While one thing comes to mind when we hear the word "environment" nowadays, its other meaning, around amenities, public transport, and green spaces is what we have asked Irish people living abroad about.
In Ireland, public transport has come in for considerable criticism, with no progress on an underground system being made in the capital, and also the cost, especially for students or those on lower wages. Other criticisms include punctuality, with people coming home from abroad, either from a holiday or from living away, commenting on the tardiness of buses and trains in Ireland. Clockwork is not a term we associate with our public transport.
Then when it comes to things like waste management, on-street recycling is not something we are known for at all, and we have gone through several iterations from public to private and from weighted to unlimited allowance as regarding our domestic waste.
In fact, a study released earlier this week shone a light on the worsening issue of litter in many Irish towns and cities. Waterford is the country's only 'clean' city, according to the IBAL survey, with parts of Dublin, Cork, and Limerick all performing poorly. Discarded PPE is among the main issues, the survey noted.
For things like free public amenities such as parks, green spaces, libraries, and museums, we do not fare too badly, but then again, Irish people we spoke to abroad say their adopted homes go one step further and provide free fêtes, fairs, and markets in their public spaces, as opposed to in Ireland, where you pay an entrance fee to most outdoor events.
Gerald Flynn, originally from Limerick, has been living in Ontario, Canada for eight years. He lives there with his wife Meggan, and their 10-month-old baby girl Clara.
In Canada, Gerald says that when it comes to public transport there's room for improvement there too.
"Public transport could be better. There is a train that runs from my town Guelph to Toronto but it's kind of slow and stops a lot so be prepared to read a book and snooze.
"Within each town there are buses but there is nothing to report on their performance," says Gerald.
On the traffic and roads situation, it sounds quite similar to Ireland.
"There is a lot of traffic and only one major road into Toronto called the Gardiner. If it were to shut down then the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) would be in trouble," says the Limerick man.
Another big similarity to Ireland is the much-promised underground system for the capital.
"There is a push for a proper subway to run from one end of the GTA to the other but no governing authority is ever in office long enough to see it through before the next Premier overturns it," says Gerald.
When it comes to domestic waste in Canada, the Limerick man reckons the system is broadly the same as in Ireland. "Recycling is somewhat similar to Ireland I would say. They have their general, recycling and compost waste pick-up," says Gerald.
But waste in cities is managed differently to home.
"There are lots of rubbish bins in local areas as well as special recycling spots for when you’re, let's say, walking your dog. I would also say there is a lot less rubbish on the streets here than in areas like Dublin," says Gerald.
For Cork woman Eileen Littorin, Stockholm in Sweden is her current home, where she lives with her husband Magnus and their two children, David, seven, and Sophia, six.
From 24/7 public transport to waste management and public amenities, the Swedish city caters well for its inhabitants, with particular importance placed on public spaces, says Cork woman Eileen.
"Public transport is great. It costs about €100 for a monthly card in Stockholm which gives you access to all trains, buses, ferries and trams, etc," says Eileen.
"It's reliable and runs 24/7," she adds.
Recycling is of major importance and people living in Sweden also have free access to dumps to dispose of their waste.
"There are tonnes of recycling stations around and you have free access to dumps too to dispose of rubbish. It's free," says Eileen.
But it's when it comes to public spaces that the Swedes really shine, with not just availability, but lots of choice too, including gyms. And all areas in the city are provided for.
"There is massive importance placed on parks, playgrounds and outdoor gyms," says the Cork woman.
"There is so much to choose from and they are in all areas of the city," she adds.
For Dingle native, Siun Creedon Prochazka, Prague in the Czech Republic is her home, where she lives with her husband and two children Marketa, three, and Alvy nine.
While we often look to places like Germany, or Switzerland, for superb public transport, the Czech Republic, especially its capital, has a system worth boasting about, says this Kerry woman. There are nearly 3,000 train stations in the country compared to Ireland's 147.
"Public transport is heavily relied upon and runs very regularly, like clockwork," says Siun.
She says the bigger cities have reliable tram networks, while the villages and towns throughout the country are connected by buses and trains.
"There are a total of 2,808 train stations in the country with a population of 10 million compared to 147 in Ireland. Public transport is very affordable, even from a Czech native's standpoint," says Siun.
And the cost, for a "clockwork" system that services an entire country in great detail?
"A year-long pass to Prague’s public transport system is €144. A single train journey from Brno, a major city in the east about 200km away from Prague is €12," explains Siun.
And when it comes to waste disposal, collection is very frequent, and is managed both publicly and privately.
