Around 20 or 30 years ago, an average person would be hard-pressed to find food waste regulations anywhere in Ireland. However, since the population started growing exponentially, the problem of food waste and regulating it has come to the foreground. More and more food is being thrown away each year which is slowly damaging the environment as well as creating a moral dilemma of throwing away perfectly good food when millions of people are currently experiencing grave food insecurity. In the 1990s, Ireland was only managing their waste without any efforts being made towards reducing their output. In return, this caused the Irish government to face heavy criticism. In recent years, the Irish government has responded to this backlash by making an increased effort into managing, as well as reducing the amount of waste produced through creating and enforcing requirements made of both restaurants and everyday households.
1996January 1, 1996The Waste Management Act 1996 created new policies and regulations regarding the management and disposal of food waste.
1998January 1, 1998Government policy document “Waste Management: Changing our Ways” created which detailed recovery and recycling targets that were set to be achieved over a period of fifteen years.
2002January 1, 2002“Preventing and Recycling Waste: Delivering Change” document published which brought the topics of recycling and waste prevention into discussion.
2003January 1, 2003The Protection of the Environment Act 2003 was created to bring more importance to the existing waste code.
2008January 1, 2008National Hazardous Waste Management Plan 2008-2012 and the EPA’s enforcement also became much stricter.
2011January 1, 2011The Minister for the Environment, Community, and Local Government gave new policies and regulations in regard to waste including the reduction of waste in landfills. It also started the services to segregate household waste which becomes a requirement.
2013January 1, 2013National Waste Report 2012 was published and available through the EPA website.
Globally, the issue of food waste has become a serious problem with Radio Free Europe reporting that up to 1.3 billion tons of food is lost or wasted in a single year across the world. Because of this startlingly large number, the European Union and the United Nations are creating a wide-spread action plan for numerous countries to reach by 2030. This plan, the Sustainable Development Goal, aims to reduce food waste at the retail and consumer level by half.
In Ireland, legislation reducing the amount of food waste began in 1996 with the Waste Management Act. This act changed the methods and regulations for the treatment and disposal of food waste. In the following years, several more documents were created in order to keep up with the growing population and the subsequent increase in food waste. These documents were called “Waste Management: Changing Our Ways” of 1998 and “Preventing and Recycling Waste: Delivering Change” of 2002. The EPA also has set food waste standards in Ireland and Galway aiming at being more environmentally aware, specifically with the goal of reducing and eventually ending the use of large landfills. This resulted in the Protection of the Environment Act of 2003.
Looking specifically at Galway, the starting point was with the Galway City Council. Their website lists their current or updated legal documents, including those detailing their regulations for the disposal of food waste created in 2009 and 2015. Food waste in Galway under legislation is separated into two different factions: households and commercial kitchens including restaurants, cafes, hot food outlets, hotels, airports, and universities. Each faction has its own rules and regulations which they must follow otherwise they will face legal penalties, usually a fine of anywhere from 1,000 to 15,000 euros. Households must separate their waste into three different bins: the first is for recyclables, the second for any waste that can be composted such as eggshells, fruits, and vegetables, and the third is for any waste that cannot be recycled or composted. This allows the waste that can be reused for energy to be sent to the correct facilities while the non-recycled and non-compostable waste is reduced as much as it can be. Restaurants must follow a similar procedure, however, the normal waste that cannot be composted or used for energy must to paid for to be taken away which is an incentive for restaurants to lower the amount of food waste that they create.
There have been some changes in recent years regarding the disposal of food waste in Galway. Ten to fifteen years ago, it was perfectly normal, in fact it was even encouraged, for a restaurant to be able to donate any of their leftover food to farmers for their livestock or to the people on the street that are food-insecure. However, recent legislation in 2014 prevents commercial restaurants from donating food in this manner because in the previous year several businesses were fighting fines in court over allegations of them violating food hygiene laws. Today, restaurants must be careful and protect themselves because the possibility of a civil lawsuit is too high. This is unfortunate for the previous recipients of their donated or leftover food that now either goes to waste or restaurants must find new ways of preventing overproduction or overordering.
Managing and reducing the amount of food waste that is created in Galway, Ireland, and across the world will aid in ensuring that people in need will not go without food and the environment will recover from the damage that has, unfortunately, already been done and the use of landfills as a disposal method. Previously, restaurants had avenues that allowed them to donate their unused food that would go to waste otherwise, however, the new policies prevent restaurants from doing so. It seems like the only way to continue to reduce food waste in Galway is to try to prevent overproduction or overordering of food or to put into action new policies that could keep the food safe and hygienic enough that would allow it to be donated. There could also be more charitable organizations created in Galway that would take on the burden of food safety; this would leave the restaurants free from any liability while being able to donate their unused food to people in need. These solutions are more difficult to implement as it sounds; Galway is a major tourist destination, so the problem of food waste is not one that restaurants always want to keep in mind.