'Irish Times' view on environment: The war on plastics

Ireland has moved from laggard to European leader in recycling waste packaging over the past 20 years

Environmental campaigners hold a demonstration outside the Dáil.

 

It has been predicted there will be more plastic waste than fish in our oceans by 2050 – another indication of the scale of contamination it is wreaking.

Ireland has moved from laggard to European leader in recycling waste packaging over the past 20 years. Yet we continue to generate around three billion “single-use” plastic bottles every year, most of which used to be shipped to China. Millions of bottles still go to landfill or are incinerated instead of being recycled. Annual reports by the environmental group Coastwatch confirm the extent of the damage.

Single-use plastics take five seconds to produce, you use it for five minutes and it takes 500 years to break down again

A UN resolution agreed in Kenya last month states the world needs to move urgently to completely stop plastic waste from entering the oceans. The EU on Tuesday announced it is to wage war against plastics as part of its strategy to ensure every piece of packaging is reusable or recyclable by 2030. A greater sense of urgency was no doubt prompted by China’s decision to ban imports of foreign recyclable material, but the strategy is far-reaching.

It proposes taxes on polluting behaviour and moves to modernise plastics production. It will lead to a clampdown on “single-use plastics that take five seconds to produce, you use it for five minutes and it takes 500 years to break down again” – notably throw-away items such as drinking straws and bottles that do not degrade.

It has coincided with consideration by an Oireachtas committee of a waste reduction Bill, sponsored by the Green Party. It proposes a deposit refund scheme for drinks containers and a ban on single-use plastic materials and non-compostable coffee cups. Such actions have considerable merit, provided they can be made compatible with existing “producer responsibility” schemes operated by industry and retailers.

The supermarket group Iceland has announced it is to be the first major retailer in the UK and Ireland to commit to eliminating plastic packaging for all own-brand products by 2023. All told, it has been a good week on the plastics war front.

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