Catherine O’Sullivan lives close to Cork airport with her husband Frank, three kids, two dogs, one cat, two budgies, five hens and thousands of worms. Having had a conversation about climate change with their children a couple of years ago her son asked, “What can we do?” It made her recognise that we can all do something now.
“You do not have to aim for 100% sustainability in everything,” she says, “however, if we all did even one thing then it all adds up.” Catherine recognises that plastic "recycling" is not a solution but rather we need to make the choice to reduce plastic in our homes instead.
“We started reducing our plastic use in the home and choosing reusable or zero waste instead,” she says. “Swapping out single-use plastic for more sustainable options has been a big change for us. That ruled out buying products like kitchen paper and opting for washable and reusable bamboo towels instead.”
As Catherine and her family increase their sustainable practices every year, she finds herself easily making better choices while in the supermarket such as opting for cans and cardboard as they are more widely recycled, buying unpackaged loose fruit and vegetables, and visiting refill shops.
“While I was looking for fewer plastic options,” she says, “I also reduced the chemicals used in our home. We have so many cleaning products for every area of the home when one natural cleaning soap bar can do just about everything. Shampoo/conditioner bars and body wash soap bars have all replaced the plastic bottles in my shower. Bamboo toothbrushes in lieu of plastic."
As she is wonderfully green-fingered, Catherine grows her own plants and vegetables and encourages her kids to get involved. “It makes them think about where their food comes from,” she says. “They have a better relationship with food and growing it themselves encourages them to eat healthier.”
Having also installed solar panels to help reduce her home's electricity usage and carbon footprint, Catherine knows she will continue to choose sustainable options as her children grow older.
“Hopefully, more sustainable options will be even more accessible for everyone in the future,” she says.
"I am still learning and making changes today. They are small but if I can make our little part of the world a healthier and more sustainable place at least I can say I tried."
Valerie is turning her back garden into a food forest. “Basically, everything I plant is edible, be it fruit, vegetables, salads, flowers, or herbs,” she says. “I often giggle at myself as I live in a semi-detached house in the suburbs of Limerick, but act like I’ve a small organic farm in the country.
"We even adopted three rescue hens recently that were due to be culled from a commercial egg farm. My aim is to grow as much at home to reduce food miles, plastic, and waste and be as self-sufficient as possible while enjoying homegrown, delicious, and healthy food.”
“I try to focus on sustainability at home in many ways, from making my own simple cleaning products to buying natural and local products as much as possible. I used cloth nappies (many of which were bought second hand) on my son and use cloth menstrual pads myself. These are all far easier, cleaner, more comfortable, and hygienic than people realise. YouTube became my best friend in learning all I needed to know when I was starting out.”
Valerie also buys second hand as much as possible including furniture, furnishings, and toys. “You’d be shocked at the amazing condition most things are in,” she says.
Valerie’s four-year-old son Ziggy attends a local forest pre-school. He loves to be outdoors and is very keen to help in the garden. “I see this as a beautiful way for us to share a connection while also reaping the benefits from spending time outside together. We are taking part in the #1000HoursOutside challenge which is focused on reducing screen time and getting back to nature and all it offers.”
Sustainable living is very much a conscious choice we need to make. Families like Valerie’s show us how satisfying and significant such practices are.
“It is important for me to continue this path of sustainability,” says Valerie, “and instil good values and ethics in my children so they can go forward and do their part in helping make the Earth a better, healthier, cleaner, and safer place to live.”
Valerie says that the first step in making sustainable choices and changes at home is awareness.
“We can’t fix what we don’t know about,” she says, “and when you know better, you can choose to do better. The ripple effect is far-reaching and if more people do their share rather than waiting on the powers that be to fix everything, then we stand a far greater chance of a bright future for us, our children, and future generations.”
The sustainable choices Bernadette Collins from Timoleague in Cork makes for her family are often centred around her two sons, Johnny (2.5 years old) and Teddy (10 months old). She uses a Cork-based toy rental company, Clever Tots, to hire toys on a monthly subscription basis.
“Toy rotation means that the boys’ interests are peaked with new toys every month,” she says. “Teddy has just turned 10 months, so the toys he receives are chosen specifically to help with his development.
"I can see how the toys help him perfect key skills. Johnny is nearly 2.5 years old and the toys he has received are just perfect to entertain him, and really encourage creative play.
Clever Tots has sustainability at its core as they consciously select from a range of eco-friendly wooden toys and those made from recycled plastics. “We are not throwing any toys away,” says Bernadette. “They are cleaned, disinfected and sent to another home for a lucky child to play with.”
Bernadette is fortunate enough to live across the road from the boys’ grandparents who grow potatoes and vegetables for the year for the two families.
This has led to Bernadette’s oldest son Johnny showing an interest in planting and harvesting food. She also chooses clothes from small Irish businesses whose materials are ethically sourced such as the conscious clothing brand, Zizo.
“The choices we make as a family will directly impact the world that our children will grow up in,” says Bernadette. “If we can reduce waste then we are taking a step in the right direction. I will always make a conscious effort. Sometimes it is not always possible, but we are always looking for ways.”