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Circular Economy Where are We Now and Where are We Going

The Circular Economy Act 2022 was signed into law on 23 August 2022 and places the Government’s circular economy strategy[1] and Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy[2] on a statutory footing.

Both policies are intended to give effect to the EU’s circular economy action plan.

The foundation of the circular economy action plan is that, in a circular economy, producers must be held to account for the sustainability of the products they place on the market. The concept of ‘extended producer responsibility’ (EPR) is a policy approach in which producers are responsible for the end, post-consumer stage of a product’s life cycle, with the aim of recycling products or recovering the materials they are made of. It places significant obligations on different parts of the supply chain of certain product streams.

There are currently six recognised EPR initiatives operating in Ireland, some of which are subject to significant recent changes or upcoming proposed changes.

The current EPR initiatives relate to the following waste streams:

  1. Packaging and single use plastics
  2. Batteries
  3. Waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE)
  4. End of life vehicles (ELVs)
  5. Tyres
  6. Farm plastics


Repak scheme

The EU’s Packaging Directive[3] aims to achieve collection, recycling, and recovery targets for glass, plastic, paper, board, metal, and wood. The National Waste Policy sets the target of ensuring that it is economically viable to reuse or recycle all such packaging by 2030.

Repak is Ireland’s only Government approved body for operating Ireland’s waste packaging compliance scheme under the Packaging Regulations[4].

On 1 January 2023, several changes to the Packaging Regulations came into effect. As a result, self-compliance with the Packaging Regulations usually overseen by local authorities is no longer an option for ‘major producers’.

Instead, major producers are now required to become a member of Repak and comply with its scheme. Repak has also changed its membership terms to require a more detailed breakdown of packaging statistics which informs the associated costs.

A ‘major producer’ is a producer who, “for the purpose of trade or otherwise in the course of business, sells or otherwise supplies to other persons packaging material, packaging or packaged products,” with annual turnover of at least €1million and that places 10 tonnes or more of packaging on the market.

Single Use Plastics
On 15 October 2021, the Government gave effect to the EU’s Single Use Plastics Directive by the introduction of the SUP Regulations[5]. They include:

  • The prohibition of expanded polystyrene single use food and beverage containers
  • Producers of wet wipes, tobacco products containing plastic, sanitary items, and cups must ensure that certain information is displayed on the packaging of those products. The information must inform consumers of the presence of plastic in the product, of proper waste disposal means, and the negative impact on the environment of inappropriate waste disposal
  • Since 5 January 2023, producers of packaging are required to cover the costs of litter clean up, in addition to their existing EPR obligations in respect of certain SUP items (including certain food containers, packaging made of flexible material, beverage containers, cups, lightweight plastic carrier bags, and tobacco products containing filters). We understand Repak is currently gathering information on these waste streams to inform the costs associated with this initiative
  • From January 2025, producers of beverage containers up to three litres in size will have to ensure that each container contains a minimum of 25% recycled plastic, increasing to 30% from January 2030

Deposit Return Scheme

The National Waste Policy sets out the Government’s commitment to introduce a deposit and return scheme for plastic bottles and aluminium cans. The DRS Regulations[6] came into effect on 29 November 2021.

The first phase of the deposit and return scheme is expected to become operational on 1 February 2024. It applies to producers and retailers of certain packaged drinks, known as ‘in scope products’ (ISP). The aim of the scheme is to increase recycling of ISP packaging by charging a small, refundable deposit to the consumer. Producers and retailers will have various registration, payment, reporting, and take back obligations under the scheme.

ISP include:

  • PET bottles with a capacity of up to three litres
  • Aluminium or steel beverage containers with a capacity of up to three litres

The beverage contained in ISP must be intended for human consumption but does not include milk or other dairy based products.

Deposit Return Scheme Ireland CLG t/a Re-turn has been approved by the Government under the DRS Regulations to operate the scheme. All producers and retailers of ISP are currently obliged to register with Re-turn. However, notwithstanding the legal obligation to register with Re-turn, it is expected that certain producers or retailers of ISP will be able to apply for an exemption from having to fully participate in the scheme.

To assist producers who must comply with the scheme, on 19 May 2023, the Planning Regulations[7] were amended so that the installation, alteration, repair or replacement of ‘reverse vending machines’ within the curtilage of a shop, and the use of land to accommodate standalone reverse vending machines, and the construction of bollards and warning signs for protecting reverse vending machines, are now exempted developments subject to certain conditions.

Other packaging EPR initiatives

Further packaging EPR initiatives are expected to be introduced in or around 31 December 2024 in relation to balloons, wet wipes, and fishing gear, as well as an EPR initiative that requires producers of packaging to cover the public cost of litter clean up by local authorities.


The EU’s Battery Directive[8] and the National Waste Policy aim to reduce the environmental impact of batteries and accumulators that are placed on the market, by ensuring their safe collection and disposal. Currently, certain producers and distributors of batteries or accumulators must put in place organisational and financial measures to address the proper management of batteries when they become waste. This is commonly done by adhering to a compliance scheme, although there is the option to ‘self-comply’ with oversight by the local authority and Environmental Protection Agency. Compliance for producers requires, among other matters:

  • Registering annually with Producer Register Limited
  • Declaring monthly the types and quantities of batteries placed on the Irish market
  • Displaying visibly, legibly, and indelibly on batteries the crossed-out wheeled bin
  • Ensuring batteries comply with the limits on hazardous substances, and
  • Providing information to end users regarding hazardous substances in batteries and their safe disposal

On 9 December 2022, the EU institutions agreed to introduce new regulations to bring the Battery Directive up to date with technological developments, including the emergence of electric vehicles and ‘light means of transport'[9]. It is anticipated that the regulations will address all stages of the battery life cycle and will apply to all battery types. This will be a significant expansion of the current regime which applies only to certain types of batteries.

