Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: We must all help to fight plastic pollution

Editor's Viewpoint

Since 2002 when the Republic of Ireland became the first country in the world to introduce a levy on plastic bags, the world has become more aware of the pollutant effect of plastic in all its forms.

Last year, the BBC's Blue Planet II series of documentaries on life in the world's oceans brought home that threat most dramatically with startling pictures of how marine life is, sometimes literally, being strangled by the substance.

Environmentalists estimate that one million birds and over 100,000 sea mammals die annually because of plastic waste.

Northern Ireland introduced its levy on plastic bags five years ago and it has had a significant impact in reducing usage by two thirds.

However, a country with around 1.7m people still managed to use almost 100m plastic bags last year - around 139 bags per household.

Given the ready availability of alternatives - bags for life and bags made from other materials - that shows how the message on saving the environment is still failing to register with many people.

It is also a warning to all those who fear for the environment and wildlife. If a small country like Northern Ireland can produce that amount of waste annually, what is the size of the global threat?

Local environmental groups are suggesting that the current 5p levy should be doubled or even quadrupled. Even at the highest level it would not be a real hardship for anyone to pay but it may well make people think more carefully about their use of plastic bags.

Of course it is not just plastic bags which are a threat. Packaging, straws, food cartons and so-called disposable beverage cups also pollute the environment and will take at best many years to degrade.

It is clear that well thought out, strategic policies for curbing the use of plastic - including possibly making the manufacturers of plastic products pay a premium for disposing of it safely - need to be devised and introduced.

However, like so many other problems this is one which will sit on the back burner until some kind of functioning administration is operating at Stormont. The absence of a minister for the environment is a serious disadvantage.

But every one of us can also play a part by refusing to use disposable plastic bags and reduce the number in circulation even further. After all, we all share the environment and should be responsible for it.

Belfast Telegraph

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