The national shift towards a circular economy will play a vital role in achieving Ireland’s climate objectives, says Tim Keenan, Analyst at KPMG Sustainable Futures.

Our current, linear production and consumption model in Ireland is responsible for a significant quantity of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions due to its carbon- and resource-intensive nature. Under Ireland’s Climate Action Plan 2021, the current linear economy will be addressed through specific targets in areas such as waste and bioeconomy, in order to meet the ambitious net zero target by 2050.

What is a circular economy?

A circular economy is an economic model that moves away from the conventional ‘make-take-dispose’ model towards a more regenerative, restorative, and sustainable model of ‘make-take-remake’. A circular economy is driven by resource efficiency and design principles that eliminate waste and pollution, distribute/reuse materials and products to enhance value, and restore nature. By transitioning to a circular economy, Ireland will adopt a systematic solution framework that will address several environmental challenges we are faced with today, including climate change, biodiversity loss, waste, and pollution.

Circular economy activities are already commonplace in our everyday lives, such as using a reusable coffee cup, having furniture repaired instead of replaced, or donating used clothing to a charity shop. These are all examples of extending a product’s lifespan through repair and/or re-use.

In Ireland, an estimated one tonne of waste per household each year contributes to GHG emissions due to waste being landfilled, incinerated, or composted. These emissions can be easily avoided daily though the minimisation of waste at every level: from the producer, the processor, the retailer, and the consumer. With a current circularity rate of 1.6% (circularity rate indicates the share of material which is recovered and fed back into the economy), Ireland is significantly trailing behind its European counterparts, with an EU average of 11.9%. Because an estimated 50% of total GHG emissions are derived from the resource extraction and processing stages, reducing the level of resource intensity in the Irish economy is imperative for realising the emission reduction goals.

Circular Economy in the Climate Action Plan

A number of measures will be introduced as part of the Climate Action Plan to ensure a successful circular economy can function in Ireland. In December 2021, the ‘Whole of Government Circular Economy Strategy 2022-2023’ was published. This strategy, the first of its kind in Ireland, outlines the approach the Government will take to help pivot the economy towards circularity.

With detailed measures on driving a circular economy across society, such as Deposit Return Schemes (DRS), Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), the Bioeconomy, and Green Public Procurement (GPP), this strategy appears to promote circular economy at the consumer level, as well as public sector stakeholders. Despite the level of progress and further policy developments to come, the strategy has a notable absence of measures in place to encourage circular economy activities in the private sector despite noting that the private sector will be a significant driver of the circular economy transition.  Time will tell whether more regulatory pressure is required.

To give the strategy a clear statutory footing, the Government approved the general scheme of the Circular Economy Bill in 2021. It is expected that this legislation will be enacted in 2022 and translate the policy approach into a range of legal requirements and actions that will strengthen enforcement on waste issues such as illegal dumping and littering. Within the policy objectives of this Bill, the Government will introduce a Circular Economy Fund – monies from which may be paid out for a number of different circular-enabling initiatives and activities. Other notable elements outlined in the general scheme include a national Food Waste Prevention Roadmap and the introduction of environmental levies and prohibitions on certain products, such as disposable hot and cold beverage cups, single use food containers and packaging, and plastic bags.

The bioeconomy

The bioeconomy is recognised as a specific facet within the circular economy and includes a variety of activities across several sectors, including agriculture, the marine, forestry, water and waste management, energy, and biopharmaceuticals. By their nature, these industries utilise an extensive range of natural resources, such as crops, forestry and fisheries in order to produce food, products, energy and medicines. In the Climate Action Plan, the Government’s vision for the bioeconomy includes opportunities to expand both skills and funding mechanisms, as well as publishing a detailed action plan in response to the National Bioeconomy Policy Statement in early 2022.

The advancement of the bioeconomy in Ireland will be advised by the newly established National Bioeconomy Forum, which is comprised of industry representatives and experts, and will be overseen by the High-level Bioeconomy Implementation Group, which consists of Government Departments and Agencies and has been established by the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. 

Waste reduction

The reduction of waste generation and enhancement of segregation, reuse and recycling capabilities are crucial to the lowering of GHG emissions associated with waste transport and treatment. Comparatively on an international scale, Ireland waste emissions per head are below the EU average, with 0.2t CO2eq. per person. While our emissions from this sector have fallen significantly since 2005, it has not been to the same magnitude as other member states, such as Austria and Finland. As of June 2021, Ireland has surpassed every recycling and recovery target set for it by the European Union. In order to maintain this downward trajectory, several ambitious targets have been set which will require increased efforts from the waste sector, including:

  • Recycle 65% of municipal waste by 2035
  • Recycle 70% of packaging waste by 2030
  • Recycle 55% of plastic packaging waste by 2030
  • Reduce food waste by 50% by 2030
  • Provide for 90% collection of plastic drinks containers by 2029

What does this mean for businesses?

