Plastic was hailed as one of our top inventions. It is everywhere and at the moment, it is public enemy number one.
In truth we rely on plastic a lot; our planes and cars are made of plastic. Safety equipment, car seats, toys, clothing and a lot more. However, if we stop to look around us it quickly becomes apparent just how much unnecessary, single-use, and poor quality plastics are all around us, especially wrapped around and sitting on our food.
PLASTIC IS TERRIBLE FOR OUR HEALTH
We are all exposed to hundreds of man-made chemicals in our daily life, coming from everyday products including food, furniture, packaging and clothes. Many of these chemicals will have no negative effects on us, but it is now well established that some are able to disrupt normal development of the brain and bodies.
Chemical exposures are so ubiquitous that experts have recognized that babies are born “pre-polluted”.
A lot of food packaging contains chemicals that are harmful to human health. Chemicals can leach from the packaging – also called food contact materials (FCM) – and contaminate food and drink.
Here we’re talking about things like plastic tubs, wrappers and bottles, but also cardboard containers and grease-proof linings. These types of packaging are not effectively regulated in the EU. They may therefore contain harmful chemicals.
Current legislation isn’t good enough to protect us. That’s why an organisation like CHEM Trust is calling for stricter regulation of chemicals in food packaging.
Meanwhile, there are things you can do to reduce your exposure to harmful chemicals from food packaging.
Avoid or reduce your consumption of:
- Plastic bottles
- Plastic food wrap
- Take-away and fast-food containers
- Packaging with greaseproof lining
- Canned foods
- Packaging labelled with recycling codes 3 and 7.
At the same time we are seeing an alarming increase in hormone-related diseases in people caused by endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs).
Health concerns related to EDCs include:
- Fertility problems
- Birth defects of the genitals
- Hormone-related cancers – such as breast, testicular, and prostate cancer
- Impaired brain development
- Obesity and diabetes.
Numerous laboratory studies and epidemiological trends have strengthened concerns that the rise in the incidence of reproductive problems, hormone-related cancers and other metabolic diseases is partly linked to exposure to EDCs. There are also mounting concerns about impacts on wildlife.
Leading scientists around the world – for example, from the international Endocrine Society – have repeatedly raised the alarm and called on decision makers to take more effective steps to reduce exposure to EDCs. For several years the European parliament and member states have put pressure on the European Commission to act on EDCs.
Until now, however, the EU Commission has failed to properly protect human health and the environment from exposure to endocrine disruptors.
PLASTIC IS TERRIBLE FOR OUR ENVIRONMENT
Plastic is a by-product of the oil and gas industry. Ethane, a by-product of fracking, is needed to produce 99% of all plastics. On the other end of its life-cycle plastic can take up to a 1,000 years to decompose. So we should only make a limited amount of plastic right? And make sure it is reusable, wherever possible right?
But that is not what’s happening…
- The average amount of time a plastic bag is used is 12 minutes.
- It takes a plastic bottle 450 years to decompose
- The burning of plastic causes a person to die of respiratory illnesses every 30 seconds.
All around Ireland we are witnessing the effects of the over production of plastic. Our beaches, fields, road sides and rivers are filled with plastic rubbish. There are warriors all over the thirty two counties of Ireland that are waging war against this plastic tide. Our social media feeds are filles with images of ‘vintage’ plastic (old washing up, shampoo bottles etc). Plastic rubbish takes many life times to break down and leaks chemicals while doing so. There is not one ocean or continent on Earth that is not contaminated with a toxic cocktail of many different synthetic chemicals. We have found micro plastics as deep as the Marianne Trench and as high as the top of Sagarmatha (aka Mount Everest).
However Fossil fuel companies have invested more than $180 billion into building plastic production facilities (2000-2018) and that money will fund the building of more plastic production facilities in the next decade, going against the trend of rising concerns over plastic use and production.
- Plastic Production Will Increase by 40% Over the Next Decade
- Currently only 9% of plastic waste is recycled.
- There is already enough plastic in the ocean to circle the earth 425 times, and over the next 10 years, there could be much more.
That’s where we come in…
The ‘Sick of Plastic Ireland’ campaign has focused its energies on pressuring Irish supermarkets, industry and the government to come up with definitive plastic reducing reductions since 2018.
In 2018 we first launched our SoP petition. Some of our demands will soon become a reality. We will continue to keep the pressure on ad demand more.
So what's the story and what has/will change?
Success! The Programme for Government – Our Shared Future – and the Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy set out the Government’s commitment to introduce a Deposit and Return Scheme (DRS) for plastic bottles and aluminum cans. Our parent NGO VOICE Ireland is launching a new DRS campaign that will advocate for the correct installation of a workable DRS. We will report back on its progress here. Unfortunately glass is not being included, however Ireland already has very high recycling rates for glass.
Ireland's Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy '20 said it wants to work "over time" towards the elimination of disposable coffee cups stream through the introduction of a “latte levy” in 2022, trialing the elimination of coffee cups entirely in selected areas, the introduction of measures to ban their unnecessary use, an eventual full ban on disposable cups.
Unfortunately not much has changed in this area. Compostable alternatives are becoming more popular to reduce plastic packaging. However there is a lot of confusion as to what exactly qualifies as compostable and where it should go. If compostable cups for example are put in the wrong bin (general waste) they will produce methane gas (20 times worse than CO2) in landfill.
Encourage and reward the use of reusable items We want to see refill targets in our supermarkets. SoP is supporting Break Free From Plastic's #WechooseReuse Campaign and will actively promote and celebrate shops and businesses around Ireland that offer Refill and Reuse options this year.
A ban on Single - Use Plastics Success! Ireland's Waste Action Plan said it wants to:
- Impose environmental levies on food containers
- Examine the prohibition of the use of disposable cold drinks cups at large scale events.
The E.U's plastic strategy will look to ban all single use plastic items, such as:
- cutlery (forks, knives, spoons, chopsticks);
- cotton bud sticks;
- beverage stirrers;
- sticks to be attached to and to support balloons;
- food containers made of expanded polystyrene;
- products made from oxo-degradable plastic.
This ban will become law in the EU countries by 3 July 2021.
HOWEVER There are still a lot of discussions on the European Commission especially on the interpretation of the definition of plastics. Industry is pushing back. We don't want viscose and cellophane excluded from the directive.
- If they are excluded Viscose wipes could label their wipes as “plastic-free”. This is likely to lead to a shift in the market of wipes (and possibly sanitary products) towards those materials. Notably because the price gap between conventional plastic and viscose wipes for example will reduce if the viscose producers do not have to pay EPR cost. We know that Wet Wipes and tampons made of viscose and rayon behave in the same way and contribute similarly to blockages and ultimately to plastic (marine) pollution.
Ireland (through Minster Eamon Ryan) supports the inclusion of Viscose and cellophane in the directive. We applaud Minister Ryan and ask that he puts pressure on his European counterparts to do the same.