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Minister Canney Speech EPA Conference 'Moving Ireland into Plastics Economy'


09:30 ON 8TH NOVEMBER 2018



Good morning ladies and gentlemen, I would like to thank the EPA for organising this important and timely event today.

(Ireland and Plastics)

Ireland may not be a powerhouse in the global plastics economy but as keen users of so many modern plastic products and as a member of the EU, of course we have a part to play. 

Even before the EU launched its Circular Economy Action Plan back in December 2015, the need for a more strategic approach to plastics was recognised.  At that time, the European Commission undertook to address this challenge.  However, as sometimes happens in politics, the tempo of this discussion was upped dramatically by the impact of the Blue Planet TV series.  And so already, we have the proposal on Single Use Plastics in the final stages of negotiation at EU level.

But the broader conversation on plastics must still take place.  We need to get some context.  We need to know about Ireland's place in this.  And we need to know what makes a difference; how to make the changes we need and what to do first.

What are the facts?  And what are the key political interventions we need to make? Without plastic, would we use more land and more water?  Would climate change accelerate?  Does Ireland really top the league in Europe for generating plastic packaging?  What are the impacts of plastic on our drinking water? Where are the opportunities for Ireland?  There is a lot more we need to know about plastics and there are many related choices we need to make as a society.  So I am pleased that the experts have collectively turned their minds to these questions.

(The Circular Economy)

The underlying principles of the Circular Economy are not new. It is an elegant rewriting of an older 'waste not, want not' philosophy.  And it provides opportunities across the economy for efficiencies, innovation and future jobs.

We will need to discriminate more in our use of materials; how they are used; and whether they can be reused or recycled. Disposal in a hole in the ground is no longer an option. 

In 2017, 'NESC' published a report about the emerging Circular Economy in Ireland.  While it found evidence of circular economy practices, it also found the meaning and full potential for Ireland has not yet been identified.  We need a strategic policy approach to maximise opportunities for the country.

To move this thinking forward, the department, in 2019 will establish an inter-departmental working group on the circular economy.  The Group will make proposals for a National Action Plan for a Circular Economy, including plastics.  With the new recycling targets set for 2025 and 2030, the Single Use Plastics directive and wider political developments, Ireland must articulate its own specific needs and ambitions.  As policy makers, we must provide a policy landscape that is clear and coherent for all – industry and its investors, the public sector and communities.

It is clear that much of our direction will be influenced by the EU; a Union which has recognised and championed the value of the circular economy.  By acting together with our EU colleagues, we can harness the power of collective action and use our influence for the common good.

(EU Action on Plastics)

The European Commission's Plastics Strategy aims to ensure that all plastic packaging on the market in the EU will be recyclable by 2030.  It aims to reduce our use of single-use plastics significantly.  It aims to restrict our use of micro-plastics. We welcome and embrace these aims.  It is encouraging that many of the measures recommended to national authorities in the Strategy are already embedded in our national waste policy.

The Single-Use Plastics proposal is the first legislative vehicle to emerge from the Plastics Strategy. As proposed, it will ban certain single-use plastic products and reduce the consumption of others; it will also oblige producers of certain plastic products to contribute towards the costs of waste management, awareness-raising and clean-ups. The proposal includes very high collection targets for plastic bottles.  We need to understand how Ireland can achieve this target.  A national study will soon be commissioned to look into this. The study will also explore the potential in Ireland for a 'Deposit and Return Scheme'.

Talks to conclude this legislation at European level are progressing rapidly.  This is being driven by the great desire of European citizens for governments to take action now. And the political system is responding.


Without a doubt, the Plastics Question is being heavily coloured by the impacts of unmanaged plastics in our environment.  But this can't distract us from facing up to the other issues around plastic.  Our headline objectives today are reducing single-use plastics and increasing packaging recycling.  But we must also figure out how to manage all plastics.  Managing plastics, in a way that is consistent with a circular economy, must be the longer game.

Thank you.


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