Sinn Féin MEP Liadh Ní Riada has warned there will be more plastic waste in our oceans than fish by 2050 according to a UN report.
The Ireland South MEP gave the stark warning as she addressed the European Parliament on the urgent need to tackle plastic pollution.
Ms Ní Riada, who sits on the EU Fisheries Committee, said we all had to take responsibility for the problem, citing Ireland as one of the worst polluting offenders.
“Plastic pollution is affecting marine life in even the most remote parts of the Atlantic Ocean,” she said.
“Almost three quarters of a sample of more than 230 deep water fish collected by NUI Galway scientists had ingested plastic particles.
“However, it’s important we recognise that it is not the fisheries that are solely responsible for this but they are part of the answer. Indeed, fisheries were, in my view, the first environmentalists; they had to be in order to maintain and sustain a living.
“We have to tackle this issue now, as a matter of urgency. Already we have seen reports predicting that there will be more plastic waste than fish in our oceans by 2050.
“To treat this as anything other than an emergency is to condemn future generations to dying oceans and a corrupted environment.
“The issue, like the oceans it’s affecting, can seem so vast that it is beyond our ability to act but there are practical solutions that we can apply.
“Education, for example, is key in this and the Polluter Pays Principle has to come into effect.
“Manufacturers must take responsibility and ownership of the fact that they are producing these vast amounts of plastic, be it nets or be it in the ordinary every day use of things like plastic bottles.
“We all use plastic on so many different levels and we all have to be individually responsible for our own use but if we are to begin undoing the damage that we have cause to our oceans then manufacturers must play a key role.
“Looking at the extension of initiatives such as the Litter Scheme may also help. Incentivising fisheries to grab in the ghost nets is a positive move but we should examine extending that a bit further and invest more in our fisheries to try and incentivise them to gather up plastic as they’re fishing.
“We also need to look at plastic recycling and how that feeds into the circular economy.
“There are many positive things in today’s report. I look forward to examining it and putting forward some of my own amendments.
“But let there be no doubt about how big this issue is and how crucial it is that we all accept our responsibility in having contributed to it.
“For example, I’m ashamed to say that Ireland is one of the top polluters and that’s not a record that we’re proud of.
“As an Irish person, as an Irish MEP I am more than willing to get stuck into this issue to see can we tackle it once and for all, both the existing problem and the future problems that its going to cause.”