Ecopreneur, sustainability coach and owner of Reuzi.ie Pat Kane outlines how to stay on track in the face of an onslaught of Covid-related single-use plastics…[restrict]
Over the past 2 years, I’ve watched with a hopeful heart an incredible transformation of our society in the fight against single-use plastics. Ireland made some good progress on banning plastic bags, shifting from single-use plastic cups and straws to paper products and compostable alternatives. I watched the rise of sustainable living amongst people from all sorts of backgrounds – from scientists to regular folk like you and I – with people becoming encouraged to carry their own reusable cups, bottles, bags, cutlery, etc. in an attempt to reduce the amount of rubbish each and every one of us generate on a daily basis.
As a sustainable living champion and ecopreneur, I watched people make conscious efforts to vote with their money on a daily basis – vote for a better world, that is. Not only are people removing single-use plastics from their lives but I have also witnessed a shift – people choosing to shop locally over ordering from giant dot-coms with warehouses based thousands of miles away, people choosing quality over quantity. Be it letting go of plastic straws – the OG star of this dirty show – all the way to giving reusable nappies and menstrual products a go.
A truly encouraging scenario of hard-fought victories with a bunch of real-life happy endings. But then, Covid-19 happened. As the country re-opens after months of lockdowns, our society has become dependent on masks, gloves and little hand sanitiser containers. We have been told that single-use plastic cups, containers and utensils are our safe bet against health concerns prompted by the pandemic. I heard someone at Greenpeace saying, “The plastic industry seized on the pandemic as an opportunity to try to convince people that single use plastic is necessary to keep us safe, and that reusables are dirty and dangerous. The fact that neither of these things is supported by the best available science was irrelevant.” I couldn’t agree more.
Although they may be convenient, single-use plastics create long-term and most likely, permanent environmental issues. An average plastic bottle may take roughly 500 years to decompose. So here are a few ways to avoid single-use plastics during the Covid-19 crisis.
Although it may be easy to pick up a pack of water bottles during your weekly shop, it can easily become wasteful. In Ireland, only a third of recyclable plastics will actually get recycled. A more sustainable solution would be to purchase one reusable water bottle or invest in a water filter for your home. Not only does this avoid single-use plastic from piling up in landfills, but it also sets an example for the people around you – think of your little ones.
Reusable coffee cups
I hear a lot of people saying that their local cafes are still not accepting reusable cups. A way to avoid that is to order your coffee in a mug and then pouring the coffee into your reusable cup. Or even better, brew it at home and take it with you!.
I am getting sick of cooking at home and have been picking up food from our local restaurant as a ‘weekend treat’. If you decide to order takeaway, bring a reusable container with you.
Back to school is upon us – hopefully and fingers crossed – and I’ve been hearing a lot of parents reporting that their schools and Montessoris are not willing to accept reusable lunchboxes. Instead, they’ve asked parents to pack their kids’ lunches in disposable plastic bags. WHAT!? Yes, this is the Ziploc-gate, ladies and gents… If you don’t want to kick up a fuss but can’t bear the idea of sending a plastic bag a day to your kids’ school, I’d strongly suggest you to grab paper sandwich bags and even compostable bags and adjust the menu according to it. Remember: this is a temporary move for the greater good…
Although the vast majority of shops do offer paper bags, you don’t want to be caught empty handed having to take a bag home just because you forgot yours at home. My go-to tip is: keep reusable bags in your boot to avoid the use of single-use ones altogether.
It’s been reported that the UK government suspended its 5p plastic bag fee – introduced in 2015 – for online supermarket deliveries during the pandemic. Which accounts for a lot of plastic bags: Tesco, for instance, said online sales for delivery rose by 48.5% in the three months to 30 May. If you do decide to shop online, please be mindful of packaging. Choose businesses that make an effort towards the reduction of single-use plastics and at checkout, leave a message – “Please do not use single-use plastics when packing my order”. The more we say it, the more businesses will hear it and realise that we will no longer tolerate unnecessary plastics.
Wash your hands and it’ll be grand! How many times have we heard/read this? Well, that’s true and the sales of soap – all types of soap – has risen dramatically over the past few months. People are buying tons of liquid hand soap packaged in plastic bottles. What happened to the good old soap bar? Prioritise soap bars over plastic bottles of soap, if you can. There are wonderful Irish made options out there so have fun looking for your favourite.
Masks + Gloves + Hand Sanitiser
This combo became a part of our daily lives, that’s a fact. But fear not, there are ways to avoid single-use plastic items when it comes to protecting ourselves while protecting others. Nowadays, almost every store and pharmacy offer reusable and washable cloth masks. When it comes to gloves, choose compostable ones – and do make sure you dispose of them correctly i.e. the brown bin. And lastly, hand sanitiser. How many bottles have you bought over the past 3-4 months? I know someone who gathered over 30 bottles!
There’s no need for that. Refill stores across the country are offering to refill your existing bottles, meaning you can avoid having to buy one more plastic bottle, and sending the old one into landfill. At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that we are all trying hard not to go backwards – our planet needs us.
Start to play your role as a consumer, demand products that are made for or are already a part of the circular economy. Educate yourself on the circularity of products and reward those companies that are moving in this direction. You can also educate yourself on the rules of recycling – knowing that only so much will actually end up being recycled. Reuse is king and what we should be aiming for at all times.
The one thing I am sure of is that the problems we face are problems for us all; they are not yours, they are not mine, they are ours. And together with the right focus, they can be solved.
Pat has compiled a list of Irish sustainability businesses to make your change overs easier…
Jump The Hedges
The Upcycle Movement
Grocery & food
Minimal Waste Grocery
The Good Neighbour
Dublin Food Coop
The Carrot’s Tail
Dalkey Handmade Soap
Roza Natural Skincare
Wild Rose Botanicals
Begley & Bowie
Fresh Cuts Clothing
Ohh By Gum
Theo + George
My Higher Shelf
The Little Wooden Peg