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VSO Ireland's Plastic Free July

Back in January, we created our very own 'SDG Resolutions' and vowed to do our bit to be a little more sustainable inside and outside the office. Part of this meant embracing Plastic Free July and the #ChoosetoRefuse lifestyle. Here's how we got on...

Why Plastic Free July is important

China took 95% of our plastic waste in 2016, but a ban means that this is no longer possible.

The Plastic Free July movement started in Australia back in 2011 by a handful of people and has grown to be a global movement with millions of participants around the globe. The campaign is all about raising awareness around single-use plastic and the current (and growing) plastic waste problem. Ireland, in particular, has a serious plastic waste problem as China will no longer take plastic waste from Ireland, and we lack the facilities to recycle many types of plastic. Ireland also produces the most plastic waste per person in the EU. The problem was highlighted at a recent recycling workshop I attended by VOICE Ireland, where the Recycling Ambassador explained that soft plastics, like crisp packets, fruit and veg packaging, plastic films and wraps, straws, and takeaway coffee cups (they contain a plastic lining) cannot be recycled in Ireland. All of these items and more are ending up in Ireland's landfills and take hundreds of years to break down, if ever.

First steps

Using a reusable KeepCup or something similiar is an easy way to reduce unnecessary waste.

Bearing all this in mind, last month the VSO Ireland team decided to take on the Plastic Free July Challenge and greatly reduce consumption of single-use plastic. The first thing we did was stock up on reusable water bottles and hot drinks cups (like the trendy KeepCups also hailing from Australia). If everyone was to make this simple switch, we could save 22,000 disposable coffee cups from the landfill per hour and millions of plastic bottles per year. We also made an effort to buy loose fruit and vegetables whenever possible. This may sound like an inconvenient thing to do in Ireland, but you'd be surprised how much loose produce you can find at green grocers, markets, and even some supermarkets.

Other solutions we found were bringing our own containers to shops, cutting back on processed snacks, packing our own lunches, and refusing straws in restaurants and pubs. In the process we've discovered lovely shops selling zero waste products, supported more local businesses, saved money, and may even be a bit healthier in the end for it.

Successes and slip-ups

Plastic waste and climate change are linked in many ways. Reducing our use of single-use plastic is a massive step towards achieving SDG 13: Climate Action.

That's not to say that we didn't have the occassional slip-up. It's very easy to buy a non-recyclable product without realising it or to buy what you normally would without thinking twice, like packaged biscuits, crisps and salads. Luckily, many cafes in Ireland are taking steps to reduce the amount of waste in their takeaway packaging. Bringing your own lunch from home or sitting in a cafe/restaurant are better options still. Doing this challenge has really opened my eyes to the amount of plastic we encounter in our daily lives. Once you start to really notice it, you can't un-see it. Some of the plastic we couldn't avoid in the office was from our bags of coffee and large packs of toilet paper. Even though we use 100% recycled paper products and refillable markers and pens, many of these items still come wrapped in soft plastic.

Plastic Free July has inspired me to start a journey towards a plastic free life and reduce all types of waste. I plan to replace plastic items with reusable or recyclable products, as needed. For example, as I run out of beauty products, I'll replace them with products that come in glass or metal containers or better yet, no packaging. This takes a bit of effort at first but I’m excited to take on the challenge and do my bit for the environment. Given Ireland’s undeniable waste problem and the detrimental impact climate change is having on marginalised communities overseas, including those where VSO works, it’s the least I can do.

Some further inspiration

This July, I also made an effort to learn more about Ireland's waste problem and how we can minimise our lives to help fight against here. Here are just some books, articles and documentaries I found really interesting:

My research also meant I stumbled across some fantastic Irish shops and brands selling zero waste. 

Most of these are Dublin-based but you can also check out this list of farmer’s markets nationwide for alternatives in other areas. Many other shops that offer unpackaged products may be willing to let you fill your own container - just ask! If you’d like to see more zero waste products in shops, why not email the shop to ask for more things without plastic packaging? Want to see more legislation about plastic waste? Express your concerns to the Department of Communications, Climate Action & the Environment.

Interested in finding out more about what the VSO Ireland team gets up to and how you can get involved with sustainable development in Ireland? Then sign up to our monthly newsletter! 

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