The State must step up its game to tackle plastic pollution in the wake of the UK’s pledge to eliminate plastic waste by 2042, Ireland’s leading environmental coalition has said.
Measures in the UK’s new 25 Year Environment Plan launched by UK Prime Minister Theresa May this morning include extending 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 – welcomes the move by the UK, and would like to now see more urgency from our own Government in bringing about policy change to tackle the growing scourge of plastic pollution.
We believe that the State can go much further than our UK counterparts, starting with a series of measures to cut down on our plastic consumption, encourage behavioural change and also net the State additional revenue.
Such measures include:
- The introduction of a levy on all single-use non-compostable items
- The introduction of a deposit scheme for the return of drinks containers
- The introduction of a ban on microbeads which the Government said it planned to bring into effect last year 
Many of these policy recommendations were included in the Pillar’s Budget 2018 submission and ultimately ignored by the Government. 
However, with the Green Party’s Waste Reduction Bill 2017 set to come before the Oireachtas Environment Committee for pre-legislative scrutiny in the coming weeks, our leaders have yet another opportunity to support progressive policy to tackle our escalating plastic problem. 
Our Plastic Problem
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.
Shockingly, only 9 per cent of this plastic waste was recycled and 79 per cent went to landfill or found its way into the environment. The remaining 12 per cent was incinerated. 
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. 
Pillar Spokesperson and VOICE Coordinator, Mindy O’Brien, said:
“In light of the UK’s positive announcement today and China’s recent decision to ban the importation of plastic waste, our Government must take concrete action before we are completely inundated with waste plastic. 
“Yet, we are still a long way off reducing the amount of waste packaging generated and the amount of single-use disposable items discarded in this country.”
“Every year we delay laying out our vision for the future of our country, the less we will be able to cope with the ever-increasing load of plastic waste causing great stress to our environment, both on land and at sea.”
Pillar Spokesperson and Coastwatch Coordinator, Karin Dubsky, said:
“The amount of marine litter in our oceans is predicted to increase year-on-year. Within serious action from both our Taoiseach and other world leaders, there will be frightening consequences for our marine environment.
“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.
“We are calling on the Government to introduce a range of policy measures to reduce this particularly stubborn widespread litter load before it reaches our marine environment.
“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.”
 A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment: https://goo.gl/EbxX7V
 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: https://goo.gl/MgHnTQ
 The Pillar submission outlined three key proposals to protect our natural environment, bring in over €200m in additional revenue, and bolster an ailing Environment Fund: https://goo.gl/1hWwAK
 The Green Party’s Waste Reduction Bill 2017: https://goo.gl/A4pv8A
 ScienceAdvances, Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made, 5 July 2017: https://goo.gl/sUUucV
 PlosOne, Plastic Pollution in the World’s Oceans: More than 5 Trillion Plastic Pieces Weighing over 250,000 Tons Afloat at Sea, December 2014: https://goo.gl/B8JqfJ
 Coastwatch Ireland, Waste and Marine Litter Found and How To Tackle It From Cradle to Grave , https://goo.gl/JJ2Ux6
 World Trade Organisation, China’s import ban on solid waste queried at import licensing meeting, 3 October 2017: https://goo.gl/tQJq29
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About the Environmental Pillar
The Environmental Pillar is a national social partner, comprising 26 national environmental organisations. It works to promote the protection and enhancement of the environment, together with the creation of a viable economy and a just society, without compromising the viability of the planet on which we live for current and future generations of all species and ecosystems.