It is now widely recognised that the circular economy agenda is fundamentally interlinked with the net-zero agenda, both on a global and national scale. As Ireland begins to recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is imperative that the targets and actions of the Climate Action Plan are set in motion to help the nation pivot towards a more circular economy.

With ambitious waste reduction targets and the introduction of EPR schemes, businesses involved in resource-intensive and waste-production industries can expect significant changes to their operations over the coming years. Companies should evaluate all aspects of their supply chains to seek ways of improving circularity through waste reduction or innovative product design. By incorporating circular practices into business models at an early stage, companies can stay one step ahead of forthcoming legislation, such as the Circular Economy Bill, and act as leaders in the delivery of the climate commitments and creating additional value in along supply chains.

Irish Case Studies

Several examples of Irish businesses and community initiatives which are leading the way have been outlined in the Whole of Government Circular Economy Strategy, such as:

An Mheitheal Rothar

Offers a full set of bicycle repair and service options, undertaken by experienced mechanics. Their award winning ReCycle Your Cycle initiative takes bikes sent for scrap to Galway City Council Civic Amenities Site and repairs them, while teaching valuable cycle mechanic skills to their trainees. This saves carbon emissions and reduces pollution from transporting, smelting and recasting scrap metal. At the same time, it provides skilled jobs, training opportunities and an affordable, fossil-fuel free means of transport.

Circuléire Member Ashleigh Environmental’s ‘Biowave’

Ashleigh Environmental has developed the Biowave™ system as a proprietary process that supercharges the conversion of feedstock materials such as dairy sludges, food waste and municipal biosolids to renewable energy in the form of biogas. It diverts these waste streams from land spreading and disposal resulting in a reduction in transport CO2 emissions and a significant saving on associated costs.

IRD Duhallow Furniture Revamp

Provides a furniture refurbishment service. More than 95% of the refurbishment materials are reused and recycled materials, including fabric, paints and varnishes.


Ballygowan, has moved its full range of grocery products to RPet, fully recycled and recyclable bottles. The move to new RPet bottles has been facilitated by a €2m investment in their operations at Newcastle West, the home and source of Ballygowan. The move is part of a drive for 100% sustainability across the business, under Britvic Ireland’s Healthier People, Healthier Planet strategy. The shift to recycled bottles will remove 51 million virgin plastic bottles from circulation annually. The shift to recycled bottles will reduce Ballygowan’s virgin plastic consumption by 1,288 tonnes. Shifting to lighter bottles will reduce plastic use by a further 245 tonnes. Overall, there will be a reduction of 1,533 tonnes of virgin plastic used each year.


Wisetek are leaders in manufacturing, data sanitisation, reuse & IT asset disposition services. The primary life cycle of IT equipment, for large companies is between 3 and 5 years depending on the industry sector. Wisetek takes back that equipment and extends its useful lifespan. The company is now processing over 250,000 pieces of IT equipment per annum. Up to 30% can be re-used directly for the same purpose in secondary life-cycle markets. 10% - 15% must be refurbished or repaired before retesting and sale on secondary markets. The remainder are dismantled, and precious metals and rare earth elements extracted.

3D Assist TU Dublin Tallaght

The 3D Assist Tallaght is an informal group of students, past students and staff at TU Dublin - Tallaght Campus. The project was set up in January 2015 with a view to 3D printing prosthetic hands and arms for people who need them. To date, over 30 prosthetic arms and hands for recipients in Ireland and the UK have been manufactured. The range has been expanded to include modified joysticks for wheelchairs and heated joystick covers for wheelchairs.

Community Reuse Network Ireland ‘Remark’ Quality Mark of Excellence

ReMark is a quality mark already developed and piloted by CRNI with the support of EPA Green Enterprise funding. The Mark was specifically designed to address negative consumer perceptions about the quality and safety of reused or repaired goods by improving the standard of service and customer experience with reuse organisations, demonstrating to the public the commitment to quality, highlighting the social and environmental benefits of the goods and driving demand.

Rediscovery Centre’s Circular Economy Academy

The Rediscovery Centre’s Circular Economy Academy supports circular economy businesses across Ireland to maximise material reuse and prevent waste production. The service includes advice for start-up enterprises on circular business planning, funding, diversification, and training as well as supporting the replication of the Rediscovery Centre’s own paint, furniture, fashion and bicycle reuse initiatives.

Get in touch

If you have any queries on the circular economy and its impacts on, and opportunities for, your business, please contact Tim Keenan of our Sustainable Futures team. We'd be delighted to hear from you.

More in Sustainable Futures