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European Parliament Clamps Down on Packaging Waste (Barely)

MEP for Ireland South Grace O’Sullivan led negotiations to stop packaging waste at the source and encourage introduction of reuse systems


Grace O'Sullivan MEP speaking from the floor of the European Parliament today



Ireland is the worst country in the EU for packaging waste and single-use plastics.

Conservative MEPs continue campaign against environmental measures

MEPs today voted to tackle the growing problem of packaging waste as the EU looks at ways to address consumer frustration and the environmental impacts of plastic and packaging, as well as low reuse and recycling rates. 40% of all new virgin plastic and 50% of new paper is now manufactured solely for packaging materials, much of which is discarded after a single use.

Ireland alone generated the most packaging waste per capita in the entire European Union at 246.1kg of waste per person per annum according to Eurostat. For plastic packaging, Ireland generates more than double the EU average and less than a third of that plastic packaging is ever recycled. According to the European Commission, unless action is taken, the EU would see a further 19% increase in packaging waste by 2030, and for plastic packaging waste a 46% increase.

The measures backed by the Parliament today are wide-ranging and include:

  • A headline target is to reduce packaging waste by 15% by 2040.

  • Obligatory return systems for beer and spirit bottles for all EU countries.

  • Ban on forever chemicals PFAS and BPA in food containers.

  • Ban on polystyrene packing filling.

  • Obligations for packaging to be recyclable and for teabags and plastic bags to be compostable.

As part of an ongoing campaign against environmental legislation, the conservative EPP Group of which Fine Gael is a member, voted against a number of measures including bans on individual plastic wrapping for fruit and veg as well as price incentives for consumers to bring their own containers to food outlets and requirements for fast food outlets like McDonalds to provide reusable or washable containers. Earlier in the day, the EPP voted against landmark proposals to reduce pesticide use in EU agriculture.

Speaking from the floor of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, MEP for Ireland South Grace O’Sullivan, who has led negotiations for the Greens in the Parliament said: “We cannot recycle our way out of this mess. If your single-use plastic cup is recycled into a single-use plastic bag, it is not sustainable. If your plastic junk is swapped for cardboard junk, it is not sustainable. And if we continue to generate levels of waste at current rates, that is, by definition, unsustainable.”

Following the vote result, MEP O’Sullivan added “Over the past few decades, corporate Europe has carefully developed a throwaway culture with everything from plates to packaging built for single use. We pay for this - in higher prices, in bin charges and ultimately our environment pays a heavy cost as well. Although it is unfortunate that conservatives voted with the corporate fast-food lobbies, this legislation starts the pushback against the single-use giants.”

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