20 easy ways to go green

20 easy ways to go green

In a global survey by YouGov last month Irish people declared environmental broadcaster David Attenborough as the most-admirable man on earth. This week, another conversation has been sparked by teen activist Greta Thunberg who sailed the Atlantic to reach America for a host of climate conferences, forgoing air travel, which is a generous contributor to greenhouse gases. And on September 20, the Global Climate Strike will ask not just children to take to the streets, but for adults too, to up and leave their desks for the sake of the planet’s future.

If you can’t march and you don’t want to be global activist, but you are still concerned about the planet, Joyce Fegan has 20 simple ways to go green.

1. Cut down on plastics

20 easy ways to go green

Over the last number of years, the problem with plastics has been well-documented. From appearing in the digestive tracts of whales to the respiratory systems of turtles, this oil-based material has made its way into the food chain. With various chemicals being used to harden plastics, the question is what types of resins and substances are entering the human system? Aside from its effect on public health, plastic also lives for hundreds of years, taking an extremely long time to break down. This is a problem because currently, just 8% of all plastic is recycled globally and its production has increased 20-fold between 1964 and 2014, from 15m tonnes to 311m tonnes.

Soft plastics, so wrappings on crisp packets, bunches of bananas and packs of mixed peppers, are the greatest offenders, as they are at best, shredded and then burnt at high temperatures.

The only way to tackle the problem of plastics is to cut down on your use. Buy food that comes without all the unnecessary packaging, talk to your local supermarket about the problem and help send a clear message to manufacturers, that as a consumer, you don’t want plastic. The message will then be passed back down the chain to the oil industry.

2. Leave weeds alone

One third of Ireland’s wild bee population is under threat of extinction.

Irish bumblebee populations recorded in 2017 were at their lowest since records began in 2011.

So what?

The 21 species of bumblebees in Ireland are vital pollinators of crops and wild plants. They are essential to a healthy ecosystem and to food production.

What’s contributed to their decline?

It’s a combination of habitat loss for building purposes, the intensification of agriculture, poisoning by pesticides, and climate change.

So what can you do? Every time you see a yellow dandelion on your beautifully manicured lawn, instead of cursing it, welcome it as a source of food for a whole range of garden wildlife. It’s not just bees that go hungry, but pollen beetles and butterflies too. But instead of having a garden of just dandelions, you could plant your own wild flower meadow. There are no gardening classes needed, nor any requirement to bow down on bended knee to dig at soil.

Instead you can get yourself some Irish wildflower seed bombs. Place them into bare soil and maybe water a little, but mother nature will take care of the rest. You’ll end up with a colourful meadow of reds, purples, and yellows, as seen on roundabouts, at golf clubs, and your local park. Then you can sit back and watch the bees and butterflies return for food.

- See: seedbomb.ie

3. Car pool, cycle, walk or go electric

One of the most obvious and well-known ways that we impact the environment is through our private vehicle use. While greenhouse gas emissions are produced by a host of activities, from agricultural to energy industries, according to Ireland’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), almost 20% of these damaging gases come from transport.

“In global terms, Ireland is a small country with a relatively small population. However, Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions per person are among the highest of any country in the world. The argument that we are too small a country to make a difference holds no ground — climate change is a global problem that requires a global solution,” says the EPA. We have until 2050 to cut our emissions so as to keep global warming to 1.5C, otherwise we face brutal consequences as a species from wild fires and drought to food and water shortages.

Things you can do include car pooling, taking the bus, train or other forms of public transport. You can still avail of the bike-to-work scheme, or if you aren’t in paid employment, there are plenty of good second-hand bike shops around or else you can go online. And it doesn’t just extend to your mode of transport, you can ask your local government about cycle lanes so that the necessary infrastructure is in place to encourage cycling.

4. Clothes/fashion

The idea that your clothing choices have an impact on the environment has only just reached a tipping point. With many cheap items made from polyester and other plastics, microfibres make their way out of your washing machine, bypassing its filter, and enter our water system.

The problem with micro plastics as a byproduct is just one of the problems caused by fast fashion. The other issue is the fact that, say unlike a hard plastic water bottle that could be at least recycled, how do you recycle your fleece pyjamas or your used polyester socks and underwear? Chances are you don’t.