"Waste management is mostly State-run and there are private collection providers too. It’s collected a couple of times a week. There are recycling points along the streets for residents of apartment buildings," explains Siun.
And much like Sweden, when it comes to public spaces, from parks to playgrounds, the Czech Republic is very well serviced. Siun says this is because it is a "very family-oriented" country.
"Czechs are very active and green spaces are hugely important and very well maintained. There are almost 200 parks and green spaces in Prague alone," she says.
Siun explains that there are 179.8 square metres of green space for every Prague inhabitant, and that grassy and wooded areas make up nearly 60% of the city’s area, with 28% covered by trees and 27% by grass.
"It’s a very family-orientated country and there are playgrounds everywhere," she adds.
Caitríona Rush lives in The Hague in The Netherlands with her husband and two children aged 10 and seven.
Caitríona says that public transport is generally good in The Netherlands, both in urban and rural areas.
"Public transport is very good here, especially in city areas but also in the country. It's generally on time and runs efficiently," she says.
When it comes to waste management it's provided for by the State, but the system of collection varies depending on where you live.
"Rubbish is separated and picked up by the council - some of it through bins that are collected, some of it you bring to local containers. It varies per council," she says.
However, on the much bigger picture of the environment and climate change, she says The Netherlands is not as up-to-speed as expected, with a court case challenging missed targets when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The case was taken by an environmental group and nearly 1,000 Dutch citizens.
"Regarding the environment, the Dutch are not as progressive as you might think and are lagging behind on many aspects," says Caitríona.
"There was a court case about not meeting agreed targets which the environmentalists won. It was in the news a lot until [Covid-19] took over," she adds.
Ailbhe Storan, originally from Limerick city, lives in Dubai with her husband.
She says public transport is great there, as well as the provision of public spaces. However, when it comes to the actual environment, while there is a focus on it, plastic features heavily in Dubai life.
"Dubai has an extensive public transport network so it's an easy city to navigate. The metro and taxis are very reliable and quite cheap compared to Ireland. A 10-minute taxi ride to work costs about €5," says Ailbhe.
Green spaces are well maintained, and popular, but only when it's cool enough to actually be outside.
"There are many public green areas which are very well maintained and popular during the cooler months," says the Limerick native.
However, recycling isn't made easy here, especially with high-rise builds where waste management is not that well thought out.
"While there has been an increased focus on the environment and sustainability, recycling isn’t made easy with most high-rise apartment buildings having one garbage chute on each floor with no recycling bin," says Ailbhe.
"In addition, there is a heavy use of plastic bottles in the hospitality sector and plastic bags are free in most supermarkets," she adds.
Sonya Coogan, originally from Co. Monaghan, now lives in Lisbon, Portugal, with her husband and two step-children - a city that has become increasingly popular as an emigration destination for Irish people.
In Portugal, public transport is excellent, says this Monaghan woman, but waste management is not up to scratch, especially when it comes to recycling. However, public spaces are "absolutely amazing" with many free events provided for families.
"Public transport is excellent. It's really cheap," says Sonya. After landing in Lisbon airport, passengers have the option of a metro, bus or train.
"It's excellent actually, because I do compare it to Dublin and where I come from (Monaghan). It's very frequent, it's very cheap, you can get monthly passes, yearly passes, and discounted rates. It's an excellent system," says Sonya.
But the waste management system isn't to the same standard.
"The waste management system is not so good. It's not a bin for every house. Say you live in a cul de sac of 10 houses, there are one or two big bins at the end of the street so you put the rubbish there. It's included in your house rates, but people will dump sofas, beds, furniture - everything in that bin.
"They don't recycle. They're not very good at recycling yet even in the offices - that's actually quite hard for me," says Sonya.
Something else that isn't well provided for is cycle lanes or paths.
"Cycling - you put your life in danger if you want to go on a bike here. I brought my bike here, I haven't used it since I got here. Although in the city, they're massive into these little scooters, they're parked everywhere, you rent them, you go around the city on them. They're very popular in the city," says Sonya.
Driving is a little more erratic, she says, though.
However, one thing the Portuguese do really well is public spaces and free public events.
"It's absolutely amazing," she says. From Christmas events to music and summer events, they are all provided throughout the year.
"You can go into Lisbon for the 'Winter Wonderland' with rides and markets and stalls and an ice rink. It's all for free," says Sonya.
"They do quite a lot of things for families here for free. It's very family-oriented. I live quite near the beach. It's a fabulous way of life. The climate is amazing. The food is fabulous," she adds.
Sonya runs the Irish in Lisbon Facebook page.