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Almost 3 years ago in July 2021, Ireland implemented new rules on the use of single use plastics like takeaway cutlery, polystyrene cups, wet wipes and cotton buds.  So why do we still see plastic cutlery in our service stations and local convenience stores?  All environmental law is based on an idea or principle in this case it’s obvious – to reduce the vast amount of plastic waste in our bins and in our environment as litter.  For a while I saw a number of retail points swapping out their plastic cutlery for bamboo or wood wooden cutlery which is a more recyclable option better for the environment.  In some places I continued to see plastic cutlery being offered and I just assumed that people had a large stock of it and they were just working through what they had leftover.  I expected that once that was gone they would move to a recyclable alternative.  

One day recently puzzled by the presence of plastic cutlery on the takeaway counter I said to the guy making me a sandwich “why are you still using plastic cutlery it was banned almost three years ago.  Do you have a huge box of it at the back and are you just trying to get rid of it”.    To my surprise I was told that no this plastic cutlery was delivered by the wholesaler last week and a few weeks before that they had bamboo.  After a little research I realised that the wholesaler was now distributing plastic cutlery on the basis that there is a small mark on the back of the cutlery saying it is reusable.   I guess it’s a bit like taxation if you make a rule somebody finds a loophole, in this case getting round the rules on single use plastics designed to protect the environment, by pretending that this cutlery is reusable tells me that retail has not really got the message.  

I suspect the solution to this problem will be yet another amendment to the regulations, making it unlawful to distribute cutlery that is quite clearly is going be used once and put in the bin, even if it tells you on the back it’s reusable.   It reminds us that the waste management aspects of circular economy are not simply about making new rules it is about each and every one of us behaving differently because we care about the consequences.  Next time you lift some plastic cutlery be sure to tell the person in the shop it’s not good enough and they shouldn’t be issuing yet more plastic to consumers to discard.  

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Missing the point on Single Use Plastics | Environmental Training Solutions 2023