Ways to be mindful about how your clothes impact the environment include cutting down on how much you buy. Do you need three pairs of novelty onesies at Christmas for that Instagram photo? Do you need to live the life of a celebrity and never be seen in the same outfit twice?

Sinead O’Sullivan is an Irish costume designer for Hollywood and as well as being mindful of the fabrics she uses in her work, she is also conscious of her personal relationship with fashion. She advises buying less and buying better, and also buying one-off pieces from charity shops, many of which have an online presence nowadays. Another action you can take is to visit Textile Recycling Ireland and see if your old socks and T-shirts can be used for the likes of car seats and couch cushioning.

5. Fly less

Climate activist Greta Thunberg begins her voyage to the US from Plymouth on the Malizia II. Picture: Kirsty Wigglesworth/PA Wire
Climate activist Greta Thunberg begins her voyage to the US from Plymouth on the Malizia II. Picture: Kirsty Wigglesworth/PA Wire

This is a contentious one — aside from living a long and healthy life surrounded by friends and family, world travel is high up the list of people’s happiness lists. Teen activist Greta Thunberg sailed across the Atlantic to North America to highlight the environmental cost of flying. There are many people whose sensibilities have been offended by the teenager’s awareness-raising action.

Air travel is reliant on fossil fuels, using up to five million barrels of oil, every single day. The burning of that fuel contributes about 2.5% to total carbon emissions. It is estimated that this could rise to 22% by 2050, a year when we have had to cut our emissions so as to keep global warming at a safer temperature.

And the problem nowadays is that most people can afford to fly, with the number of airline passengers set to double by 2035.

So what are your options? You can always cut back on your holidays abroad and instead, contribute to the domestic tourism trade, or else we can hope that scientists find an eco-friendly way to fuel our air travel.

A team of scientists at the Bernal Institute based at the University of Limerick (UL), signed a deal with the Dutch KLM spin-off SkyNRG in June. The two organisations are exploring the development of sustainable aviation fuel manufacturing in Ireland. But what’s more — an efficient sustainable aviation fuel supply chain could see an 85% reduction in carbon emissions.

6. Eat less meat

We could cut down on our meat consumption.
We could cut down on our meat consumption.

When former president of Ireland, Mary Robinson, talked about going vegan she was mocked and vilified. In the world of climate change there is possibly no issue more hotly contested than that of the plant-based diet.

Green politicians are mocked for wanting to take your quarter-pounder away and struggling farmers feel their livelihood is under attack by campaigners who want to see change in this area.

So why do people want us to stop eating so much meat?

There are many reasons, but here are two. Livestock is the world’s largest used of land resources. Grazing land and cropland makes up 80% of all agricultural land. In some parts of the world, mass deforestation is happening to make way for this food production, it’s this loss of habitat that ring the climate alarm bells.

Secondly, there are the emissions. From farm to fork, the meat industry emits a lot of greenhouse gases.

According to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, agriculture, forestry and other land use accounts for 24% of greenhouse gases. Various efforts to single out the role of animal farming within that have come up with an array of numbers, from 6-32%.

In Ireland, it’s this higher figure that rings true.

“In Ireland, the agriculture sector was directly responsible for 32.2% of national GHC (greenhouse gas) emissions in 2014, mainly methane from livestock, and nitrous oxide due to the use of nitrogen fertiliser and manure management,” stated the Environmental Protection Agency.

While some people are alarmed by the fact that they may have to cut out their savoured fillet steak or prime beef burger, doing your bit in this regard, can be as simple as just reducing your meat consumption to a few days a week.

7. Buy local to cut down on carbon footprint

Darina Allen
Darina Allen

When you buy apples from Ecuador and potatoes from China, they have to travel an awful long way to get here, and we are back to the discussion about how to cut our transport-induced emissions. But you don’t want everything to be about the environment.

Instead, a very simple way to do your bit is to shop local. Irish apples are cheaper than the fancy varieties ones that have come thousands of miles to land in your supermarket aisle in all their waxed-up glory.

It’s also better for your body to eat locally and seasonally, according to Darina Allen.

