Plastics are used in a wide range of applications generating significant waste streams. This is driving policy interventions to increase circularity, reduce waste and improve resource efficiency. However, information on plastic waste flows is not widely available across regions and nations. With an overarching aim to make recommendations for supporting the transition to a circular plastics economy in Northern Ireland, this study used quantitative uncertainties to conduct regional material flow analysis and geospatial mapping to identify local hotspots. It was observed that 149 ± 11 kilo tonnes of plastic waste were produced in Northern Ireland (79.2 kg/capita) in 2018. Reuse and recovery for recycling reached up to 35%, while 62% of plastic waste was landfilled with the remainder (3%) incinerated. This study found that there are increasing amounts of plastic waste locked in sectors with long product lifetimes, such as the construction sector with 21.3 kilo tonnes for 2018. It is therefore important to consider the processing capacities and environmental impacts of plastic waste management, not only for current plastic waste flows but also for tackling possible future growth of these flows. The results indicate that there is a need for a holistic all-island approach for effective plastic waste management in both Northern Ireland and the neighbouring Republic of Ireland. Furthermore, stricter enforcement of existing waste management rules and regulations could prevent need for additional policies to support a circular economy. This research provides robust scientific data to aid the transition to a circular economy for plastics in the region.
- Plastic waste management
- Circular economy
- Material flow analysis
- Extended producer responsibility
- Northern Ireland