January 11th, 2018
The State must step up its game to tackle plastic pollution in the wake of the UK’s new pledge to eliminate plastic waste by 2042, Ireland’s leading environmental coalition has said.
Launched by Prime Minister Theresa May this morning the 25 Year Environment Plan sets out the UK’s strategy to tackle plastic waste over the next quarter century.
Plans include the extension of the UK’s plastic bag levy, removing single-use plastics from government offices, and introducing plastic-free supermarket aisles. The UK’s microbeads ban also came into effect this week.
The Environmental Pillar – a coalition of 26 national environmental organisations – welcomed the move by the UK, and called on the Irish Government to show more urgency in bringing about policy change to tackle the “growing scourge of plastic pollution”.
By 2015, humans produced 6.3 billion tonnes of plastic waste – equivalent to the mass of 620,000 Eiffel Towers or 60 million blue whales. Only 9 per cent of this plastic waste was recycled and 79 per cent went to landfill or found its way into the environment.
Ireland is currently the top producer of plastic waste in Europe, producing 61kg of plastic waste per person each year. This is 9kg more than the second worst offender, Luxembourg.
According to the Pillar, the Government should now move to bring in a series of measures to cut down on our plastic consumption, including a levy on all single-use non-compostable items and a deposit scheme for the return of drinks containers.
Such policy recommendations were included in the Pillar’s Budget 2018 submission but were “ultimately ignored” by the Government, according to the coalition.
“However, with the Green Party’s Waste Reduction Bill 2017… our leaders have yet another opportunity to support progressive policy to tackle our escalating plastic problem,” said a Pillar spokesperson.
Waste Reduction Bill
The Green’s Bill is set to come before the Oireachtas Environment Committee for pre-legislative scrutiny in the coming weeks.
Launched in June 2017, the Bill outlines plans for an outright ban on single-use non-recyclable plastics such as coffee cups and plastic cutlery by 2020.
The Bill, which the Government voted against last year, also seeks to introduce a deposit refund scheme on drinks containers and a deposit-return scheme for plastic bottles.
Speaking today, Green Party Senator Grace O’Sullivan called on the Government to rethink its position on the Bill and face up to the “massive challenge” of tackling plastic pollution.
“According to the UN, eight million tonnes of plastic leak into oceans each year,” the Waterford Senator added. “This is equivalent to dumping a truck of plastic into the sea every minute.”
The issue is set to be further complication by the recent decision to ban the importation of solid waste including plastic by China, where the vast majority of Ireland’s plastic waste currently ends up.
The UK’s ban on the manufacture of microbeads in cosmetics and personal care products came into effect on Tuesday. The ban will be expanded to the sale of such products in July.
Microbeads are one form of microplastics, tiny plastic granules, pellets, fibers, and fragments that are less than 5 mm in diameters and often as thin as a human hair.
According to the EPA, potential health impacts included exposure to drinking water, accidental ingestion through bathing and consumption of food prepared using contaminated water.
Ms O’Sullivan called on the Irish Government to follow through on its own commitment to the introduction of a ban on microbeads.
In November 2016, then Minister for Housing Simon Coveney wrote to the European Commission to inform them of the Government’s plans to introduce legislation banning microbeads in 2017.
“Despite this, no progress has been made, no legislation is ready, and the Government has shown no commitment or urgency on the issue since then,” said Ms O’Sullivan.
Our Plastic Problem
There are currently more than five trillion pieces of plastic floating in our oceans, weighing a whopping 250,000 tons – the same weight as almost 25,000 Dublin buses. 
In a 2016 survey, Coastwatch Ireland found that 80 per cent of surveyed coastal sites contained litter, with plastic bottles the major source of litter. 
According to Coastwatch Coordinator, Karin Dubsky, there will be “frightening consequences” for our marine environment without “serious action” from both our Government and world leaders.
“We have already seen increased mortality in many species due to ingestion and entanglement, toxic and reproductive impact along food chains and we now routinely find plastic in the seafood on our own plates,” she warned.
She called on the Government to introduce a range of policy measures such as a deposit-return scheme to reduce this “stubborn widespread litter load” before it reaches our marine environment.
She added: “As with any problem, the best solution is to get to the very source of it and stem the flow of plastic into our waste stream and into the environment.”