Images of a stricken seal struggling for life with marine refuse around its neck caused Cllr John Crowe to issue a call for the Government to act quickly on the amount of plastic pollution finding its way into our seas.
Cllr Crowe called on Clare County Council to request the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment to tackle this ticking time bomb before it’s too late.
Citing a study by scientists at NUI Galway, the Sixmilebridge councillors said 73% of fish examined had microplastics in their stomachs, “making it one of the highest reported frequencies in fish worldwide”.
According to Cllr Crowe, the dumping of plastics into our waters is a sad reflection on our country and we should be ashamed of ourselves.
He said that if we do not act on this by 2050, there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish.
At a time when seafood is an important source of protein, its future viability is at risk given our reliance on throwaway plastics, said Cllr Crowe.
He claimed that Ireland is now one of the top producers of plastic waste, generating 61kg per person, compared to Poland where the figure is one-fifth of that.
A particular problem is plastic coffee cups, Cllr Crowe said many people pick up a coffee at a retail outlet during the day.
Every day 2 million coffee cups are going into landfill, the cup lids present a particular problem as do plastic straws which are just as bad.
“We must reduce our reliance on this type of plastic,” he said.
On a more positive note, Cllr Crowe praised an Ennis company for being at the forefront of driving change in this area.
Cup Print has developed a disposable cup that is fully recyclable in a standard recycling facility.
Most other cups are coated on the inside with a plastic film, but Cup Print has found a solution to the problem.
Cllr Crowe said that encouraging the use of these recyclable cups is one way to reduce the amount of plastic going to landfill.
He also wants to see retailers encouraging customers to return cups so that they can be recycled and to incentivise people to bring their own cups.
At present, he said, there are 5 trillion pieces of plastic floating in our oceans and vast areas of the sea have turned into thick garbage patches.
These plastics release toxins creating a huge plastic pollution crisis across the world.
They include microbeads that are found in cosmetic products such as toothpaste and shower gels and are being washed into rivers and seas where they are ingested by marine life.
By the end of this year, Ireland is set to follow the UK by banning microbead products.
At EU level, single-use coffee cups will be banned by 2030 and a target has been set to recycle 55% of all plastics by the same year.
Cllr John Crowe has called for a coordinated approach to the continuing clampdown on marine plastic through national and European laws.
He also believes that everyone has a part to play and he cited the smoking ban and the ban on plastic bags as effective measures that changed people’s behaviour.
Supporting the motion, Fianna Fáil councillor Michael Hillery stated that China recently stopped importing plastic waste from the rest of the world.
Effectively this now means that a lot of the plastic waste generated in Ireland can no longer be recycled.