I do not consider myself a person to be emulated when it comes to sustainability. I like to take long, hot showers. I don’t travel without a fully charged electric toothbrush. I still shop for beauty products online – despite the fact I wince every time the oversized cardboard box shows up with unnecessary cellophane or bubble wrap. And I’ve lost more reusable water bottles than I care to admit.
SUSTAINABILITY & CLIMATE
Check out our Sustainability and Climate Change Hub where you will find the latest news, features, opinions and analysis on this topic from across the various Irish Examiner topic desks and their team of specialist writers and columnists.
The first person I call on my quest to become a member of the card-carrying eco-warriors is James Byrne of Kildare-based Faerly.ie.
An online hub for sustainable essentials and treats, I’d already fallen victim to my impulse to ‘add to cart’ before I’d even picked up the phone, hurriedly adding eco-friendly washing up liquids, compostable sponges and wooden dish brushes to my online basket.
“All those things are great,” James says, “but the first bit of advice I would give is – use what you have. If you have a plastic dish brush at home, don’t go out and buy a wooden one just because it’s ‘eco-friendly.’
“[When you start on this journey] you can get excited and you want to go out and buy everything, but the most sustainable thing you can do is use what you already have – and use everything until it comes to the end of its life.”
Ann Teehan of refill shop Annie Pooh in Greystones is passionate about the fact that when moving into a new flat, most of what you need (furniture, storage solutions etc), can be found second-hand.
“Reuse, upcycle and buy second-hand [before you buy new]”, she says. “Facebook marketplace is great for furniture.We’ve gotten leather couches, bunk beds for the girls, all sorts of things for free or at very little cost.
“A lot of towns have their own free cycle or zero waste pages which are great. Our Connect 4 game broke recently and I knew people would have them lying around so I put up an ‘in-search’ of post for Connect 4 and I got one that someone else wasn’t using and was delighted to get rid of.”
If you need to buy a dish brush, sweeping brush or other standard cleaning essentials, it’s best to opt for wooden handles, Ann says.
“And buy one with a replaceable head with natural bristles instead of plastic,” she says.
Returning to the ‘use what you have’ mantra, Ann also points out that lots of old things like t-shirts and towels can be chopped up and used as cleaning cloths.
“You can buy compostable sponges and cloths – but it’s always better to reuse or upcyle what you have already.”
Did you know most cleaning products are 90% water? That’s a lot of unnecessary water being shipped around the world.
To combat this, James suggests buying concentrated versions of cleaning products – which will save the planet as well as your arms on the walk home.
Faerly sell products from a company called neat that have definitely been my favourite discovery on this eco-friendly journey.
neat has managed to eliminate single-use plastics by producing plant-based concentrated cleaners (multi-surface, all-purpose, bathroom and glass and mirror are among the options available) which are sold in glass bottles, alongside a range of aesthetically pleasing aluminium bottles that are designed to last a lifetime. All you do is pop in the concentrated refills, top up with water, give it a shake, and you’re good to go.
“And the fragrances are really, really nice,” James says, “they’re more like the fragrance you’d expect from a diffuser or a candle than a cleaning spray.”
He’s not wrong. There’s been a lot more cleaning in my apartment since my boyfriend and I discovered the Mango & Fig all-purpose cleaner (€4, faerly.ie).
Some of the easiest swaps people can make in the kitchen include replacing single-use items with reusable alternatives.
“In the kitchen, reusable bowl covers and beeswax are really popular alternatives to clingfoil and tinfoil,” Ann says.
Another single-use product that gets a lot of use in many households on a daily basis is kitchen roll.
“I am a very messy eater,” James says laughing, “I used to go through a lot of kitchen roll.
“What I use now is ‘unpaper towels’ from Marley’s Monsters (6 pack, €14, faerly.ie).”
These are essentially washable napkins and come in a range of colourful designs – I can imagine them being a big hit in houses with kids.
“You just throw them in the washing machine when they’re dirty,” he says. Easy.
In Ireland, we generate more than one million tonnes of food waste every year and it is estimated that food waste is responsible for between 8 and 11 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
The best thing we can do is reduce our food waste altogether. After that, the next step is getting a compost bin or brown organic bin to ensure you separate your food waste correctly.
You can choose to either put the food waste into a brown bin for collection and industrial composting or compost it at home with a home composter like a wormery.
If you live in a smaller space like an apartment, then a bokashi bin is a good idea. These Japanese bin systems pickle your waste. The fermenting process breaks down the food quickly into compost for use in the garden.
The Minky Food Waste Caddy (€9.99, littlewoods.ie) available in a range of pastel colours is a stylish addition to any kitchen countertop.
Much like starting a new diet or committing to a new exercise regime, James says it’s important to remember that we aren’t all going to be coming from the same place when we start looking at making our lives more sustainable.
“Everyone has a slightly different starting point,” he says. “And if you try and do everything at once, you’re more likely to give up altogether.
“So start small. Make a few substitutions, and once you’re used to those, make a few more.”