An example of the sort of regulations expected to come into force is that batteries will have to be more sustainable, durable, and will have to be easier for customers to remove and replace. Furthermore, entities that place batteries on the EU market will be required to implement ‘due diligence policies’ to address the social and environmental risks associated with sourcing the raw materials used in battery production.

There is no current target date on which the new battery regulations will be published but the EU is aiming to introduce at least some of the measures in early 2024.


The EU’s WEEE Directive[10] and the National Waste Policy aim to achieve collection, recycling, and recovery targets for WEEE. The EPR initiatives currently in place allow consumers to dispose of WEEE free of charge through the schemes operated by WEEE Ireland and ERP Ireland under the WEEE Regulations[11].

The EPR requirements are similar to the requirements for producers and distributors of batteries noted above. Under the WEEE Regulations, broadly speaking, any entity placing EEE on the market in Ireland that is manufactured in its own name or imports EEE is required to register as an EEE producer with the national producer register. Producers are further required to file returns on the quantity of EEE they place on the market, to contribute to the cost of the safe collection of WEEE from consumers and to display certain information to certain end users regarding the hazardous properties of WEEE. Producers can join either of the compliance schemes operated by WEEE Ireland or EPR Ireland.

It is understood that there are currently no proposals to change this EPR initiative.


The EU’s ELV Directive[12] aims to achieve the reuse, recycling, and other forms of recovery of ELVs. The Irish ELV compliance scheme is operated by ELVES CLG in accordance with the ELV Regulations[13].

ELVES operates over 60 authorised treatment facilities (ATF) (ie permitted scrapyards) throughout Ireland, which accept ELVs from the public free of charge for the purpose of recycling or recovery. It is the responsibility of ATFs to ensure ELV material is recovered and to record data verifying this.

The ELV Directive is currently under review by the EU Commission.


On 1 October 2017, the Tyre Regulations[14] came into effect. They aim to maximise the reuse, recycling, and recovery of waste tyres, and govern the importation, registration, sale, and safe recycling of all tyres placed on the market.

The Irish tyres EPR scheme is operated by Circol ELT (formerly Repak ELT). The scheme is funded by the charging of visible environmental management costs (vEMC) to consumers. It requires producers of tyres to register annually as a producer on the producer register and record the types and quantities of tyres being placed on the market, among other matters. Similarly, tyre retailers are required to join Circol, charge vEMCs to consumers, and report monthly tyre sales.

Farm plastics

On 23 July 2001, the Farm Plastics Regulations[15] came into effect. They aim to achieve the collection and recovery of farm plastics by requiring producers of farm plastics to operate a deposit and return scheme for consumers or alternatively, to participate in a government approved farm plastics recycling scheme. The scheme is operated by IFFPG, which applies a levy to farm plastics to fund the scheme.

Other EPR initiatives

The National Waste Policy identifies further waste streams for which initiatives will be introduced in the future. These include:

  • Chemicals (the European Commission would like to have measures in place by the end of 2023)
  • Textiles (2025 is the target year for introducing criteria regarding textiles)
  • Bulky waste (including mattresses)
  • Paint
  • Medicines
  • Farm hazardous waste

Finally, in October 2022, a regulatory impact assessment commissioned by the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications identified a levy on single use disposable cups (SUDC) as the preferred mechanism for reducing the use of SUDC and for ensuring resources are ring fenced to support additional environmental initiatives and infrastructure. A consultation has been carried out on a proposal for the levy of 20 cents. This legislation is expected to be introduced in 2023.

For more information, please contact a member of our Planning & Environment team.

The content of this article is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other advice.

[1] Circular Economy Strategy 2022 - 2023

[2] Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy, Ireland’s national waste policy for 2020 – 2025

[3] European Parliament and Council Directive 94/62/EC of 20 December 1994 on packaging and packaging waste

[4] SI 282/2014 - The European Union (Packaging) Regulations 2014 as amended

[5] SI 516/2021 - European Union (Single Use Plastics) (No2) Regulations 2021

[6] Separate Collection (Deposit Return Scheme) Regulations 2021

[7] SI 600/2001 – Planning and Development Regulations 2001 (as amended)

[8] Directive 2006/66/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 6 September 2006 on batteries and accumulators and waste batteries and accumulators and repealing Directive 91/157/EEC

[9] Defined by Article 2 of the proposed Batteries Regulation as “wheeled vehicles that have an electric motor of less than 750 watts”

[10] Directive 2012/19/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council on 4 July 2012 on waste electrical and electronic equipment

[11] European Union (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment)
Regulations 2014

[12] Directive 2000/53/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 September 2000 on end of life vehicles

[13] European Union (End of Life) (Amendment) Regulations 2016

[14] Waste Management (Tyres and Waste Tyres) Regulations 2017

[15] Waste Management (Farm Plastics) Regulations 2001

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