Plastic Problem


The proliferation of plastic is fast becoming one of the great issues of our time. Scientists continue to document cases of how creatures from the biggest whales to the smallest birds cannot distinguish between plastic and food. Increasingly, plastic can be found in the digestive systems of the aquatic life which rely on our rivers, lakes and seas as a source of food. Can we do anything to halt this plastic problem?

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A real image captured off the coast of Indonesia in late 2016. It shows a seahorse latching onto a cotton swab. Picture courtesy of


Sr Nora Lucey, a science teacher by profession, has been championing environmental causes throughout her missionary life in Nigeria, England and the Netherlands. The Ballyvourney native currently ministers as a parish worker at the SMA Parish in Wilton, Cork. Thoughts of the environment are never far from Sr Nora’s mind. Microbeads is the current ‘hot topic’.

 “Microbeads are tiny plastic balls. They can be found in most bathrooms. Soaps, shower gels and facial scrubs can contain microbeads which mimic the texture etc. of natural ingredients. They are also found in clothes. Microbeads are minuscule in size. Water treatment plants cannot catch them so once microbeads are washed down the drain, they enter our rivers and seas. What happens if we eat fish that have consumed microbeads?

A recent study by researchers at NUI Galway found that over 70% of deep sea fish in an isolated area of the North-East Atlantic had ingested plastic. Deep sea fish surface at night and feed on plankton.


Sr Nora Lucey. Picture courtesy of


Petitions against plastic

Sr Nora began petitioning against the use of microbeads a few years back.

“Every day I must spend half an hour filling in petitions that arrive in my inbox.  Everything from the use of the weed killer ‘Round Up’ which was recently approved for use in the EU for another five years, the banning of takeaway coffee cups, to kelp harvesting in Bantry Bay – kelp is used in the production of cosmetics but it needs to be cut at a certain length so it grows back.

“Some that 500 million straws are used daily in the US and that straws are among the top items of plastic debris in our seas. Fish mistake plastic straws for food. Straws can instead be made from recyclable material rather than ending-up in the gut of a fish. Given McDonald’s global reach, a huge impact could be made if enough people petition them to change their straw policy.

“Some might shrug their shoulders and say ‘what good is filling in a petition?’. By petitioning our politicians etc., we alert them to an issue. If enough of us do it, they may do something about it.”

Some of the petitioning appears to have paid off. The Irish government will introduce a ban on products containing microbeads.

The ‘plastic problem’ has been compounded for Europe as China recently introduced a ban on the importation of plastic waste. According to Eurostat figures, 95% of Irish plastic in 2016 ended up in China.


A man sorts plastic bottles at a dump in China. Image courtesy of


A Waste Reduction Bill was launched last year in Ireland. It proposes, among other things, that non-biodegradable coffee cups, be banned from 2020, and has also proposed a deposit and refund scheme for closed beverage containers. Sr. Nora is hopeful it will be soon introduced.

 “I recently wrote to a number of TDs with responsibility for the environment - groups such as ‘Uplift’ and ‘Sum of Us’ make petitioning very easy. Mr. Eamon Ryan T.D., replied and expressed his hope the Waste Reduction Bill will ‘be enacted before the end of 2018’.

“Why am I so passionate about the environment?

“I love God’s creation. We have a responsibility to look after what God has given us. We must remember that the earth is not just a home for humans, it is home to plants, animals, the oceans etc. too. We need to take care of our common home. By taking care of creation, we take care of ourselves.

“When you unpack your groceries or a new electrical appliance, you say to yourself, ‘wow, the amount of packaging!’.


Graphic courtesy of


“The facts about the future of the planet are really scary. Mr. Frank Door who conducts the ‘Saving our Little Blue Planet’ workshop says that scientists predict that we have only 60 to 100 years or resources left for the planet. We can also see the effects of climate change which is forcing many refugees to leave home because the soil is not fit for crop production. The poor always suffer most.

"In the drive for shareholder profits and our own gain, we are destroying the planet. The next generation will suffer unless we act."

Tale of the starfish

After reading this article, Sr Nora feels it might be easy to despair and shrug ‘what difference can i make’?

However, she has a motivating message.

“Did you ever hear the story of the boy and the starfish?”

After a storm, a little boy is standing on a beach, picking washed-up starfish from the sand and throwing them back in the water. An old man walks up to the little boy and asks: ‘Why are you doing this?’. ‘I want to save them,’ the boy replies. ‘It doesn’t matter what you’re doing – you can’t save all of them,” the man said to the boy. After picking up another jellyfish and throwing it back in the sea, the boy replies: ‘It matters to this one’.

“One small action by us could literally be life saving for someone else or something else in our common home. Now is the time for us to act in every small way possible.


Image courtesy of

Ready to act?

So where does one start? Sr Nora has some tips.

“Check out Annie Lennox’s ‘Story of Stuff’ Youtube videos. They are entertaining and educating. After watching them, tell others!

“Look-up to see what can be recycled. Some advocate taking fruit and vegetables out of the plastic in the shops, this may be going a bit far.

“Inform yourself about microbeads and the products which contain them - gives a list of products that contain microbeads.

“Lastly, watch ‘Dirt! The Movie’, narrated by Jaime Lee Curtis.”



    • Sr Nora is a member of the Wilton Justice Group, read more about their work here.
    • Wilton Justice Group are in the process of becoming an 'Eco Congregation'. Read more about ECI here.
    • Click here to visit the 'Story of Us' website.
    • Click here to visit the OLA 'Care of Earth' webpage.
    • Other useful campaign sites include,,, Global Catholic Climate Movement, and