Donal Hickey: We can do better on waste

Donal Hickey: We can do better on waste

It’s being proven again and again that a most effective way to train people to do something is to show how they can save money, however small the amount, by co-operating.

Irish people are among the leaders when it comes to not using plastic shopping bags, hitting a rate of 90%. And the British are following our example. Sales of plastic bags in England’s biggest supermarkets have also fallen by 90% since a 5p charge was introduced, in 2015, according to UK government figures.

Everyone in Ireland is now recycling in some way and probably the best example of a success story is the levy on plastic shopping bags. People are using bags made of other materials and, in discount stores especially, cardboard boxes (recyclable) are conveniently picked up to take home the shopping.

All to save 22c! Often a tiny fraction of their overall spend. In England, retail chains such as Tesco, Waitrose, Asda, Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons and The Co-operative Group sold 549m plastic bags in 2018-19, half the number purchased in the previous year.

All supermarkets and large stores are obliged to charge a minimum of 5p for every single-use plastic bag. The charge applies to all retailers in the North, Scotland, and Wales, but in England it only applies to shops with more than 250 employees. A consultation was launched by the UK government last year to look at raising the minimum fee to 10p.

Hundreds of UK companies have also pledged to reduce volumes of plastic and packaging they use, according to The Ecologist.

In Ireland, householders are using enormous amounts of rigid plastic every day — enough fill the Aviva Stadium to its roof in three years. Our three regional waste management offices believe we have the capacity to recycle even more. Households recycle 75,000 tonnes of rigid plastics each year, but Declan Breen, waste prevention officer, believes we can and should do better, given that so much stuff is plastic-wrapped.

“Ireland is currently recycling just 35% of its plastic waste and we can definitely improve on this,” he says. “By recycling better we will not only reduce the need for incineration and landfill, we will also reduce the need for additional raw material extraction.”

Latest news from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is that we are still generating large amounts of waste, including glass, paper, plastics, and wood, in line with economic growth. While recycling rates are high for some waste, such as glass and wood, recycling in general has levelled off in recent years. Stephen Treacy, EPA senior scientist, says up to a third of the contents of our general waste bins could be diverted to recycling with better separation and treatment.

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