By PJ Cunningham
Ireland is the EU’s top producer of plastic waste among the current 28 nations – and one of the very worst at tackling climate change.
Damning statistics from the latest Eurostat figures show that of top five plastic waste offenders, worked out on a per capita basis, Ireland comes out worst ahead of Luxembourg, Estonia, Germany and Portugal – the five worst performers in the EU.
In Ireland’s case, each person produces of over 9.5 stones (61 kilogrammes) of plastic waste every year.
It also emerged that waste companies that collect plastic have been failing to engage in any meaningful form of recycling.
That means that more than 20 years of supposed recycling has been nothing of the sort.
Up until last year Ireland’s dubious distinction as the ‘bad boy of Europe’ was concealed masked because the Irish government had farmed out waste to China, which took 95 per cent of the country’s plastic waste.
But since China started to turn away waste from Europe and the US, Ireland has been forced to look for alternative solutions to its poor waste management record.
The governing Fine Gael party – propped up independent TDs and by Fianna Fáil – was last week accused of being “all talk and no action” after it blocked attempts by the Green Party to ban single-use plastics.
The government said such a law would breach EU law.
But Green Party leader Eamon Ryan dismissed this as rubbish and pointed out that similar laws are already in force in France and Italy.
If there was a genuine will to do so, he said, the government would get cross-party support for the Green Party’s bill to reduce the “scourge of plastic.”
He said of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Fine Gael: “They are putting out flashy videos and graphics on their website but when push comes to shove, they do nothing.”
The Waste Reduction Bill would also have brought in a deposit and return scheme for drinks containers including bottles.
The Irish government insists it is actually working towards banning single-use plastic with a self-imposed goal of recycling 55 per cent of all plastics by the year 2030.
A Government spokesman said it was not against a deposit and return scheme ‘in principle’ but needs to assess how much it would cost and its likely effectiveness.
As a gesture, the Irish government banned its own departments from buying and using single-use plastic items such as cutlery, straws and cups.
Ireland’s Education and Skills Minister Richard Bruton, who introduced the ban, said the government had made this a major issue for all Irish government departments.
“Every year the public service spends €12 billion in procuring goods, services and works. By adopting green procurement, not only will government lead by example, but also help create a new market for sustainable goods and services,” he said.
All public bodies must now also report by November on the measures they have introduced to minimise waste and increase recycling, he added.
EU ministers and the European Parliament have yet to agree on a Commission proposal made last year to introduce laws that would dramatically reduce single-use plastics by 2021.
If agreed the new directive or law would clamp down on polystyrene food containers and cups.
The EU also wants manufacturers to pay for waste management under the ‘polluters pay’ principle.
But critics don’t think this goes far enough.
Meadhbh Bolger, campaigner of resource justice at Friends of the Earth, Europe, on behalf of Rethink Plastic, said: “Citizens across Europe want to see an end to our throw-away culture and politicians have taken the first step.
“The time is ripe for Europe to transition away from single-use plastics to reusables.”
For a country which so publicly prides itself on being ‘green’ about food and the environment, Ireland is not looking so good.
It is also failing on climate action – for the last two years, it has been ranked as one of the worst performing countries in Europe.
So bad is its record on implementing substantive corrective measures it is expected to miss several other key green targets over the coming decade.