Let's hear it for Cork's zero heroes

Zero-waste warriors tell Kya DeLongchamps about how they embarked on their sustainability odyssey
Let's hear it for Cork's zero heroes

Joanna O'Dowd, her husband Enda, and daughters Tara, 9, left, and Mila, 6.
Joanna O'Dowd, her husband Enda, and daughters Tara, 9, left, and Mila, 6.

Struggle, mindfulness and meeting every hurdle with intelligent, adaptive behaviour, the Zero Waste (ZW) movement is thriving in Ireland.

We spoke to three volunteers with the Cork Zero Waste Alliance, determined on a lean, low-waste, no-waste life.

Joanna O’Dowd

Joanna O’Dowd lives in Carrigtwohill with her husband and two daughters. “Having children brought me to a ZW mindset. It wasn’t just about the environment, but more about giving my daughters as healthy and safe a start as possible. Slowly, over a period of nine years, I added to our ZW ways. Completely ZW is possible, but it requires a lot of ‘going out of my way’ — not always practical in my family life.

“My daughter is coeliac and I run a gluten-free kitchen, so cross-contamination is a big issue. So often food wrapped in plastic is the only safe option for us.

“Striving for ZW living allows me to practice mindfulness and live my values every single day.

“Every time I order a ‘glass-of-water-no-straw’ — I am living my values. I get my veg’ box from Organic Republic on a Tuesday and based on what’s in it, I make a meal plan for the week. We still eat meat, so I bring my containers to my local butcher and buy my groceries at farmers’ markets. I’m able to buy milk, eggs, grains, veg and cheese all packaging free.

“I go to the supermarket once a week to buy our gluten-free essentials. About once a month I go to town for my refills — my washing up liquid, castile soap and lots of packaging-free goodies at Mr Bells. For tea and coffee, I bring jars to Three Spoons — I love that shop!

“I’ve replaced disposables with handmade cloth alternatives: napkins, kitchen wipes, menstrual pads, make-up remover pads. We even use family cloth in place of toilet paper. I keep my cloth bags, cups and containers in the boot of my car — that way I never forget them. My long-term goal is that my daughters will continue that path.

“Our society isn’t set up for sustainability. It’s unrealistic to aim to change overnight. It’s a process, one that requires patience and mindfulness.”

Giulia Marchi

Giulia Marchi from Verona took up the zero-waste challenge with passion when she moved to Cork to gain experience in garden design. “I am very lucky to have been raised in a household in my native Italy where our life was intertwined with nature, the environment and community.

Giulia Marchi: "I have been more conscious, allowing me to be adaptive and apply new positive changes in my routine and habits."
Giulia Marchi: "I have been more conscious, allowing me to be adaptive and apply new positive changes in my routine and habits."

I was influenced by a Ted Talk about how to live in a minimal way and the ZW routine and felt a calling. Since then, I have been more conscious, allowing me to be adaptive and apply new positive changes in my routine and habits — to make them more eco-friendly.

“Coming from a rural part of Italy, the food community is a huge part of our culture. I feel now more than ever, the system is changing. Huge supermarkets take away the interaction with the farmer or producer.

“I wish to purchase and support local farmers that work in a sustainable way. The ZW community are working so hard to get others involved through social media campaigns, talking to groups and educating people on how to live a sustainable life.”

Maintaining the ideal is not easy, and Giulia found she had to bend rather than break. “I had to give up collecting my waste into a jamjar (one a month). I didn’t want to force others living with me to take my path. To try to find cosmetics, shampoos and hygiene products is one thing, but maintaining them for as long as possible — this was tough. I use banana peels and chamomile tea bags for my skin and apple vinegar as a conditioner — it works perfectly.

“After I’ve made my oat-milk I use the waste from the oats as a face mask or I eat it! I would encourage others to find an inspirational blog that gives you a sense of being part of a greater movement — less of a weirdo in a world that produces so much waste.”

Barry Williams

Barry Williams lives in Greenmount in Cork city. He was deeply affected by a trip to Ethiopia where he saw that fashion garments donated in the West were often in such poor condition they were burned.

Barry Williams: "I don't shop for entertainment anymore."
Barry Williams: "I don't shop for entertainment anymore."

“I decided for Lent 2018 to live as minimalist, plastic-free, and ZW as possible. I have always enjoyed grocery shopping, reading where products are made. Now I factor in the packaging or preferably the lack of it. I certainly am buying less, therefore spending less. I don’t shop for entertainment anymore.

“What I bring into the house ideally is long-lasting, reusable and at the end of its life highly recyclable. Many of us fall into the trap when we start on this journey of thinking we need the ZW lunch box or reusable cutlery box, but most likely you already have a lunch box at home and you have cutlery in the cupboard — use them. Email stores and companies and give them that feedback. Almost all are trying to reduce packaging.”

In 2019, Barry’s New Year’s resolution was to not buy any clothes. “I gave myself one free pass for my sister’s wedding, but bought a suit I felt I could re-wear for work. For the entire year I didn’t buy any clothes and I found I still hadn’t worn half the clothes in my wardrobe. Rather than buying new, I brought my existing clothes to alteration shops in Cork.

“Clothing is a huge drain on resources — the volume of water needed to grow cotton, the pollution in rivers caused by dying fabrics. Synthetic fabrics also shed micro-plastics that end up in our waste water system. The overarching aim for me is to ensure I send as little waste as possible to landfill, while also drawing as little as possible from the Earth.”

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