See what’s in season on the Bord Bia website and make dinner from those ingredients, with autumn upon on us and winter approaching, there are plenty of Irish root vegetables to shop and cook from.

If you want to go one step further in your endeavour to cut down your carbon footprint, you could check out your local community farm and have a box of organic vegetables delivered to your home once a week. These affordable boxes are filled with in-season fruit and vegetables and often come with recipes to try out, based on what’s in your weekly box.

8. Beauty/hygiene

There is no industry immune from the green glare, as UN report after UN report highlights the need for all of us to change our ways.

While hygiene might not necessarily qualify as beauty, products such as face wipes and cotton buds often contain plastic.

They cannot be flushed down the toilet, even though many people do this, nor can they be recycled.

They head off to landfill, taking the requisite 400 years to break down. Other hygiene items that present this problem are sanitary towels, again containing soft plastic in their lining, and they also head for landfill.

So while no one is advocating a reduction in hygiene standards, there are ways around this.

For make-up wipes, a good old-fashioned cotton face cloth is just as effective for removing foundation or cleaning your face.

Have a basket on stand-by in your bathroom and just run them through your wash with the rest of your washing.

When it comes to menstruation, menstrual cups and specially-designed underwear are just some of the reusable items that people are turning to, in a bid to cut down on their own contribution to landfill waste.

It might sound strange, but statistics show that these new environmentally-friendly products are user-friendly and are developing a loyal customer base.

9. Compost that food

Composting has been around for years, and it used to be the preserve of the green-fingered, presumably to create a luscious fertiliser for vibrant flowerbeds. Then things got serious, and the rest of us were forced to wise up and stop avoiding responsibility for the planet by slagging off people who actually took action.

Before we get to the hard sell, it has been shown that the average family in Ireland can waste up to €50 a month on discarded food, you know all those leftover dinners and rotting peppers in the bottom drawer of your fridge?

Now that you’re aware of the €50 extra a month in your pocket, let’s look at environmental reasons for composting. If you don’t use your brown bin and just throw all your food scraps, teabags, and grass clippings into the black bin, it all heads to landfill.

When you send your food waste to landfill it produces harmful greenhouse gases, the very ones we are trying to cut down on by swapping out the car trip for a bike ride. It is easier after all, to utilise the brown bin to its maximum potential than to jump on a bike in the pouring rain.

10. Use your voice and vote

With a General Election around the corner, why not ask politicians their stances on climate change, if they knock on your door?
With a General Election around the corner, why not ask politicians their stances on climate change, if they knock on your door?

Doing your bit for the environment doesn’t have to just be about losing, reducing and cutting back. It can connect you with your local community. You can join your local Tidy Town group or tag along to the beach or river-side clean-up. There are also many green groups in towns around Ireland where talks on zero-waste living and composting are held.

But you can also go national with your input and follow legislation as it passes through the Dáil, from attempts to ban single-use plastics to efforts to stop using fossil fuels, you can talk to your local TD about how they’re voting and why.

You can track various pieces of legislation by following groups such as Friends of the Earth on social media or by signing up to their email newsletter.

If you stay informed you can apply your vote more deliberately. They say a General Election is right around the corner. Next time a brave soul knocks on your door and canvasses you for your number one, ask them how they vote on climate bills and how they’re helping to keep Ireland’s carbon emissions down.

11. Water refills

20 easy ways to go green

Take any yoga class or spin session and you’ll see reusable water bottles lining the floor, if not falling over to wake everyone up from the savasana. Tune into RTÉ Radio One and you’ll hear Ryan Tubridy talking about his.

Our unhelpful relationship with plastic water bottles have received lots of attention in the last number of years, and for a lot of heavily-verified reasons.

Two-and-a-half million plastic water bottles are generated in Ireland every day.

How many of those are tossed in the on-street general bin headed for landfill? And how many are placed in your green recycling bin?

But instead of worrying about recycling at all, consumers have turned in their droves to reusable bottles, that keep your drink cool for up to 24 hours. Then there is the problem of being on-the-go and not being able to refill your container. There is an answer to that too — see refill.ie.

Refill has an interactive tap map of all the business premises and public enterprises where you can fill up your water bottle around Ireland. There are almost 1,000 places in the country where you can just fill up your bottle, and if you don’t have access to the internet or a smartphone, some of these premises have a Refill sticker on their window.

