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EPA conference considers the challenge of plastics for Ireland

environmental contamination _ plasticsThe Environmental Protection Agency’s conferenceMoving Ireland into the New Plastics Economy, took place in Dublin last week, November 08 2018.  Opening the conference, Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Climate Action and the Environment, Seán Canney, said: “We need to take stock of our relationship with plastic. We must start to make informed choices about how we use plastic so that it can enhance our lives, not choke the environment.  “The Government will start by tackling our use of single-use plastics – we want to make Ireland a leader in the transformation that is required, not a follower. We welcome the recent progress made at EU level and my officials are currently working on the changes that will be needed when the legislation is agreed.”

The purpose of the conference was to generate discussion amongst all stakeholders on how Ireland can shift attitudes and systems towards a more sustainable plastics economy that cuts out unnecessary use and maximises recycling and reuse.

Laura Burke, EPA Director General, said: “We need to prevent plastic waste occurring at all. We also need to rethink how we regard and manage plastics, both as a society and an economy. Ireland led in Europe by introducing a plastic bag levy, which had an immediate effect on behaviour and as an anti-littering initiative. We again need to lead the way in developing innovative solutions for reducing the problems associated with waste plastics in the environment.”

The EPA’s National Waste Prevention Programme delivers initiatives and supports to promote Ireland’s transition to a low-carbon, circular economy and provides leadership on national priorities including plastics.  Ms Burke added: “The EPA will target the most pressing waste prevention priorities facing Ireland, including plastics, as part of our National Waste Prevention Programme. The conference today allows for discussion on existing and potential measures that can be taken to prevent plastic waste generation and for participants to gather ideas for how we can best support transition in this area.”

Preventing, reducing and managing plastic waste is a challenge facing all countries, including Ireland.

Ms Almut Reichel, European Environment Agency and a speaker at the conference, said: “The plastics economy will need a fundamental reconfiguration if we want to make it truly circular. A little more recycling will not be enough – we also need to redesign the products and plastics materials, remove hazardous substances from plastics, prevent plastics from entering the environment and make the whole plastics chain more resource-efficient.”  Delegates – from central and local government, the waste/recycling industry, the manufacturing/services industry, environmental organisations, researchers and designers – also considered the implications for Ireland of the European Commission’s “European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy”.

Circular economy

In a circular economy, the value of products and materials is maintained for as long as possible – waste and resource use are minimised, and resources are kept within the economy when a product has reached the end of its life, to be used again and again to create further value. To facilitate the move to a more circular economy, the European Commission put forward a Circular Economy Package in December 2015, which includes revised legislative proposals on waste, as well as a comprehensive Action Plan.  In January 2018, a “European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy” was launched outlining the vision for a circular plastics economy.

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