnitude, increases in total quantities recycled would have a greater impact on Ireland’s CMUR than reducing total quantities in materials consumed.

 

Recommended Action:

Increased recycling and reduced consumption should be pursued hand in hand.

 

Finding 2:

Ireland’s consumption levels per capita are high, waste generation is low, and recycling levels are low.

Ireland underperforms in comparison with selected member states in:

  • Recycling of construction and demolition waste
  • Recycling animal urine, manure and faeces
  • Recycling other mineral wastes

 

Recommended Action 1:

Develop policy interventions for the construction and demolition sector focused on waste prevention and separation of materials for recycling and reuse.

Potential CMUR Impact: +0.77

 

Recommended Action 2:

Develop financial incentives to establish a biomethane infrastructure and support feedstock delivery.

Potential CMUR Impact: +0.76

 

Recommended Action 3:

Ireland should explore possibilities for using wastes arising from metal manufacturing processes; in particular tailings from alumina, lead ore, and zinc ore production.

Potential CMUR Impact: +1.62

Total possible benefits to Ireland’s CMUR: +5.55%

New CMUR (2020): 7.2%

 

Funder –  Environmental Protection Agency

 

Duration of Project: February 2023 – January 2024 (12 Months)

 

Partners: Rediscovery Centre, Clean Technology Centre, Circle Economy

Status – Complete