12. Switch to reusable coffee cups

There was a time when walking around a city with a disposable coffee cup was a sign of both busyness, otherwise known as success, and of disposable income.

Now coffee cups, unless they’re recyclable or compostable, are nearly considered as anti-social as the cigarette.

The problem with coffee cups is their plastic lining — meaning they were neither recyclable nor compostable.

In Ireland, we waste 20,000 single-use coffee cups every hour? That adds up to 300 million a year. But when word got out about this consumers kicked up and coffee shops changed their way.

According to Cork-based supplier of compostable food packaging, Down2Earth Materials, one in four disposable coffee cups are now compostable.

But better yet, why not buy your own Keep Cup, cutting back on waste completely and receiving a discount from your local barista. Many business owners now offer customers a certain amount of money off their purchase if they bring their own cup.

13. Back to basics

Visitors to the Panda Irish Packaging Recycling plant are dwarfed by an enormous mound of material collected from households in the Dublin area. Picture: Moya Nolan
Visitors to the Panda Irish Packaging Recycling plant are dwarfed by an enormous mound of material collected from households in the Dublin area. Picture: Moya Nolan

It might seem basic, but learning about recycling, the dos and the don’ts, is a simple step lots of people can take.

The Panda recycling centre in Ballymount, Dublin, is the largest recycling plant in the country, what they receive on a daily basis points to a need for education in the area of recycling.

About 36% of the recycled waste they receive every single day ends up getting burnt because it is not recyclable. This is either because of contamination, or because the wrong thing ended up in the green bin.

Of the other 64% that does go on to have another life, 40% of that is paper, 6% is cardboard, and 8% is made up of aluminium and mixed plastics.

Learning what you can put in your green bin, so cans, cardboard, tetra packs and hard plastics such as orange juice bottles, will go along way to making the world a greener place. So too will learning not to put in your green bin.

Wet wipes, nappies and animal waste are just of the things found by the staff at this plant, and these are items not meant for the green bin.

On the issue of contamination, the general manager of the plant, Liam Dunne explains that contamination would mean things such as a litre of milk or a container full of coleslaw bursting all over perfectly recyclable paper. Small traces of food remnants or shampoo is not necessarily contamination.

More information about the dos and don’ts is available at www.recyclinglistireland.ie.

14. Say no to anything disposable

Anne Hathaway
Anne Hathaway

Hollywood actor Anne Hathaway turned up to a recent interview complete with her dining set, including a metal straw, knife, and fork. She is trying to cut down on single-use plastic and is leading by example.

You can do the same, just like back in the day when we took a packed lunch to school in the same box every single day and no one was sniggering at that or calling it virtue-signalling.

Take a canvass bag with you for groceries, you can fold it up and leave it in your handbag or workbag. It’ll reduce the temptation to fork out the 80c or so for a soft plastic bag.

You can bring your own knife and fork with you to save having to take single-use plastic cutlery from the corner deli on your lunch break, where you end up with nowhere but a street bin to toss them into. Another alternative is to just slow down and dine in. Get a pot of tea or mug of coffee, sit down with a knife, plate, and fork in your local café. It beats eating over your keypad for 300 or so days of the year.

15. Apply the Marie Kondo method

The more you buy, the more stuff you have to get rid of. Take a look in any skip you pass and look at some of the items people are trying to discard. While you can take your old batteries to a recycling centre, along with pieces of scrap metal, most of us struggle to use our green bin correctly.

A key tenet of sustainability is reducing our consumption, much like our relationship with fast fashion, be aware of what you buy in general.

Do you need a brand new desk/ car seat/ radio/ shoe rack when a quick scour online would present you with an array of secondhand options, for at least half the price.

Look on websites like Adverts, Freecycle and eBay before you commit to a purchase and there are also lots of sharing apps and forums in areas where people will lend out the likes of their lawnmower.

When you have that payday pep in your step, and are like a magpie with silver, ask yourself is your purchase just something that’s trending or is useful and beautiful?

