For many years, we exported 95% of our plastic waste to China. Four years ago, China closed off the see-no-evil bolt hole and banned Irish plastic waste imports. At that time, we generated, per head, more plastic waste than any other EU country. That destructive behaviour, and more importantly, the mindset behind it, was unsustainable.
Efforts to encourage better habits were made last year when Government proposed that single-use coffee cups be hit with a levy of up to 25 cent. That idea has yet to be finalised, though it has forced many retailers to start using recyclable cups. The threat was enough but that will fade so a legal sanction might still be needed. Like all retailers, those who changed to help consumers do the right thing, they should be supported.
German retailer Aldi holds 12.5% of the Irish grocery market. Yesterday it announced it will cut the plastic packaging in its Irish operations by half within five years. Aldi says this will remove 9,874 tonnes of plastic packaging over five years, or the equivalent of 200m single items of plastic. This is part of a positive, spreading process as Repak says its member companies will reduce plastic packaging waste by 16,100 tonnes this year and use 21,000 tonnes of recycled plastic.
This will not be easy and not without cost but is entirely praiseworthy — and necessary.