Our use of plastic has increased exponentially in recent decades. Plastics feature across a wide range of applications and products, such as packaging, construction, electrics and electronics, agriculture, medical and health.
The effects of plastic pollution, in particular, on the marine environment has been well publicised. My colleague, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government is responsible for marine environmental policy, including marine litter policy in the first instance. Both he and I recognise that the waste that is created on land and certain plastic waste items in particular, can represent significant marine litter problems. Accordingly, we are working together to identify measures to address this with our European partners.
On 16 January 2018, the 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 is built around 4 key actions:
- Improving the economics and quality of plastics recycling;
- Curbing plastic waste and littering;
- Driving innovation and investment towards circular solutions; and
- Harnessing Global Action.
The strategy lists future EU measures and recommends measures to national authorities and industry for the attainment of its goals.
Coupled with this, the Commission is pushing for higher mandatory recycling targets for plastics. Under the current Packaging Directive Member States are required to recycle 22.5% by weight of all plastic packaging. Under a new Circular Economy legislative package to be finalised this year the Commission is increasing this target to 50% by 2025 and 55% by 2030.
In terms of plastic packaging at a national level, Repak, the producer responsibility scheme tasked with managing packaging in Ireland, has been working with its members (including all the major retailers) to identify ways to reduce or optimise packaging. Under the EU Packaging Directive, Member States cannot impede the placing on the market of packaging which is fit for purpose. Notwithstanding this, I am working with the Local Authorities to roll out an education programme on the recycling of all waste, including plastics.