My Department is responsible for marine environmental policy including marine litter policy in the first instance.
There is now a growing body of strong evidence that plastics are negatively impacting marine fauna, through a number of mechanisms including ingestion, entanglement, nest incorporation, and by increasing the spread of invasive species. While the extent of the marine litter problem and the harm it causes to the environment are not fully understood at this time and are subject to on-going research, it is clear that this is an issue that we need to urgently address, at the very least, under the precautionary principle.
As the marine environment is transboundary in nature, with winds and currents spreading marine litter freely crossing jurisdictions, it requires EU Member States to work closely together, both by through transboundary co-operation under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive and also actions taken under other international instruments such as the OSPAR Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic, or the UN Sustainable Development Goals, for example.
My Department participates in the MSFD Technical Working group on Marine Litter which is developing threshold values for marine litter, and looking at how best to monitor and address the problem. It also represents Ireland on the OSPAR Environmental Impact of Human Activities (EIHA) Group, which includes marine litter under its remit, and the OSPAR Intercessional Group on Marine Litter which is developing a regional action plan for submission to EIHA and then to the OSPAR Commission. Ireland is co-leading a number of these actions including examining storm and waste water as a vector for marine litter and how to address that; developing national strategies for single use items to complement the plastics strategy and actions to address the problem of expandable polystyrene as marine litter and to model marine litter pathways and hotspots in the North Atlantic. We are also engaged in a number of INTERREG projects to address these issues.
My Department is engaged in or supports a wide range of national actions to address marine litter including marine litter monitoring, research, awareness raising, citizen activation, educational measures, cross border activities and supports for the introduction of targeted measures to reduce, or, where possible, remove, marine litter inputs from the environment.
In 2018, Government allocated €2.2m (€1.8m current expenditure, €460k capital expenditure) for marine environmental programmes in my Department alone. However, a range of other Government Departments and State Agencies also undertake and fund a range of other marine litter related research programmes, awareness raising activities and measures to reduce marine litter. Notable among these are the EPA, the Marine Institute and Bord Iascaigh Mhara.
My Department is also preparing legislation to prohibit the manufacture, sale, supply, import and export of certain products containing plastic microbeads. I expect to publish a General Scheme of a Bill and a draft regulatory impact assessment imminently. My Department works collaboratively with various Departments, agencies and stakeholders to address this challenge, as how we consume and manage waste and litter on land directly affects marine litter inputs. In particular, my Department works closely with the Department of Communications, Climate Action and the Environment (DCCAE) which has responsibility for general waste management and anti-litter policy as well as the recently published EU Plastics Strategy. This strategy outlined a range of measures and targets to reduce plastic waste, taking account of the fact that single use plastics are a major source of plastic leakage into the environment and are the most commonly found items on beaches, representing an estimated 50% of marine litter.
On 28 May 2018, the EU Commission published a proposal for a new Directive to target the 10 most prevalent single-use plastic (SUP) products found on Europe's beaches and seas, as well as lost and abandoned fishing gear, which together account for 70% of all marine litter. The proposal includes:
- proposed bans on certain plastic products, including, cotton buds, plastic cutlery and straws;
- setting targets for both reducing the use of certain plastics (including coffee cups) and the collection of certain SUPs such as plastic drinks bottles;
- placing obligations on producers of SUP items to help cover the costs of their waste management and clean up through the establishment of extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes.
The full text of the legislative proposal is available at the following link –
The Commission has requested that this proposal should be treated as a priority by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers in order to deliver tangible results within a short timeframe.