Life

Thursday 23 January 2020

Beat the wrap: There are plenty of ways to reduce waste this Christmas

Greener Living

'There are plenty of recycled and recyclable papers available'
'There are plenty of recycled and recyclable papers available'

Fran Power

Sick of plastic? Many of us are - this Christmas for the first time the amount of festive packaging we throw away looks set to fall.

Last Christmas, we binned 86,000 tonnes of plastic; this year, Repak estimates that will fall to 75,000 tonnes.

That is still way too much. Irish people are the worst plastic offenders in Europe. Each of us throws away 61kg a year on average. "That's enough to fill 25 bath tubs," says Mindy O'Brien of environmental group Voice Ireland.

Yet just 34pc of our plastic is recycled. To meet our EU targets we need to up that to 50pc by 2025 and 55pc by 2030.

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Why does this matter? Dr Brian Kelleher of DCU's School of Chemical Science is probably better known as the tough-on-waste guy on RTÉ's recent What Planet Are You On?

The problem is twofold, he says. Plastic is made from fossil fuels, and if incinerated instead of recycled releases more CO2 into the atmosphere.

Second, plastics are now everywhere. The waste you can see - washed up on our beaches, strangling seals, choking birdlife, littering our landscape - and the waste that you can't see, broken down into fragments, called micro plastics or 'phthalates'.

These phthalates are inside all of us now.

A study in 2017 analysed urine samples of Irish mothers and children for seven types of phthalates. It found that 100pc of the children and 90pc of the mothers showed exposure to all types.

"We don't know the full health implications of this yet," says Dr Elizabeth Cullen, lead author of the study, but she points out that other studies have found phthalates implicated in cancers of the reproductive organs and in falling sperm counts. "We know enough to be very concerned. We should be proceeding on the precautionary principle."

But that's not happening. "If you look at the stats, year on year we're recycling more, but year on year we're producing more so the percentage stays pretty flat at 34pc," says Mindy O'Brien.

"Producers have to create packaging that is more easily recyclable. Right now we're seeing a lot of packaging that is made out of lots of different polymers and different layers. Things have to be easier to recycle."

That won't happen for some time, as government procrastinates and industry pushes back against regulation.

So what can we do? Recycle what you can - that means hard plastics that are clean, dry and loose go into the green bin. Soft plastics, such as clingfilm, don't.

Second, change how and where you shop. Dubliners can opt out of plastics altogether by shopping at zero waste places like Noms in Phibsborough, Small Change in Drumcondra, or the newest kid on the block, The Source in Rathmines, while minimalwastegrocery.com offers deliveries to within 20km of Dublin.

Outside Dublin, your best bet is farmers' markets (see bordbia.ie for listings), local grocery stores that offer loose fruit and veg (usually the worst plastic offenders), or box delivery schemes that do a weekly veg drop (see communitysupportedagriculture.ie).

Or bring your own containers when shopping. Delis, butchers and grocery stores will usually fill your containers, cutting out plastic altogether.

Offload your packaging at the till. "Technically," says Mindy O'Brien, "you could be charged with littering but most shops try and accommodate it." She points to Lidl which provides bins for discarded packaging.

"But it doesn't reduce the amount of packaging. It's still there, it's just that you're not having to deal with it, they are."

On the other side of the equation, rethink your wrapping. There are plenty of recycled and recyclable papers available. The rule of thumb is - if it's shiny, has metallic bits or glitter, it's not recyclable.

Instead, choose brown paper or lining paper - it's cheap and cool tied with twine, and a sprig of rosemary, holly or ivy. Then pass it to the kids to personalise with drawings. Or recycle road maps or music scores and tart them up with raffia or wool. Use brown paper tape not Sellotape (try ecoland.ie).

But my favourite eco-wrap is something I tried last year. Newsprint. The golfer in my life found golf shoes wrapped in a story about Shane Lowry's golden year, a foodie's gift came in a review of the year's cookbooks while a crossword addict's was wrapped in a patchwork of puzzles.

Irish Independent

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