Urgent action needed to halt deluge of waste clogging our coast

Figures released today that 40 per cent of Irish coastal areas are badly littered is a clear sign that urgent action is needed to halt the deluge of waste clogging our cities, rural towns and marine environment.
The findings in the Irish Business Against Litter survey carried out by An Taisce builds upon the All-Ireland Coastwatch Survey earlier this year that found plastic bottles at over 80 per cent of coastal sites surveyed.  [1]
Clearly, our current system to tackle waste is failing, with the likes of plastic bottles and disposable coffee cups continuing to foul our countryside and destroy our marine environment.
The Environmental Pillar, Ireland’s leading environmental coalition, believes that the State can bring in a series of measures to cut down on our plastic consumption and put Ireland on the path to becoming a genuine leader in tackling litter and plastic pollution.
The introduction of a deposit-return scheme for drinks container, for example, would encourage recycling and is similar to the very popular and effective scheme for glass bottles that were once the norm in Ireland.
Similar schemes are a great success across Europe. In Lithuania, for example, 1.2 billion units of plastic beverage containers have been returned since the scheme launched in 2016. [2]
A levy on all single-use plastic items would also net the State additional revenue and encourage behavioural change as we saw with the plastic bag levy.
The levy would include items such as disposable coffee cups, plastic packaging and cutlery, and follow best practice from other EU member states.
The cost burden of such policies should not put be unduly put on consumers. As producers place unrecyclable and low-cost plastic packaging on the market, costs must be borne by the manufacturers under the “polluter pays” principle.
The above-proposed policy recommendations were included in the Pillar’s Budget 2018 submission and ultimately ignored by the Government. [3]
These policies are included in the Green Party’s Waste Reduction Bill and the Pillar urges the state to put its full support behind the Bill to tackle our escalating waste problem. [4]
Action would also help to tackle climate change, with a study released this month finding that plastic used in everyday items such as plastic bags emit greenhouse gases when exposed to sunlight. [5]
Pillar Spokesperson, 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.”
Environmental Pillar spokesperson and Co-Director of the Sick of Plastic Campaign, Mindy O’Brien, said:
“We are a long way off reducing the amount of waste packaging generated and the amount of single-use disposable items discarded in this country and need action now.
“The benefits of a deposit return scheme are already well established from examples in numerous EU states so it’s high time that we move forward and work to reduce the levels of plastic waste ending up in the environment and move towards a more sustainable, circular economy.
“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.”
[1] An Taisce has been involved in this area for years – for example #2minutebeachclean  (http://cleancoasts.org/our-initiatives/2minutebeachclean) and the Think Before You Flush campaign (http://thinkbeforeyouflush.org). Coastwatch survey results are available here: https://goo.gl/BHPwXG
[2] Solutions to our Plastic Problem: Lessons from Lithuania: https://goo.gl/bWw5Lp
[3] 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
[4] Green Party Waste Reduction Bill FactSheet: https://goo.gl/2ZGjsB
[5] Plos One. 2018. Production of methane and ethylene from plastic in the environment:  https://goo.gl/Jesc6A
Notes for Editor:
About the Environmental Pillar
The Environmental Pillar is a national social partner, comprising 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.
About the Sick of Plastic Campaign
The Sick of Plastic campaign aims to dramatically reduce single-use plastic waste in Ireland. The campaign is seeking a ban or levy on plastic coffee cups and a deposit and return scheme. In addition, the campaign plans to press supermarkets to reduce plastic packaging on the products they sell.