We need urgent changes to Ireland's waste policy

MINDY O’BRIEN, Co-ordinator Voice of Irish Concern for the Environment, reacts to Ireland’s National Waste Policy, 2020 to 2025 launched recently by the government
We need urgent changes to Ireland's waste policy

Ireland will introduce ambitious new targets to tackle waste and move towards a circular economy under a new plan announced recently by the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Eamon Ryan TD. Picture: Maxwells

CURRENTLY, Irish people consume approximately 580kg of waste per capita per year (above the EU average of 487 kg), including 60kg of plastic waste, the highest in Europe. Where have we gone wrong?

We can see more and more products over-packaged and using an increasing amount of plastic. Our fresh fruit and vegetable section of the supermarket, unlike the beautiful scenes in French, Spanish and Italian shops, is awash in plastic. Streets and beaches are littered with drinks containers and food packaging and our home bins, both the rubbish and recycling, overflow each week.

We need to make urgent changes, starting with the manufacturers and retailers selling us products, to reduce unwanted waste. The ‘producer pays principal’ has been around for a long time and its high time that we put it into practice so that all the burden to do the right thing doesn’t always fall on the consumer, although we do have an important part to play. Retail and manufacturing companies must make is easy for us to do the right thing.

Many people look towards recycling as the answer to all our waste woes. Yes, recycling is an important tool in our waste management toolbox, but it is not the first tool we reach for. We must prevent the creation of the waste in the first place and then look at opportunities to reuse items or repair and repurpose.

Here is where the new Waste Action Plan comes into play, which focuses on the promotion of waste prevention and the development of the circular economy to jump start Ireland’s journey to combat our over-consumption habits.

Mindy O’Brien Co-ordinator Voice Of Irish Concern for the Environment.
Mindy O’Brien Co-ordinator Voice Of Irish Concern for the Environment.

Many of the policy measures outlined in this action plan are designed to redefine how we look at resource use and waste, embracing a circular approach and investigating how to prevent waste at the beginning rather than building disposal systems to get rid of the waste at the product’s end.

We must design out waste and change current business models. The existing extract, consume and dispose consumption model has been revealed to be the cause of many of our environmental troubles, poisoning our oceans with plastics and harming developing countries living with the legacy of plastic mountains, contaminated water and polluted air. We cannot continue to consume as if the Earth has unlimited natural resources.

Saturday August 22 was Earth overshoot day, the day after which we are living beyond the resources the earth can sustainably provide.

The new waste action plan’s many actions embrace sustainable production and consumption and the objectives set out in Sustainable Development Goal 12, and we hope that this will contribute to the change in consumer behaviour necessary to support reuse. Climate breakdown is here and we need to move towards a circular economy and design out waste fast. Collaboration within the industry will be paramount in ensuring systemic change and developing sustainable reuse systems that provide economic efficiencies.

We call on supermarkets to do their part to make it easier for the ‘conscious consumer’ to do the right thing in reducing their waste generation, especially unneeded and unwanted plastic packaging.

They should offer refill solutions for dry goods and cleaning products so that shoppers can bring their own reusable containers or offer reusable containers that can be returned for further use.

Loose fruit and veg should be offered at a competitive price to pre-packaged items to encourage shoppers to shop package-free.

We welcome the following actions and urge their quick implementation:

  • The establishment of a Deposit Refund Scheme for plastic bottles and cans to reduce the amount of litter found on our streets, beaches and in the marine environment and to meet the mandatory 90% collection rate for plastic bottles as set out in the EU Single Use Plastic Directive;
  • The imposition of a latte levy as an economic incentive to encourage the take up and use of reusable cups, thus reducing the 200+ million disposable cups used in Ireland each year;
  • The future adoption of levies on ‘to go’ food containers to reduce the amount of unsustainable packaging used in this country and to pivot towards a new way of doing business, using more reusable and sustainable options;
  • Extending the ban of single use plastic items to include disposable coffee cups, condiment sachets and wet wipes, which are more and more often found littered on beaches and rivers.


VOICE is a member-based Irish environmental charity that empowers individuals and local communities to take positive action to conserve our natural resources.

VOICE advocates for the government and the corporate sector to adopt environmentally responsible behaviours, and for the development of strong national policies on waste and water issues.

VOICE was founded in 1997 following the closure of Greenpeace Ireland.

For more on their work see https://voiceireland.org/

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