UK Government to launch €70m 'war chest' to tackle ocean plastic crisis

Newstalk's Between the Lines examined the issue this morning

UK Government to launch €70m 'war chest' to tackle ocean plastic crisis

Plastic waste is seen on the north coast of Jakarta 15-03-2018. Image: NurPhoto/SIPA USA/PA Images

More than a third of produce sold in the EU is wrapped in plastic.

The use of the material has grown significantly over the years - with 8 million metric tonnes ending up in the sea every year.

The plastic pollution crisis has led environmental groups around the world to call for widespread changes to the way we use and dispose of the material.

On Newstalk’s Between the Lines this morning, the chief executive of recycling organisation Repak said there are huge problems with the current infrastructure for recycling.

Seamus Clancy said Ireland has come a long way, but a lot more needs to be done.

“When it looks at what is available to recycle plastics; we are doing about 34% at the moment overall, which is still well ahead of European targets but not good enough to where they are coming in the future,” he said.

“We have a serious lack of infrastructure in Ireland, in Europe and worldwide for the recovery and the recycling of plastics.”

He said the amount of packaging that is recycled in Ireland has risen from 15% in 1997 to 68% today.

“Roughly a million tonnes of plastic goes on the market every year,” he said.

“50% of that is paper – about 300,000 tonnes of that is plastic.”

Mr Clancy was joined by environmental scientist Cara Augustenborg, environmental campaigner John gibbons and Newstalk Futureproof presenter Jonathan McCrea on the Between the Lines panel debating the issue this morning.

You can listen back the discussion by following the podcast link below.

Environmental war chest

It comes as the UK Government announced a £61.4m (€70.8m) war chest to fight the rising tide of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans.

British Prime Minister Theresa May announced the fund ahead of a meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in London next week.

She is due to use the meeting to ask the 52 leaders to sign up to the Commonwealth Clean Oceans Alliance set up to help developing Commonwealth countries research and improve waste management.

"This week we will look closely at how we can tackle the many threats to the health of the world's oceans, including the scourge of marine plastic pollution,” Mrs May said in a statement.

"As one of the most significant environmental challenges facing the world today it is vital that we tackle this issue, so that future generations can enjoy a natural environment that is healthier than we currently find it.

"The UK public has shown passion and energy in the fight against plastic waste, and I believe the Commonwealth is uniquely placed to further this transformative action.

"It is a unique organisation with the strength and the commitment to make a difference."

She added: "If we stand together, we have the opportunity to send not only a powerful message to the world, but also to effect real change."

Commonwealth alliance 

So far four Commonwealth countries, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Vanuatu and Ghana, have joined the UK in the alliance.

The Government said £25m (€28.8) of the fund is available to help researchers investigate the issue of marine plastic from a scientific, economic and social perspective.

Another £20m (€23m) has been earmarked to curb plastic and other environmental pollution generated by manufacturing in developing countries and prevent it seeping into oceans.

That leaves £16.4m (€19m) which will be spent on improving waste management at a national and city level to stop plastics entering the water.

The British Government pledged to match public donations to tackle plastic waste through the UK Aid Match up to a total of £5m (€5.8m).

Mrs May will also ask Commonwealth nations to ban microbeads and slash the number of single use plastic bags.

You can listen back to the Newstalk Between the Lines panel discussion on the issue below:

With reporting from IRN ...