A Belfast woman who lived almost entirely plastic-free for a year has said the latest EPA figures on packaging waste highlight the need to reduce plastic-use at source.
In its latest report, the EPA said Ireland generated more than one million tonnes of packaging waste for the third year in a row in 2019.
It warned that nearly 70% of the plastic packaging waste sent for recycling was incinerated and used as an energy source instead of recycled – a 25% increase on 2017.
It found that while Ireland is continuing to meet its EU recycling targets, then benefits to that are being offset by greater usage of plastic packaging.
On Newstalk Breakfast, Anna Leckey said she generated about a shoebox worth of plastic throughout the whole of 2019 after setting herself a challenge to reduce waste.
“I kept everything from the windows on the envelopes that were coming through my door to all the little bits of plastic I was gathering,” she said.
“It is very challenging to completely live that life, but I think it gave me a good sense of confidence in the fact that I wasn’t creating any plastic.”
She stressed that the EPA report should not put people off recycling, noting that it is better to see plastic used for energy recovery than sent to landfill.
She said people should continue with their recycling efforts – but also give real thought to the plastic they are using in the first place.
“That zero-waste mentality, the ideology, it’s going to be very difficult for any individual to get to,” she said. “It is more of a goal than a physical thing you can say you are doing.
“For all of us, it is about actually doing an audit. That is the first thing I did in 2019. I kept my rubbish and every week, I looked at the rubbish and thought what changes can I make to ensure that I don’t end up with that little piece of plastic or that bit of rubbish?”
She said changes in the bathroom were the easiest – with shampoo and conditioner bars available in place of products packaged in bottles. There are also refill shops that will fill up your containers if you bring them in.
“Food packaging is the hardest thing,” she said. “Learning to say no at the start was the hardest thing.
“To just be like no, actually I live plastic-free and I am not going to take that. I think crisps were the things I missed the most.”
She said the real change must come from the top down – with regulations forcing supermarkets and shops to reduce the amount of plastic they use for their products.
The EPA said we need to implement measures at policy, industry and individual level to halt the rise in packaging waste.
It said companies need to re-think how they make, transport and use products and move towards eliminating all unnecessary packaging – and ensuring the packaging that is left is designed either for re-use or recycling.