VICTORIA WHITE: Retail has to take responsibility if we are paying to recycle its waste

The packaging waste in Victoria White's sitting room from a week worth of groceries.

The EU’s latest Packaging Waste Directive is all about consumer recycling rather than stopping the waste at source, writes Victoria White

This rubbish dump on the carpet in our sitting-room is the paper and plastic waste created by our family of six large people in one week.

I would like to say it was a particularly bad week or that the experiment was contaminated by some random dumping. All possible. But the basic fact is this: my family is a major polluter.

You can look at this several ways. We could do our shopping differently. We could buy all -rather than some - of our fruit and veg from organic or local sellers who give you paper bags or no bags.

We already buy nearly all our meat and fish from the butcher and the fish-monger who are honour-bound to give you a plastic bag but at least it’s not a tray of composite materials. We could cut out all that waste by eating still less meat or fish which would better for us and for the planet.

But we live in the real world with four real teenagers. We go to the German discounters to shop in bulk and to the small shops for specialist items. And we produce so much packaging waste that we’re creating a new space in our utility room to store it because our green bin is so often full.

I am often to be seen on top of it jumping up and down in a state of terror because a friend was one of the many casualties of dreaded Green Bin Fall Syndrome. Still, I often end up trundling to a recycling facility with a van full of rubbish, a trip which has its own carbon footprint.

I remember none of this from my childhood. There was no recycling but there wasn’t much waste either. My mother’s shopping often came home in one basket. She didn’t buy any Glensallagh Tikka Chicken Breast Slices in a plastic tray which is “widely recyclable” but covered in plastic film which is “not currently recyclable.”

Ditto for the Irish Angus Steak Mince in the hard plastic tray and thin film which someone sneaked by me for a chilli con carne. Ditto for the Nature’s Fruit Conference Pears.

Then there are the many items with packaging which has no recycling information on it. Ocean Sea smoked salmon has packaging made of three different plastics which presents a recycling challenge even if they are all recylable. The Tayto crisp packet, doubtless deposited by some passing layabout rather than the writer who stuffs them into her sandwiches, has no recycling information on it at all and is not recyclable at all.

The Tayto crisp packet, doubtless deposited by some passing layabout rather than the writer who stuffs them into her sandwiches, has no recycling information on it at all and is not recyclable at all.

Who the hell is paying for this explosion of packaging waste? You, that’s who. What drives me bonkers about the proposed Green Bin charge is not the charge itself which recognises that recycling is not a cost-free exercise but the fact that the companies which produce the waste are laughing all the way to the bank. They are laughing at you and me and the planet.

Zero Waste Europe calculate that plastic packaging waste has grown by 5 percent annually between 2000 and 2015. That means that my family produces 75 percent more plastic packaging waste than a family the same size 15 years ago, when I started my family. I never asked for this. I don’t accept that it is my fault. The fault is with the companies who produce the waste in a regulation-free environment.

The EU’s latest Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive is all about consumer recycling rather than stopping the packaging waste at source, where the problem lies. Zero Waste Europe says the amount of composite, multi-layer packaging which is difficult if not impossible to recycle is growing in double digits annually but there is no measure in the Directive to tackle it.

Meanwhile the use of refillable, reusable packaging and the prevalence of deposit schemes for bottles and cans has tanked.

It’s not just that the materials in bottles and cans are valuable - which they are - they also present a particular littering challenge. It makes me sick to think that I got money back on bottles as a child but couldn’t now as I tackle the drinking den waste mountains which accumulate on our local river banks. The problem is the regulatory environment which rewards businesses for producing discardable packaging and fails to reward reuse and recycling.

The problem is the regulatory environment which rewards businesses for producing discardable packaging and fails to reward reuse and recycling.

Zero Waste Europe calculates that less than a third of municipal waste in Europe is covered by any direct producer responsibility legislation. If producers bore the cost of disposing of waste then products covered in wasteful packaging would be more expensive and wouldn’t be on the shopping list of families with four teenagers. What’s happening instead is that those families are bearing the cost, either directly through charges or through the taxation system.

What’s happening instead is that those families are bearing the cost, either directly through charges or through the taxation system.

The explosion of packaging waste is an environmental emergency. Europeans are currently producing 311 kg of waste which is not food or garden-related every year. Ten million tonnes of plastic waste is dumped into the sea annually. Plastic is overwhelming our oceans to the point that there may now be more plastic than fish in the sea. This pollution presents a serious threat to human health because we can’t live without a living ocean.

Plastic is overwhelming our oceans to the point that there may now be more plastic than fish in the sea. This pollution presents a serious threat to human health because we can’t live without a living ocean.

Plastic packaging should be a no-no in a world serious about curbing greenhouse gas emissions because it is a product derived from oil. It takes five plastic bags make a footprint of 1 kg of CO2 gas and 40 percent of plastic bags are disposed of within a year. Recycled, the carbon footprint of plastic packaging is reduced by less than half - 1kg of plastic producing 3.5 kg of CO2 rather than 6 kg - which is hardly a great

Recycled, the carbon footprint of plastic packaging is reduced by less than half - 1kg of plastic producing 3.5 kg of CO2 rather than 6 kg - which is hardly a great boast. It’s obvious that the problem of plastic packaging is with the source, not with he consumers, whose lives have not been improved by it in any way.

Allowing this unrestrained use of plastic packaging and burning it in incinerators at Ringaskiddy or at Poolbeg is delinquent even if - a big if - the dioxins emitted can be eliminated because it is a new fossil fuel industry. We should be cutting plastic use at source by means of strict regulation at European level. While regulating the packaging of imported products would be difficult nationally, Ireland could start by incentivising deposit schemes for cans and bottles and insisting on arresting labelling on

While regulating the packaging of imported products would be difficult nationally, Ireland could start by incentivising deposit schemes for cans and bottles and insisting on arresting labelling on composite, or non-recyclable packaging. This would benefit businesses which produce locally, transport more easily and could more easily package for the Irish market.

I am sick of swimming in plastic. I hate it. Charging us for our green bins might make us recycle less stuff but the only other ways we have of cutting our costs are dumping our waste illegally or going on hunger strike. I won’t mind paying for my green bin when I have a better option, which is having nothing much to recycle.


Lifestyle

I don't remember a lot of shouting in my household growing up, and neither does my twin.Mum's the Word: How did my parents manage to create a calm household?

The TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards have been revealed. These are the destinations that came out tops.3 emerging destinations to add to your travel wish list – according to TripAdvisor data

The recent death of Caroline Flack has once again brought the issue of internet trolls and cancel culture back into public discourse.Learning Points: The reality is we all play a role in cancel culture

Rita de Brún speaks with Sean McKeown, Fota Wildlife Park director and longtime Cork resident.‘You’ve got to make the changes you want to see’, says Fota Wildlife director

More From The Irish Examiner