Wednesday, 25 April 2018
27. To ask the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the way in which he plans to reduce the amount of plastic packaging being produced in view of the pollution levels in oceans and rivers from plastics. [18027/18]
My question relates to the major problem with plastic packaging. The Minister knows that the Sick of Plastic campaign day last Saturday by Friends of the Earth and others was a big success. There is a significant public appetite for change and the public is switched on to this issue. Young people specifically are tuned into what we need to do. We need to step up to the plate in this House, turn industry in a different direction and reduce the massive and completely unnecessary volumes of plastic waste.
I propose to take Questions Nos. 27 and 30 together.
Tackling the negative impact of plastic on our environment is a national and global challenge. I am working with my colleagues in Government and internationally to ensure that Ireland acts to protect our environment and at the same time provides new opportunities in a circular economy. I recently wrote to EU Commissioner Vella, who has responsibility for environment, maritime affairs and fisheries, to welcome the European strategy on plastics. I assured him that Ireland will fully embrace the ambition of the new strategy and indeed will strive to go beyond it. In response to the list of measures announced, I asked the Commissioner to focus, in particular, on the more difficult non-recyclable plastics, such as soft wrapping, film and single use items like coffee cups and plastic cutlery. The Commission has indicated that an announcement will be made next month about its intentions in this area. I believe that this will support EU member states in taking action on single use items and will result in new legislative proposals to take action at a European market level.
In that context, since I first mooted the introduction of a levy on single use non-recyclable coffee cups, some retailers are now moving to replace their non-recyclable cups with compostable cups. To support the elimination of single-use plastic cups by industry, I do not intend to introduce a levy on compostable cups. However, I am looking at a range of other potential levies on single use plastic items, unless there is constructive engagement by industry with my Department to eliminate these environmentally damaging plastic items. I am also looking at the plastic strategy's recommendations for national administrations to see what else can be delivered in a short timeframe. Many of the measures recommended in the strategy are already well-embedded into Irish resource management. These measures include the existing extended producer responsibility schemes run by Repak and the Irish Farm Film Producers Group, the landfill levy, and the plastic bag levy, as well as robust enforcement around illegal dumping and landfilling.
Although I am pleased that consecutive annual national litter pollution monitoring surveys have shown that the litter situation has been generally improving across the country, I am still concerned that fines for offences under the Litter Pollution Acts do not serve as a sufficient deterrent. Therefore, it is my intention to seek Government approval for substantial increases in the near future. Similarly, consumers need to be supported in their efforts to do the right thing around plastic recycling. The recent national recycling list and recycling ambassador programme try to ensure these valuable materials are used as a resource for our communities and economy rather than being wasted. I have asked the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment to look at the merits of a deposit and refund scheme at a national level. I look forward to working with the committee when it delivers its final report. In the meantime, I have asked my officials to set up a pilot scheme. This will allow me assess the likely impacts of the deposit and refund scheme in an Irish context. On marine plastic, my colleague, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, will bring in a Bill to prohibit the manufacturing, selling, importing or exporting of cosmetics, personal care products, detergents and scouring agents containing plastic microbeads that are liable to be washed into wastewater systems with the potential to reach our rivers, lakes and seas.
I thank the Minister for the reply. Some 983,380 tonnes of packaging waste were created in 2015, with 32% of plastic waste escaping collection, and that is a huge figure. The Minister referred to marine plastic. The study published by NUI Galway showed that 70% of fish in a remote part of the North Atlantic had plastic in their stomachs, having ingested it, which shows that we have a real problem. We saw the plastic islands in the ocean on television recently. This issue is now coming to the top of the public agenda. I ask the Minister to bring in a ban on microbeads. There is no need for microbeads in toothpaste or washing powder. There is no need for it in anything. It is simply a gimmick on supermarket shelves. Let us ban microbeads completely. I ask the Minister to do that.
China said it will not take our waste mountain of plastic because much of it is contaminated. If we have to send plastic waste abroad, we are trying to stop it at the wrong end. We need to stop and reduce the manufacturing of it. What are the alternatives to China and what will happen to the mountain of plastic waste that was being shipped out?
We will ban microbeads. It would have been more helpful if this could have been done at a co-ordinated European level rather than a domestic level but we are determined to bring forward legislation in this area to ban microbeads.
With regard to China, a reason that the Chinese closed the market was the scale of contamination. We are trying to reduce the contamination and that is why we have, as of last November, a uniform recycling list across the country. Whether one uses a green bin or a blue bin in different parts of the country, the same recyclables go into it. We are trying, through recycling ambassadors, to encourage people to present the recyclable material in a clean manner. The Deputy is right that the priority must be not to generate the waste in the first place or if we are generating that waste, for it to be in a manner that can be easily recycled. I am taking this up with my colleagues on the Council of Ministers, both privately and publicly, and directly with the Commission. I hope that we will make progress in this area in the short term.
One might wonder what would happen if we did not have voluntary groups picking rubbish from the rivers and canals. The Minister may have seen the group on television the other evening of people in Dublin picking up plastic rubbish from rivers an canals around the city. That happens right across the country and we support greater enforcement. The "Sick of Plastic" campaign run last Saturday indicates there is a major appetite among citizens to reduce this huge volume of plastic, as 40% of Europe's plastic is in packaging. We need a new initiative. The Minister mentioned a deposit and return scheme and I brought forward a Bill to reduce the amount of plastic waste and to put in place such a deposit and return scheme based on the model being used in other countries.
We also need to have changes to the household waste collection process as in parts of the country it is not fit for purpose. I ask the Minister, through Repak and the Department's enforcement activities, to encourage a reduction in the production of plastic. We must get this across to manufacturers. If we can stop the supply being fed through manufacturers to wholesalers, to retailers and to the shopper, we will be winning.
I am concerned by Deputy Stanley's comment on the collection system not being fit for purpose. If he has any specific details, I would like to hear them. I do not like hearing such comments and we want to ensure we have a system that is fit for purpose.
The Deputy is 100% correct that the priority must be on trying to reduce generation of this in the first place. What comes to mind is something on Twitter recently where a retailer in Italy sold peeled oranges in plastic containers, and this led to a huge public outcry. Consumers are moving against such a practice. The initiative taken by Super Valu on Saturday and which is practiced by some of the Super Valu supermarkets across the country on an ongoing basis is like something we have been discussing privately with the retail sector. Super Valu must be complimented on that. If much of the waste is collected in supermarkets, the retailers and producers will very quickly realise they must take action quickly on the matter.