by Angela Ruttledge
Plastic is choking our waterways, endangering our health and contributing to global warming. Did you know that we are producing more plastic packaging year on year in Ireland?
Sick of Plastic has just released its Grocery Report calling out supermarkets for the amount of plastic they place on the market and demanding an ambitious Circular Economy bill to adopt ambitious measures to reduce plastic packaging.
Of the 319,082 tonnes of plastic packaging waste generated in Ireland in 2019, only 28% was recycled (EPA)
Greenpeace has calculated[i] that in the UK the total weight of single-use plastics from supermarkets in 2019 was 653,000tonnes. On a pro rata basis per head of population that would indicate single use plastic generated by Irish supermarkets was around 48,000 tonnes in 2019.
But there is an answer: Refill and Reuse. Lidl in France has had refill options in store since 2017.
Here in Ireland, some small independent stores have begun offering goods in reusable and refillable containers. This is an incredible undertaking by environmentally conscious businesses and a fantastic service for consumers but it is not enough to have any meaningful impact on the rate of output of plastic in the grocery sector. We believe supermarkets want to change but voluntary plastic reduction targets are not sufficient.
In order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, and to protect our health and natural environment, in order to achieve the EU plastic packaging recycling rate target of 50% by 2025 and 55% by 2030, Ireland needs to implement reuse and refill on a mandatory basis and to offer support for systems change and reuse infrastructure now.
Our Sick of Plastic report on Refill and Reuse in the Grocery Sector contains thirteen key recommendations:
· At least 25% of consumer packaging should be reusable by 2025, increasing to 50% by 2030.
· At least 75% of transit packaging should be reusable by 2025, increasing to 90% by 2030.
· 20% of the floor surface of shops larger than400 sq. meters should be fitted with refill systems by 2030.
· Beverage container refill target of 35% by 2025, increasing to 70% by2030.
· Financial support for the installation of reuse infrastructure.
· Fiscal incentives to effect behaviour change and encourage the move to reuse.
We are calling on the government to implement these recommendations as part of its circular economy strategy in, or in parallel to, the Circular Economy Bill. Reuse and refill systems complement and improve upon the ‘polluter pays’ framework by aiming for a significant reduction in waste, reuse and full cost recovery. It simply isn’t enough for supermarkets to contribute towards the collection and recycling of their packaging waste through the existing Extended Producer Responsibility scheme, REPAK.
What's happening in other countries?
Other European countries have already introduced mandatory targets. In France a law introduced in 2020 aims to increase the proportion of reusable packaging on the market to 5% by 2023, 10% by 2027. The reusable containers must be recyclable at the end of life. By 2030, 20% of the floor surface of shops larger than 400 square metres must be fitted with refill systems. Separately, as of 1st January 2022 France has banned plastic on many fruit and vegetables in its supermarkets. Germany has adopted a target of 70% reusable beverage packaging. From this year businesses must offer a reusable alternative to consumers, which must not be more expensive than the single use option. This is having an immediate effect on demand for reusable systems. In Romania, from 2020 businesses that put packaged goods on the market must demonstrate an annual average of 5% reusable packaging across all packaging formats, increasing by 5% per annum until reaching a minimum of 25% by 2025. Retailers will be required to give their customers the opportunity to choose reusable packaging and return it to the store. There are exemptions for small businesses.