Wednesday 19 June 2019

Sinead Moriarty: 'We must fight harder to stem the tide of plastic pollution'

Plastic bottles and other rubbish washed up in Co Cork. Photo: Education Images/UIG via Getty Images
Plastic bottles and other rubbish washed up in Co Cork. Photo: Education Images/UIG via Getty Images
Sinead Moriarty

Sinead Moriarty

Did you know that you can unwrap unnecessary plastic from your groceries at the supermarket checkout and hand it to the cashier? They are fully obliged to take it back.

I'm ashamed to admit that I only discovered this at the weekend when I was talking to a friend who is passionate about the overuse of plastic and its effect on the environment.

She told me she regularly leaves unwanted plastic at the checkout and encouraged me to do the same.

I admit I felt a bit awkward as I began to pull the plastic off my bananas and peppers at the checkout yesterday.

I did the Irish thing of apologising to the cashier but explained that I was trying to stop the overuse of plastics on food items. The cashier was extremely nice and said I wasn't the first person to do it.

"Are many people doing it now?" I asked.

"Not really," he said, "but they should."

Cashiers also think it's a good idea.

As is so often the case in life, when you are suddenly aware of a topic, you see signs all around you.

On my coastal walk yesterday morning I saw a seal, the first time I have seen a seal in the sea in months.

He was eating a plastic bag. I stopped and stared. I didn't know what to do, so I tried shouting at it - ridiculous, I know - but I didn't want the beautiful animal to choke on the plastic.

We have to do more. I've always been proud of the fact that Ireland paved the way by being one of the first countries to charge for the use of plastic bags.

But we need to up our game now to stem the overuse of plastic in food packaging.

Everything is wrapped - fruit, veg, bread, cheese…a lot of it is completely unnecessary.

As I mentioned earlier, one of the items I unwrapped at the checkout was a bunch of bananas. For goodness sake, they have their own natural thick-skin packaging, they don't need plastic.

To be fair, momentum is building in certain areas of plastic overuse, and people are becoming more aware. Coffee shops are now charging less to customers with re-usable coffee cups.

Coffee cups is an area that we really need to focus on cutting out. Every day in Ireland we use more than 500,000 plastic-lined coffee cups that can't be recycled. Again, I'm ashamed to admit that I only started to use a re-usable cup recently.

We have a lot of work to do, Ireland is one of the top producers of plastic waste in Europe, generating an average of 61kg per person every year. We produce the equivalent of nearly 2,000 water bottles, or 5,550 disposable coffee cups, per person annually.

Our supermarkets could take a leaf out of Dutch supermarket chain Ekoplaza's book. The company has introduced plastic-free aisles at all its branches.

"We know that our customers are sick to death of products laden in layer after layer of thick plastic packaging.

"Plastic-free aisles are a really innovative way of testing the compostable biomaterials that offer a more environmentally friendly alternative to plastic packaging," said Ekoplaza chief executive Erik Does.

People are growing more and more concerned that plastic, which is used for such a short time, takes hundreds of years to decompose.

This is causing terrible damage to the oceans, devastating wildlife and sullying our communities.

Other small changes we can make are to stop using plastic straws, cutlery, water cups and clingfilm, all of which will remain in the environment for hundreds of years.

Next time you go shopping, have a look in your trolley.

And politely hand over any plastic packaging you don't need.

It can feel a bit awkward, but it's worth it.

Everything starts with small steps.

Irish Independent

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