I propose to take Questions Nos. 206 and 207 together.
Tackling the negative impacts of plastic on our environment is a national and global challenge. I am working with my colleagues in Government and internationally to ensure that Ireland acts to protect our environment and at the same time provide new opportunities in a circular economy.
I recently wrote to the EU Commissioner with responsibility for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Commissioner Vella, welcoming the European Strategy for Plastics. I assured him that Ireland fully embraces the ambition of the new strategy and indeed will strive to go beyond it.
In response to the list of measures announced, 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. The Commission has indicated that an announcement will be made next month around its intentions in this area. I believe that this will support EU Member States taking actions in this area and may result in new legislative proposals to take action at a European market level.
Since I first mooted the introduction of a levy on single use non-recyclable coffee cups, some retailers are now moving to replace their non-recyclable cups with compostable cups. In order to support the elimination of single-use plastic cups by industry, I do not intend to introduce a levy on compostable cups. However, I am looking at a range of other potential levies on single use plastic items, unless there is constructive engagement by industry with my Department to tackle these environmentally damaging plastic items.
Domestically, I am also looking at the Plastics Strategy's recommendations for national administrations to see what can be delivered in a short time frame. Already many of the measures recommended in the Strategy are well embedded into Irish resource management. These measures include the existing Extended Producer Responsibility schemes run by REPAK and the Irish Farm Films and Plastics Group, the landfill levy, the plastic bag levy, as well as robust enforcement around illegal dumping and landfilling.
Similarly, consumers need to be supported in their efforts to do the right thing around plastic recycling. The national recycling list and recycling ambassadors’ programme try to ensure these valuable materials are used as a resource for our communities and economy rather than being wasted.
In relation to plastic wrapping and containers, REPAK members pay fees based on the amount of packaging they place on the market and this incentivises them to reduce packaging. REPAK’s ‘Prevent and Save’ initiative, funded by my department via the National Waste Prevention Programme, employs specialist packaging technologists to optimise packaging used and to minimise any resulting packaging waste.
In relation to marine plastic, my colleague, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, will be bringing in a Bill to prohibit the manufacturing, selling, importing or exporting of cosmetics, personal care products, detergents and scouring agents containing plastic microbeads that are liable to be washed into wastewater systems with the potential to reach our rivers, lakes and seas.