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Government and schools will no longer buy single-use plastic cups, cutlery and straws

The Green Party has said the ban only addresses “the lowest of the low-hanging fruit”.

Image: Shutterstock/Rich Carey

Updated Jan 4th 2019, 2:42 PM

GOVERNMENT DEPARTMENTS, PUBLIC bodies and schools are set to crack down on single-use plastics, with a number of measures including no longer purchasing single-use plastic cups, cutlery and straws for use within their offices.

Richard Bruton, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment, is currently developing a government-wide plan to make Ireland a leader in responding to climate change.

He has secured government approval to bring in a number of measures.

Speaking about the development, Bruton said the public service “must be the first to show that it takes policies for sustainability seriously, if we are to persuade the rest of society to make the step changes which we need to make”.

“The government has approved a plan to stop purchasing single-use plastic, to cut waste in food and paper, to improve efficiency in the use of energy and water and to reshape procurement to choose sustainable options.”

Every year the public service spends €12 billion in procuring goods, services and works.

Bruton said by adopting green procurement, the government help create a new market for sustainable goods and services.

From today:

  • No government department will purchase single-use plastic cups, cutlery and straws for use within their offices
  • All government departments will develop resource efficiency action plans by the end of June this year; these plans will help staff make savings in energy and water use as well as preventing food waste and maximising recycling.
  • The department will work with the Office of Government Procurement to bring forward proposals on how national public procurement policy can take account more fully of environmental matters; this will ensure state contracts include the full life cycle cost of purchases; these proposals are to be finalised by the end of March 

In addition, all public bodies including state agencies and schools will not purchase single-use plastic beverage cups, cutlery and drinking straws after 31 March 2019 – except where specific public health/hygiene or safety issues arise.

All public bodies are required to report to its respective minister by the end of November on the measures it is taking to minimise waste generation and maximise recycling.

‘Low-hanging fruit’ 

Bruton admitted Ireland is “way off course in our response to climate disruption”, adding: “It practical steps like these that put us on a sustainable path which is essential if we are to achieve our ambition to become a leader.”

Ireland needs to increase its plastic recycling by 80% to reach EU targets set for 2030, according to Repak.

The Green Party has criticised the “long overdue” plan. Senator Grace O’Sullivan said: “Of course any movement in the right direction is welcome but this government level ban on single-use plastics is the lowest of the low-hanging fruit.

To claim this an example of leadership is, by any standards, wrong. The government is massively behind the curve on plastic pollution and resource efficiency.

“When it comes to green procurement the EU advice on this was published over a decade ago, their own guidelines are four years old and when it comes to resource efficiency plans many, many Irish businesses have been doing this for well over 10 years…

“These proposals are weak. We are willing to collaborate, and the scale of crisis demands it, but we need much more ambition.”

The Green Party’s Waste Reduction Bill proposes a ban on single-use plastics and the introduction of a deposit-and-return scheme for bottles. 

Marine litter 

The government is implementing the above measures ahead of broader proposals relating to single-use plastic items being negotiated at EU-level.

Draft EU legislation proposes new rules targeting the 10 most prevalent single-use plastic products found on Europe’s beaches and seas, as well as lost and abandoned fishing gear, which together account for 70% of all marine litter.

The proposal includes a ban on certain single-use plastic products such as plastic straws, cutlery, cotton buds and balloon sticks.

In January 2018, the European Commission adopted the first-ever Europe-wide strategy on plastics.

The strategy envisages that all plastic packaging on the EU market will be recyclable by 2030, the consumption of single-use plastics will be reduced and the intentional use of micro plastics will be restricted.

Some 500,000 tonnes of plastic waste from the EU end up in the sea every year.

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Órla Ryan

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