Waste Reduction Bill badly needed to tackle our escalating plastic problem, Committee hears

The Government must support the straightforward and progressive policies in the Green Party’s Waste Reduction Bill to tackle our escalating plastic problem, the Oireachtas Environment Committee heard today.
Speaking before the Committee this afternoon, Mindy O’Brien, the Coordinator of VOICE – a leading environmental charity focused on tackling plastic pollution – told the Committee that new measures need to be brought in immediately to tackle the growing problem.
The Waste Reduction Bill proposes to introduce a ban on single-use non-compostable cups and other tableware and for the introduction of a deposit and return scheme for beverage containers. [1]
Ms O’Brien stressed that our current system to tackle waste is clearly failing, with the likes of plastic bottles and disposable coffee cups continuing to foul our countryside and destroy our marine environment. [2]
Deposit and return scheme
She urged the Committee to support the Green’s proposal for a deposit/refund scheme (DRS), which she said is similar to the “very popular and effective” deposit/refund scheme for glass bottles that was once the norm in Ireland.
This scheme petered out once Ireland joined the rest of the world in using single use drinks containers. As a result, we now generate around 3 billion single use plastic bottles, over 582 million aluminium cans and 718 million glass bottles in Ireland every year. [3]
Ms O’Brien said that the adoption of a container DRS has several advantages including higher recycling rates, cutting littering of beverage containers, saving money on litter clean-ups and creating new green jobs.
In countries where a deposit system has been implemented such as the Netherlands, Sweden and Finland, results have been positive with return rates reaching 80-95%, she added. [4]
A recent opinion poll carried by Coastwatch Ireland of 1,426 Irish adults and children over 10 found that 89% were favorable of a DRS scheme. [5]
Ban on Disposables Items
The Green’s proposed ban would apply to the sale or free distribution of non-compostable, disposable plastic cups, glasses, plates and other tableware from the 1st January 2020.
Ms O’Brien said that this “simple ban” could see Ireland follow in the footsteps of successful pioneer initiatives in France, Taiwan, and South Korea, as well as many states across the US. [6]
She warned, however, that any ban on plastic packaging may violate the EU Packaging Directive which prevents Member States from impeding “the placing on the market of their territory of packaging which satisfies the provisions of this Directive”. [7]
Ms O’Brien told the Committee that a levy at the point of sale – similar to the successful plastic bag levy – on plastic drinks bottles, plastic food containers and disposable coffee cups when sold with the beverage would better address this particular issue.
Latte Levy
Ms O’Brien previously appeared before the Budget Oversight Committee to outline the Pillar’s proposal for the introduction of a levy on single use non-compostable items. [8]
VOICE and the Environmental Pillar also support the Conscious Cup Campaign to sign up cafes to offer incentive to customers who use their own reusable cup.
The Government has since floated the idea of introducing a 15 cent latte levy on disposable coffee cups in an effort to reduce the two million cups going into landfill in Ireland every day.  [9]
On the issue of Ireland’s waste problem, Ms O’Brien said:
“As the contents of our city and town public bins and litter are rarely sorted to claim recyclable packaging, plastic and glass bottles and aluminium cans, this material goes directly to incineration or landfill, thus losing valuable resources forever either through disposal or by entering and damaging our natural environment.
“A simple stroll across a beach or street reveals that our current system is not working. Plastic bottles, aluminium cans, disposable coffee cups and other extraneous plastic waste foul our beautiful country and destroy the marine environment.”
On the Green party’s policy proposals in the Waste Reduction Bill, Ms O’Brien said:
“We believe that this long over-due and common sense piece of legislation would go a long way to reduce the amount of plastic and other materials littering our country-side, waterways, beaches and city streets.
“We urge you to move forward quickly to move this essential piece of waste legislation to restore the quality of our natural environment and to eliminate the unsightly litter we currently experience.”
On a single-use plastic packaging levy, Ms O’Brien said:
“Mirroring the success associated with the Irish Plastic Bag Tax, we assert that any single-use packaging levy should be imposed at the point of sale to consumers.
“This makes the levy visible and allows consumers to make the choice of bringing their own containers or pressure retailers to offer compostable containers.
“A levy would make consumers think about the packaging and single-use items they use and hopefully encourage them to make choices that would reduce the use of such items.”

[1] Green Party Waste Reduction Bill FactSheet: https://goo.gl/2ZGjsB
[2] A 2017 litter survey carried out by Coastwatch Ireland found that 80 per cent of coastal sites surveyed contained litter. Plastic bottles are outlined as the main culprit in the survey, with researchers finding an average of 18 bottles every 500m surveyed along our coasts.
[3] See Repak graph below for the year 2015:
Produced (tonnes)
Recycled (tonnes)
Number of containers recycled
Not Recycled (tonnes)
Number of containers not recycled
Percentage Recycled
Glass Packaging
629 mill
89 mill
Plastic Bottles
2.12 bill
920 mill
Aluminium Cans
318.5 mill
263.7 mill
[4] Green Party Waste Reduction Bill FactSheet: https://goo.gl/2ZGjsB
[5] Coastwatch. Tackling Drinks Container Litter on Irish shores: https://goo.gl/RTEfjP
[6] France has banned disposable plastic bags, cups and plates and has imposed requirements on disposable cutlery by 2020.  South Korea has banned the use of disposable plastic plates and bags and other single-use containers/items. In Taiwan, the government imposes large fines against businesses that give away plastic bags, utensils, and Styrofoam and plastic food containers. As such, plastic tableware has nearly disappeared from the island, with usage dropping by 90% since the restrictions took effect. The cities of Santa Monica and San Francisco in the US ban the use of non-recyclable plastic disposable food service containers which includes polystyrene. In Seattle, packaging must be compostable or recyclable. Washington, DC banned Styrofoam banned in 2014.
[7] European Parliament and Council Directive 94/62/EC of 20 December 1994 on packaging and packaging waste: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/en/TXT/?uri=celex%3A31994L0062
[8] 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 
Media Contact:
Niall Sargent
Communications Manager
Environmental Pillar
089 416 0141
Notes for Editor:
About the Environmental Pillar
The Environmental Pillar is a national social partner, comprising 28 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.
VOICE is a member-based Irish environmental charity that empowers individuals and local communities to take positive action to conserve our natural resources. It also 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.