16. Strike for climate change

A youth climate strike outside the United Nations building in New York last month. Picture: Mary Altaffer/AP
A youth climate strike outside the United Nations building in New York last month. Picture: Mary Altaffer/AP

Done peacefully, everyone has a right to assemble and push for change.

On September 20, millions of people are expected to turn out all around the world for the Global Climate Strike.

In Dublin, people are asked to meet at Nelson St at 12 noon, and one of the organising groups is Irish Doctors for the Environment.

The group is calling on “anyone concerned about climate breakdown” to join in on September 20.

This strike is off the back of Greta Thunberg’s global school strikes, and the September 20 event is one in which everyone can get involved.

The doctors’ group is urging as many people to gather as possible, in order to “push the climate emergency to the top of Government’s agenda”.

It’s happening on a Friday, so time off work or an extended lunch break will be required.

Globally, concerned citizens are being asked by the Global Climate Strike to organise in their own country.

“This September, millions of us will walk out of our workplaces and homes to join young climate strikers on the streets and demand an end to the age of fossil fuels. Our house is on fire — let’s act like it. We demand climate justice for everyone,” states the organisation.

17. Self-care

Psychologists and parents are reporting a rise in eco-anxiety as young people start to despair about the future of the climate. As the expression goes, you are no used to anyone unless you take care of yourself. People who work in the area of the environment have been living with this sense of despair for many years before the rest of us woke up. Oonagh Duggan from BirdWatch Ireland recommends spending time with like-minded people who are working diligently in this area and also spending time in nature, be that a sea swim or a hike at the weekend.

18. Grow your own herbs, the legal kind

One of the biggest culprits of soft plastics, that non-recyclable packaging is herbs. They either come in trays or pots covered in plastic or else just in a plastic bag on your own.

The great thing about herbs is that you do not need an expansive plot of land in the country to grow them, nor a greenhouse in the city — a windowsill will do.

Ideally, your herbs should be grown near where they will be used — the kitchen. You can also use locations such as beside your backdoor or in a section of your back garden. They are demanding plants, but like most shrubs, herbs need at least six hours of sunshine a day and good shelter from the elements.

If you are going to plant your herbs in pots, make sure to use deep pots with good quality compost. The pots should have decent drainage holes to allow extra water to drain away, as herbs don’t cope with excess water well.

User-friendly herbs, and ones that are commonly bought in the shopping, are good choices to grow. These include sage, rosemary, basil, parsley and thyme.

Even have a handful of plants on your windowsill can serve as a rewarding reminder that you are doing your bit for the environment by cutting down on soft plastics, or whatever other actions you might be taking.

19. Inform yourself

If all of this is new to you or if you have a child who is anxious about the environment, there are several places you can go to for information, depending on your age.

Cara Augustenborg is an environmental scientist who can be found on DownToEarth with Ivan Yates on Newstalk Radio. She is also on Twitter.

For a younger audience, the Instagram account of Keelin Moncrieff, a “socialist environmentalist”, is a great place to get informed about such things as fast fashion. She says that you can’t force people to care, but you can help them to understand.

Green Party candidate Saoirse McHugh’s Twitter account is an informative place as is Green Party senator’s Grace O’Sullivan.

The social media and websites of organisations such as Friends of the Earth, BirdWatch Ireland, Biodiversity Ireland and the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group are also resources for showing us what is going on with the world of nature, and how it’s being impacted.

20. Paperless

Oak tree: Recycling paper could save trees like this in our forests.
Oak tree: Recycling paper could save trees like this in our forests.

While plastic has been in receipt of the negative limelight these last number of years, let’s not forget about paper.

Today’s world, both in the developed and developing countries, means we have access to computers and rely a lot more on digital technology. We can go paperless and have our receipts, bills and bank statements emailed to us instead of receiving hard copies.

Why should we go paperless?

The less paper you use, the less paper needs to be produced and the more trees that get to fill our forests, lands and parks. By recycling one short ton of paper, you can save 17 mature trees.

If it is essential for you to use paper in your life, you can still make a difference by recycling the paper you do use. Today, almost 40% of municipal solid waste (so the general bin) is paper and paper products. It takes less energy to create paper through recycled and used sheets than by creating ‘virgin’ paper from scratch.

And the reason we need trees more than ever is due to rising emissions that need to be absorbed.

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