Paul McGrath - ‘I have a platform and it’s my duty to use it for good’

Paul McGrath - ‘I have a platform and it’s my duty to use it for good’
Irish soccer legend Paul McGrath is helping to lead the charge to increase plastics recycling in Ireland as an advocate for Repak’s Team Green. Picture: Naoise Culhane.

In conversation with Rita de Brún

It was just two or three years ago when it first hit me hard that I have to change how I live; that we all do, for the sake of this planet. We have to start taking care of it. That way it’ll be somewhere our kids and theirs can live normally in the future, as we do today.

When I was growing up, recycling was not something anyone spoke about.

There was no awareness that plastic was endangering the planet. They were different times.

Drinking bottled water wasn’t popular. Plastic bottles weren’t really a thing.

Minerals were sold in glass bottles. If you returned empty ones to the shops you’d get cash in return. As kids, we’d do that, being motivated by the sweets we’d buy in exchange for the glass.

It’s different now. We’re all aware how much trouble the planet’s in. There’s no way you can hear about Ben Lecompte swimming in oceans to raise awareness about pollution and finding plastic every five minutes, or about whales dying with bellies full of the stuff, without being changed as a result.

My love for the Earth comes from my love of nature. I’m an outdoorsy type. I love working in my garden and walking in woodlands.

There’s something therapeutic about that. There’s a tranquillity to nature that can resonate with all of us if we let it.

I’m fond of wildlife. I grew up seeing loads of birds, butterflies and insects, never imagining they’d one day be threatened. Nobody wants to play a part in making life difficult or impossible for wildlife. Not me. Not anybody.

As for whether our littering the Earth the way we have is the result of our living for today without a thought for the consequences of our actions, or whether it’s laziness, selfishness, recklessness or ignorance, I think it’s a mixture of those.

Because the planet is struggling right now and wildlife are as well, a big drive for change is needed. We can increase power if we unite to pave the way for a better, more sustainable future.

One great way to do that, and I have done this, is to become a member of Repak Team Green.

Ireland currently recycles 33% of its plastic, but that figure needs to be 55% by 2030 to meet EU targets. Repak Team Green was launched to help meet that challenge. It’s doing so by asking the Irish public to recycle more and to be careful about recycling properly so as to avoid contamination.

We are asking everyone to try recycling just one extra piece of plastic every week.

You might think: Well how could that tiny gesture make any difference? The answer is that it makes a phenomenal difference, when people all over the country get on board and do it.

If we all do that, 250 million more pieces of plastic will be recycled every year in Ireland, making a massive difference to the cleanliness of our country.

Together we can do this with just a tiny bit of effort.

It’s to set a good example for my five kids and five grandkids that I’m helping Repak spread this message. It’s why I’ve tweaked the way I live. I want us all to be able to look forward to a bright future here on this beautiful planet Earth.

Another reason is because I’ve a public platform. I believe everyone with that privilege should make it their duty to be a voice for good. If people look up to you, then you need to make sure you’re the best role model you can be.

I enjoy cleanliness, a bit of order and a disciplined routine. I’m mindful of my habits and try to pull my weight to make sure I do my share of what needs doing.

My family see me recycling properly; they see me cleaning out cartons and cans before putting them into the correct bins.

They know I avoid using plastic whenever possible and reuse the few plastic containers we’ve had for years, rather than replacing them with more of the same.

My kids have similar habits, which is brilliant. They listen to me. I’m lucky that way.

We’re all lucky really, as we’re a very close family. We talk about everything. I’ve taught them all I know.

They’re great and they’re always looking out for me. Some have tried veggie and vegan diets at different points.

They’re not life choices I’m considering at the moment.

But I may make some tweaks down the road: I enjoy meat, but going meatless a few days a week, sometime in the future, is something I believe I could do.

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