Last week the Minister for the Environment Richard Bruton announced that the Irish Government would be introducing a number of levies aimed at reducing single-use plastics. Two of the most notable levies being a ‘latte levy’ on disposable cups of between 10 and 25 cents, and a plastic bag levy increase of 3 cents on the current levy of 22 cents. This is good news – so why has there been a murmur of controversy around this announcement?
Plastic waste is a huge environmental issue and the fact that the Government is noticing and making moves to remediate this is a good thing. Ireland is the top plastic waste producer in Europe, with each person producing on average 61kg of plastic waste per year. Recycling, once hailed as a cure that would allow us to continue buying as much plastic as we liked so long as it went in the green bin, has gravely disappointed in its reality. It is estimated that only 30% of plastic waste within the EU is recycled. Seeing as this is inherently a problem of overconsumption, levies such as the plastic bag tax are to be welcomed as they discourage production in the first place.
The Environment Minister has been criticized for delaying action on installing a plastic bottle deposit and return scheme in Ireland, a scheme which the Green Party have been pushing for. This would involve paying an upfront ‘deposit’ on single-use plastic bottles and once you dropit to a recycling centre, you get that deposit back. This system is currently in use in many countries across Europe and has been successful in reducing waste. This, in combination with the levies already put forward, would help to redeem Ireland’s environmental reputation.
Another issue is that the latte levy has left small coffee shops feeling disadvantaged as large coffee chains like Costa and Starbucks will find it much easier to pay such a levy. The announcement also left certain environmentalist groups frustrated as it doesn’t target the bulk of the problem. The proposed levies don’t tackle the items that are responsible for the majority of plastic in the ocean; fishing nets. It is estimated that almost half of ocean plastic is from discarded fishing nets and if this is to be tackled it means tighter regulations on fishing activities and reduced consumption of seafood.
Plastic is a ‘hot topic’ at the moment and the Irish government knows that. It is much easier to introduce a few levies on bags and cups than to acknowledge the large elephant in the room – Ireland’s inaction on climate change. Ireland is consistently ranked as a ‘climate laggard’ and has the third highest emissions per capita in the EU. A latte levy won’t even begin to fix this, and installing a Liquified Natural Gas terminal in the West of Ireland that uses fracked gas certainly won’t. Yes, even slight progress on environmental issues is positive and should be commended, but slight progress is nowhere near the rate of change that is needed on environmental issues right now.
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