Minister presents plastic pollution plan

10.09.2020 - 16:25
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 Mynd: RÚV
Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, Iceland’s environment minister, this week presented his new plastic waste initiative to cabinet colleagues. Its 18 sections aim to reduce the country’s plastic waste, including by encouraging re-usable items over single-use plastics, better separation of plastics from other waste, and action against ocean plastics.

Some of the items have already been cost-estimated and others have been taken account for in budgeting for existing areas. The initiative is based on suggestions from the consultation group Guðmundur Ingi set up in 2018, including government representatives, employers, NGOs, and other political parties.

The first eight items focus on reducing plastic use in Iceland. In accordance with an EU directive, for example, the sale of certain single-use plastic items will be banned. This is already due to come into effect next July. There is also incentive for research and development of plastic-free solutions from the technological development and research funds within Rannís. 

Some of the items in the strategy have already come into effect; such as the one about phasing out plastic carrier bags. A law banning the provision of free plastic bags by retailers went into effect a year ago. From 1st January next year, it will also be illegal to sell them. 

The ‘Blue Mussel Prize’ for drawing attention to innovation in plastic-free solutions was awarded for the first time at the opening ceremony of Plastic-free September last year. 

The eighth item is a concerted effort to work with businesses to help them increase the value of goods and services by reducing plastic consumption. Presentations and symposia with business leaders will help support this item of the plan. 

Four parts of the strategy are about increasing plastic recycling rates. To support this, the authorities plan to make the separation of household waste compulsory. A bill to this effect is expected before Alþingi in January. 

There are also plans in development that could see recycling charges added to the cost of more types of plastic next year, thereby encouraging recycling, as that money is returned. Currently, charges are refunded for the return and recycling of all drink containers, including plastic bottles. 

The Saman gegn sóun website will be improved and extended to help businesses make the best environmental choices possible in their daily operation and future expansion. 

Under the plan, research into plastic pollution in Icelandic waters would be increased, both along the coast, and also on the sea surface and the seabed. 

Sewage treatment would be improved to remove more microplastics before they reach the sea.  

The initiative also calls for a three-to-five-year-long coastal clean-up project to remove plastic and other litter from the coast and to make sure cleaned areas remain plastic-free as long as possible. 

Iceland also plans to restrict the sale of cosmetics and beauty products containing microplastics, in accordance with European regulation. 

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Alexander Elliott
Project manager
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