Allison Roberts of Exploding Tree is documenting her family’s self-imposed challenge to create zero rubbish for a whole year. If you would like to join Allison in her quest, or suggest some tips to help her achieve it, you will find her blog at www.explodingtree.com/cuttherubbish.
And then two steps forward again. It’s always the way. This month has been a bit tricky, however two things at the very beginning of the month set the tone and set me off on the right foot. The first was sent to me by a group of students in Rosscarbery. Under the guidance of their wonderful teacher Marcella O’Sullivan, the class produced a short film called ‘Say No to Plastic’. The students call us to be more aware of the impact of our shopping habits by presenting grim facts on plastics’ damage to wildlife and offer a slew of great tips for a new ways to consume, if you want to see it check out their YouTube channel ‘Mt St Michael Media’ – it was a great start to my month.
Next up was the talk by Cillian Lohan at the Olive Branch. I was expecting an encouraging talk about how to produce less waste as a community. Instead I left facing the somewhat harsh reality that there is no set of personal life choices that will undo this hairball. Of course what we do makes a difference, but Cillian spoke candidly about the major problems at the top that need to be addressed for our planet to stand a chance – the systemic problems he has witnessed in Brussels from the massive lobbying power by wealthy corporates to a worrying lack of energy and passion by the MEPs he finds himself surrounded by in European Parliament. He spoke about the essential shift required from our current Neo-liberal system, which affords those with the most money to make the most decisions. He described cracks in that system, signs that business-as-usual is failing, that governments can no longer ignore (like global warming and resource scarcity) and hopes to help draw attention to solutions that will be attractive enough to get Parliament attention to steer the system onto a better track. I walked out both overwhelmed and encouraged – the room was packed, and everyone there was interested in waste reduction and change. Another reaffirmation of what a great town we live in.
Since then the month has been quite busy, lots of bit of travel and general busyness, which sometimes left my options limited and my time scarce. One particular day during the Clon Bike Fest I found myself running to get a small picnic together, I scored some great paper wrapped goodies from the bakery and then headed to another shop to grab fruit, and was at the till with a plastic pack of grapes and some netted oranges before realizing I hadn’t even paused to think about packaging. I swapped them for some apples and unwrapped oranges but to be honest the apples out of the pack were a bit old looking compared to their neighbors, which were both packaged and cheaper. This brought to life what Cillian was speaking about, until the system tilts in favor of more local and unwrapped products it is an uphill battle. He compared it in terms of toothbrushes. There is no real reason an overpacked plastic toothbrush should cost more than a bamboo eco-packed counterpart, that all comes down to policy decisions at the top in favor of the plastic industry.
Another struggle I faced in my own waste reduction this month was in the freebie category. This seems to be the month of the giveaway. People keep handing me things, lovely people with good intentions, at markets, in town, things for me to try, small gestures of generosity wrapped in plastic. I don’t say no and so this has been reflected by an increase in overall waste produced in our household. The funny thing about this project is now for each scrap of waste or recycling produced I can recount exactly the circumstances by which said scrap entered the house; the sample given to me by a neighboring stall holder at the Cork Summer Show, the tin twist of a gifted bottle of prosecco I bought to celebrate a friend’s shop opening, wrapped offerings from a pizza party… but holding Cillian’s talk in my mind, this is not a battle for just one family, we need systemic change.
And to tie into this nicely, I’ve just had the pleasure to chat with local (Kilkern-based) inventor Kieran Coffey (pictured above). Kieran has been working for the last number of years on a way to convert household food waste into bio-gas, creating energy from waste. In 2017, he secured an SEAI grant and has since produced the first prototype of ‘My Gug’. My Gug is an egg-shaped micro anaerobic digester designed to sit in the garden of family home. Kieran describes the process, “It’s hooked up to a macerator in the kitchen sink, which feeds food waste through a series of tanks for temperature control and mixing, then the digester produces bio-gas which is then fed back into a standard kitchen gas hob.” He said his prototype My Gug is now being used for 90 per cent of the cooking for his family of five, the equivalent of 4.5 canisters of gas per year. “On average,” Kieran recounted, “each EU citizen produces 92 kgs of food waste per year, that’s 88 million tonnes of food waste that is a potential energy source. When it’s mixed with dry recyclables it’s a contaminant.” Kieran is now looking to fund the commercial production of My Gug (to find out more contact email@example.com) and as a wrap up to my month it seems most fitting, this seems the kind of creative change that could shake the system and help push things in the right direction.
Until next time,