Together with Friends of the Earth, VOICE have been working to tackle single use plastics through our joint Sick of Plastic Campaign. The campaign kicked off in January this year when 100's showed up to deliver an Uplift petition calling for the government to bring in a deposit return scheme (DRS) to Ireland. Diane Forsythe, a member of the Zero Waste Facebook group, began the petition after seeing how well DRS works over in Norway, where she had lived for a number of years.
From there, the Sick of Plastic team mobilised 1000's in a 'Shop and Drop' day of action where customers left their unwanted plastic packaging behind in supermarkets. Since then, petitions from Uplift and Friends of the Earth have gathered over 30,000 signatures sending a clear message that the public want action taken on plastic. Yesterday, we finally delivered these petitions over to TDs!
There is no doubt that the Irish public truly is sick of plastic. You would think our government would be backing the public's demands to implement measures to tackle plastic, but they have failed to deliver.
The Green Party first called for measures to be taken on plastics in June 2017, and got cross party support immediately backing the Waste Reduction Bill. The bill had been making progress up until former Environment Minister Denis Naughten refused to issue a money message which would allow it to progress on to the next stage. Again, yesterday, Fine Gael refused to progress the bill when it was brought up for debate in the Dáil. Fine Gael are not listening to the public, as voters we encourage you to talk to your local Fine Gael TDs and push them to act on plastic.
Meanwhile, over in Brussels...
The Irish political system is heavily influenced by the EU. We often get caught up in local politics and forget about the European Parliament, but it's important to keep an eye on this because whatever plastic legislation emerges from EU will determine the plastic reduction roadmap that will dictate Ireland’s future actions.
EU Plastics Legislation has been put forward to reduce litter, particularly marine litter, and to force businesses to take responsibility for the products they place on the market. It will also encourage corporations to adopt a more sustainable approach to product design if they are responsible for its disposal.
Last week, VOICE joined other member groups from 'Break Free From Plastic' and 'Rethink Plastic Alliance' in meetings with with their country's MEPs. Mindy O'Brien, VOICE Coordinator, met with Mairead McGuinness, Brian Hayes, Sean Kelly and Marian Harkin asking them to support a strong plastics bill. Particularly, we want to ensure that plastic producers take responsibility for cleaning up litter.
Currently, producers pay for the collection of packaging through paying fees (€89/tonne) to REPAK, which are used to subsidise the collection of our recycling bins. However, they don’t spend a penny on the clean-up of litter, which is composed of at least 50% of packaging. This burden falls on local authorities who use taxpayer funds to pay around €600 tonne on street sweeping, litter pick-up and street bin management, over 6 times the amount that producers pay to place the packaging on the market in the first place!
Pushing for new policy is always hard, because we are up against big industry who just want to continue with business as usual. Industry don't want to pay for cleaning up plastic, they want to leave the financial burden on the consumer.
But we have some good news!
Thanks to the great work being done by NGO's and people voicing their concerns all across Europe, today our MEPs took us one step further in the fight against plastic!
A large majority in the European Parliament voted today to strengthen the European Commission’s plan to cut pollution from single-use plastic items. The Parliament voted to ban some of the most problematic throwaway products, such as expanded polystyrene food containers, and to ensure producers are held accountable for the costs of single-use plastic pollution. For fishing gear, one of the largest contributors to marine litter, harmonised standards will be developed and minimum collection and recycling targets will be set at the EU level.
The pressure is on, but we need to continue pushing for action on plastics.
Read more on the EU measures here in our latest press release.