THE statistics are staggering. By 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Over the past 10 years, Ireland has produced more plastic than in the entire previous century. In the last five years alone, the amount of plastic packaging in Ireland has nearly doubled, to 300,000 tonnes per annum.
We are drowning in plastic.
Anybody who buys groceries in supermarkets is regularly inundated with plastic packaging. Just last week I was stunned to see a shop employee bagging bananas that were loose. I can’t imagine why bananas should be wrapped in plastic, since they already have their own natural packaging.
Shows such as Blue Planet II, EcoEye and The Story of Stuff, and campaigns including Sky News Ocean Rescue and TCD Plastic Free highlight and underscore the adverse impact plastic has on our natural environment, wildlife, and climate. We do not need this amount of plastic — only a few decades ago we got by without this material; a material that is produced primarily by the input of fossil fuels such as oil and gas.
A huge problem with this rise in plastic packaging is that much of this plastic is not even recyclable. The consumer is required to figure out where to dispose of such packaging and also has to pay for its disposal when it is not recyclable.
People are growing more and more concerned that plastic, which is used for such a short time, takes hundreds of years to decompose. This is causing terrible damage to the oceans, devastating wildlife, and sullying our communities. It is clear that the tide of plastic isn’t ebbing — it’s rising.
But there is hope.
It seems that many people have reached a tipping point with their acceptance of plastic and are much more aware of the harm it is causing. The Sick of Plastic campaign is supporting the Waste Reduction Bill which has had one positive vote in the Dáil and is now being considered by the Oireachtas Committee on the Environment. The Bill would introduce a deposit and return scheme for drinks containers to motivate people to return their plastic bottles and aluminium cans to reclaim their 10c deposit. Now that the UK has decided to move ahead with their own deposit and return scheme, there is little excuse for the Irish government not to follow suit.
Incentives like these will reduce the amount of litter strewn around our countryside, streams, and beaches. The Waste Reduction Bill would also ban or tax disposable plastic plates, cups, and other tableware, (including one of the most notoriously inefficient single-use items, plastic coffee cups).
Coffee shops and supermarkets would be encouraged to offer compostable packaging. However, waiting for government action is not enough, and there are other players that can be directly pressured into taking action. This is where the Sick of Plastic Day of Action on Supermarket Packaging comes in.
The Sick of Plastic Campaign recognises that supermarkets and their suppliers are direct contributors to the incredible waste we are experiencing, and that the public can put direct pressure on them to change their purchasing and packaging decisions. Sick of Plastic has written to the bosses of all the large supermarket chains, urging them to take these six steps to greatly reduce their plastic packaging waste.
1. Offer more items without packaging, such as fruit and vegetables (without plastic trays, wrapping and nets).
2. Make their own-brand packaging easily compostable or recyclable, and use less plastic.
3. Demand, through their purchasing power, that other brands you carry have easily compostable or recyclable packaging, and use less plastic.
4. Blaze a trail in Ireland by implementing a plastic free aisle, as has been done in the Netherlands.
5. Provide items in bulk, where possible, to reduce packaging.
6. Allow shoppers use their own containers to buy dried goods, buying only what they need.
To put the proper amount of pressure on these supermarkets, however, there needs to be an overwhelming show of public support for these changes. That’s why the Sick of Plastic Campaign has organised a “Shop and Drop” day on Saturday, April 21. We are asking people to do their shopping as normal, and then to remove and leave their excess packaging at the till after they have paid.
In addition, we are looking for volunteers who will be on hand outside the supermarkets to give shoppers postcards listing the six steps supermarkets can take. Shoppers can sign them and hand them to the cashiers with their packaging.
Our volunteers and organisers are also contacting local supermarket managers directly, to make sure they are aware of the Day of Action so that they and their staff can be prepared.
We know that the rise of plastic packaging is in no way the fault of the cashiers and want to work with them as much as possible. Indeed some of the managers themselves have expressed that they too, are sick of plastic, and are as keen as we are to see the day when we no longer feel so overburdened by plastic packaging.
Public opinion has turned on plastic. And we know that supermarkets are responsive to consumer demand. This day of action can highlight just how sick of plastic shoppers are. Working together we can turn the tide on plastic pollution and waste.
For more information, or to sign up as a volunteer or organiser, please visit http://www.foe.ie/sickofplastic.