Single-use plastic ban forthcoming across Government departments

October 5th, 2018

The Minister for the Environment is set to push for a ban on single-use plastic items across the public sector.

Speaking at the Environment Ireland conference yesterday, Denis Naughten TD said that extra attention will now go toward fighting the “proliferation of single-use plastics” across Ireland.

A broad suite of measures, he said, will be brought in to “keep single-use products out of consumers’ hands in the first place”.

Within Europe, Ireland is currently the top producer of plastic waste, producing 61kg of plastic waste per person each year.

The State needs to show leadership on the issue, he said, with plans in place to bring a Memorandum to Government in the coming weeks to ban certain single-use items across all Departments.

Mr Naughten said that he will seek to extend the ban to the Office of Government Procurement and Public Authorities later on, but did not specify which plastic items will be banned.

Earlier this year, Cork City Council banned disposable single-use coffee cups in their offices. The move follows a decision by Meath County Council in 2015 to replace disposable cups with reusable versions.

Professor Brian MacCraith, President of DCU (left) Minister for Climate Action and the Environment, Mr Denis Naughten TD (right) and Samantha Fahy Sustainabilty Manager DCU (centre) Photo: JULIEN BEHAL PHOTOGRAPHY

Criticism of Minister’s record

The announcement indicates a move toward stronger action against plastics, however, the Minister was criticised for his recent position on the latte levy and resistance to a nationwide deposit-return scheme.

In April, Mr Naughten said that his Department no longer plans to introduce a levy on compostable coffee cups as retailers move to introduce such cups on a larger scale.

The Minister said that he wants to support retailers in replacing their non-recyclable cups with compostable cups, and, as such, does not intend to introduce a levy on compostable cups.

Environmental groups criticised the move as compostable coffee cups require commercial composting to biodegrade and mostly end up in landfill as people throw them in general waste bins.

Compostable cups sent to recycling facilities can also end up contaminating recycled paper streams and then end up in incineration or landfill alongside traditional disposable cups.

Waste from the café sector has reached worrying proportions, with an estimated two million disposable coffee cups a day in Ireland going into landfill.

Plastic bottles being recycled Photo credit: VšĮ Užstato Sistemos Administratorius
Plastic bottles being recycled
Photo credit: VšĮ Užstato Sistemos Administratorius

Waste Reduction Bill

In May, Mr Naughten also tabled an amendment seeking a pilot deposit return rather than a mandatory national scheme under the Green Party’s proposed Waste Reduction Bill.

Launched in June 2017, the Bill outlines plans to tackle this issue, calling for an outright ban on single-use non-recyclable plastics such as coffee cups and plastic cutlery by 2020.

The amendment was voted down by the Oireachtas Environment Committee, with the Minister expressing his disappointment with the decision.

“I am not opposed to a deposit and return scheme in principle, but because it would cost approximately €116million of taxpayers’ money to implement, I need to be absolutely positive that it would work and be effective,” Mr Naughten said at the time.

Single-use plastic cup on beach Photo: Øyvind Holmstad
Single-use plastic cup on beach Photo: Øyvind Holmstad

Marine pollution

The issue of marine litter and microplastics is also a challenge that “needs to be addressed urgently”, Mr Naughten said at the conference yesterday.

He said that the State is set to introduce primary legislation to ban the sale of products with plastic microbeads.

Microbeads are tiny pieces of plastic found by the hundreds of thousands in shower gels, face-scrubs and toothpaste. They do not biodegrade and persist for a very long time, with a half-live of hundreds of years.

The Bill will be brought forward by the Minister for Housing, Eoghan Murphy TD and will look to restrict the manufacture, import, export or sale of certain products containing microbeads.

The proposed legislation, however, has long been delayed and the Government has been criticised for voting down Bills introduced by both Labour and the Green Party that looked to ban microbeads.

A Bill from Green Party Senator Grace O’Sullivan, for example, looked to monitor all microplastics in Irish water systems as microbeads make up only two to three per cent of microplastic found in the environment.

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