Check Against Delivery
I would like to thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to speak on this important topic.
I was in Saint Patricks Boys National School in Drumcondra this morning and they are holding a plastic free day in the school tomorrow. Getting that level of understanding in young people around the issue of plastics and how to deal with plastic waste through reduction and recycling shows how much attention this problem is generating and this is to be welcomed.
I would like to acknowledge the "Sick of Plastic Campaign" which will run on 21st April. The 6 principles behind the campaign are extremely valid, such as retailers offering more products without packaging or with easily compostable or recyclable packaging, as well as householders and consumers choosing products with compostable or recyclable packaging or using less plastic. I have worked very successfully with the major retailers on the issue of Food Waste and I know there will be a similar level of focus on plastics going forward.
In January, the EU Commission published its European Strategy for Plastics in the Circular Economy. The strategy focuses on plastics production and use and sets a goal of ensuring all plastic packaging is recyclable by 2030.
The strategy asks Member States to consider using the Extended Producer Responsibility model in dealing with plastics. This is a model we have used very successfully in Ireland. Repak is this year celebrating 20 years of being the Producer Responsibility Scheme for packaging in Ireland. The success of this scheme is evident in the consistent exceedance of all EU packaging targets. In addition, Ireland has operated a very successful Producer Responsibility Scheme, since 2001, for the collection of agricultural non-packaging plastics.
My officials have also been encouraging stakeholders in Ireland to ensure they engage with the Commission on the Pledging Campaign contained in the Strategy.
I am also working at grass root level in Ireland as I believe education is the key to affecting change. Last November, I launched the first ever national recycling list that covers the entire country. Regardless of where you live or who collects your recycling bin, now the materials that go into the recycling bin are the same.
I also launched the recycling ambassadors programme at the end of 2017. It aims to provide some 650 workshops across the country to educate communities about how to use the recycling bins properly.
Other suggestions have been made to me including the introduction of a Deposit and Return Scheme for plastic bottles. The merit of its introduction in Ireland is still under consideration. Introducing changes without detailed examination can have unintended consequences. At present, our waste performance meets our waste targets and is well ahead of most of our EU colleagues. There is no indication of what deposit charge is being proposed. One deposit-return machine in a shop could cost about €35,000 to buy. Any new scheme should be clear about how much it will cost, what additional waste benefit will be achieved, and does it tackle the largest problems. The introduction of an expensive new system on top of what is a successful kerbside collection system needs to be analysed carefully.
It should be borne in mind that the main cause of litter pollution in Ireland in 2016 related to cigarette litter. Bottles only accounted for 1.6% percent of the litter composition. Although I am pleased that consecutive annual National Litter Pollution Monitoring Surveys have shown that the litter situation is generally improving across the country in recent years, I am still concerned that the fines for offences currently in place under the Litter Pollution Acts do not serve as a sufficient deterrent, so it is my intention to seek Government approval for substantial increases in the statutory fines for litter offences in the near future.
Finally, I recently wrote to the EU Commissioner with responsibility for the Environment welcoming the recent Plastics Strategy. I assured him that Ireland fully embraces the ambition of the new strategy. I asked the Commissioner to focus in particular on the more difficult non-recyclable plastics such as soft wrapping, film and single use items like coffee cups and plastic cutlery. On foot of that, I am looking forward to the Commission proposing EU-wide actions to tackle single-use plastic items next month.
Ceann Comhairle, I do not have time to fully outline to you all the other work I am doing in relation to plastics, for example, under the National Waste Prevention Programme. However, I am very aware that plastic is an urgent global problem. Ireland is taking action; and, in partnership with our European colleagues, will take more action.