Let’s all begin our battle against plastic

Ireland is now the top producer of plastic waste in the EU — we all have an important and immediate part to play in the battle against plastic, says MEP for Ireland South, Deirdre Clune
Let’s all begin our battle against plastic
Campaigners handing over a petition outside the Dáil recently calling for a deposit and return scheme for plastic bottles and cans. Picture: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

IRELAND was a forerunner in 2002 by being the first country to develop a policy on plastic bags. In the first year after legislation introducing a plastic bag levy, a reduction of 90% of plastic bags in Ireland was recorded.

However, according to new Eurostat figures, Ireland is now the top producer of plastic waste in the European Union, producing 61kg per person per year. In the past, China took 95% of Ireland’s plastic waste. However, as of January 2018, China has banned all foreign imports of plastics.

In my former life I worked as an engineer and studied environmental engineering. I believe passionately in sustainability and in the need to ensure that this generation’s activities do not have a negative environmental consequence for future generations.

That is why we need to change our “plastic ways” and tackle this issue today!

I was in Strasbourg as the European Commission launched the European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy, recently. This strategy outlines a major EU clamp down on single-use plastics, such as coloured plastic bottles, coffee cups, lid and stirrers, drinking straws, takeaway packaging and microbeads. I warmly welcome this, and believe strongly that industry must become more responsible in the use of plastics, both in terms of reduction and recyclability, and as consumers we must adapt our habits to reduce plastic usage. We can all play a part here and Europe, national governments and local authorities must lead and put the right policies in place to achieve their targets and prevent non-recycable plastics irreparably damaging our environment.

It is true that plastic as a material plays an important role in our lives today; it has lots of uses - it has advanced the delivery of safe medical care, ensured food is distributed in a safe and hygienic fashion and is present in so many products that facilitate daily living as we know it today. It is also cheap. But it has it’s downsides - it is mostly used just once, very little is recycled or recyclable and it has a negative effect on our environment. It is estimated that a discarded plastic bottle will be present for 100 to 400 plus years depending on the type - millions of tonnes of plastic end up in our oceans every year and are absorbed by fish and mammals which is a real concern for our marine environment.

Reducing the amount of plastics in our oceans and on our beaches is vital to protect marine ecosystem and also to ensure that fish, and as a result the food chain, are not further contaminated by plastics. We must embrace the move by Europe to eliminate single-use plastics, microbeads and marine litter as soon as possible. We cannot let plastic ruin our beautiful beaches and long sandy shores, as well as harming and killing our fish and damaging the natural food chain. For our fishing and tourism industry, as well as our own personal enjoyment of the stunning coast of Ireland, we simply must protect our blue planet.

While the government and local authorities are legislating for change when it comes to plastic usage, we can all begin our own battle against plastic waste. Both at the office and at home, we are not using any takeaway cups and we never use plastic straws and stirrers that we see in cafes and at airports. Using ‘real cups’ and KeepCups is a simple and easy alternative, and like the plastic bags, it’s a habit that you can get into quite quickly. Using alternatives to buying water in plastic bottles are also easily found, for example using a water filter jug at the office and at home.

Choosing to buy food without packaging where possible is also much better for the environment, and when something does come in a plastic container, we need to think about how we can reuse it instead of throwing it away after one use. There are lots of simple things that we can all make a difference. It all adds up in the battle to beat plastics impacting our beautiful planet.

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