Plastic Free July

“BE PART OF THE SOLUTION TO PLASTIC POLLUTION”

Ireland produces approximately 300 million tonnes of plastic every year and imports millions more. Plastic pollution is having a huge impact on human and ecosystem health, it seems like there is no place on Earth that has not been contaminated by our plastic waste. From oceans to arctic ice to nature reserves to our local hedgerows, humanity’s plastic fingerprints are everywhere. There is a large-scale systemic problem with plastic and adressing its prevalence can sometimes feel like an impossible task but, by increasing awareness and making more informed decisions in our own lives, we can empower ourselves to make a difference and protect our environment and our health.

THE PLASTIC PROBLEM

Plastic pollution comes from three main sources, (1) mismanaged household rubbish and plastic litter, (2) microbeads in personal care and cosmetic products that are washed directly down the drain and end up in the ocean (and everywhere else), and (3) industrial leakage due to insufficient containment standards in industrial processes. Ireland is the top producer of plastic waste in Europe, generating an average of 61kgs per person every year. We produce the equivalent of nearly 2,000 water bottles, or 5,550 disposable coffee cups, per person every year [irishtimes.ie]. We also import approximately 70 million litres of bottled water and 280 million litres of bottled/canned fizzy drink annually [Central Statistics Office]. Until quite recently, most of our recyclable plastic waste was exported. China took 95% of Ireland’s plastic waste until they introduced a ban on the importation of plastic waste from EU countries in 2018. As the largest producer of plastic in the EU, this has posed a significant challenge to us in the processing of recyclables [askaboutireland.ie].

IMPACT

If household waste is not properly collected and disposed of it becomes hazardous, generating long term and cumulative environmental and human health impacts. Even the incineration of unrecyclable plastic waste causes problems, because plastics have a tendency to produce toxic substances, such as dioxins, when they are burnt. The environmental impact of plastics on the environment and biodiversity has been increasingly well documented in recent years, what is also becoming increasingly concerning is the effects of plastic pollution on human health. We are exposed to all kinds of plastic and hundreds of additives, from hormone disruptors like BPA and BPF to brominated flame retardants, every day. These chemical additives are used to give plastic its characteristics such as plasticity, color, malleability, durability, and hardness. Endocrine disrupting chemicals are associated with a disruption in fertility cycles, delayed neurodevelopment in children, immune disorders, thyroid/metabolic disruptions and a higher risk of hormone-related cancers. And there is no escaping them, microplastics are everywhere – in our food, in the air we breathe, the clothes we wear, and even the water we drink. Scientific research into the harmful effects of micro and nanoplastics at cellular and organ level is still developing but the alarm bells are ringing
[plastichealthcoalition.org].

WHAT CAN WE DO?

Engaging with the public and finding ways to reduce plastic waste production in Ireland is a key challenge for individuals, industry and the government and should be a priority if damage to the environment and people’s health is to be minimised. From more obvious choices like reducing our single-use plastic (straws, water bottles, cutlery) to growing our own food to opting for plastic free period products and compostable nappies, there are changes we can make in every area of our lives. Marine scientist, cook and author, Finn Ni Fhaoloain, shared a few more tips: (1) shop in order of
recyclability – bring your own bag and buy loose first, then buy glass, then tin, then paper/cardboard, and avoid soft plastics wherever possible; (2) browse secondhand shops and websites for household items and appliances; (3) have a look at your household cleaning as many cleaning products are not only packaged in plastic but also contain harmful chemicals (The Local in Glaslough Street stocks a wide range of refillable natural cleaning products); (4) cut up old t-shirts and cloths to use in place of paper towels and wipes; (5) ditch the clingfilm and wash and re-use tinfoil if you can’t do without it, beeswax wraps are also fun and easy to make; and (6) be more conscious about your cuppa by using a keep cup, trying loose leaf tea instead of tea bags and if you use a coffee capsule machine choosing compostable pods [rte.ie].

Here’s a scary fact for any tea drinkers out there – a study conducted by McGill University in Montreal found a single plastic-based tea bag releases approximately 11.6 billion microplastic particles and 3.1 billion nanoplastics (even smaller particles) into your mug. Yikes.

 

SYSTEMIC CHANGE

While it’s important to make changes in our own lifestyles, we shouldn’t be letting industry off the hook. Without change in the way industry produces, uses, and disposes of plastic waste we will be fighting a losing battle. As consumers, we have a choice – if we stop supporting the worst offenders, they will have to reassess their actions. Their actions that are having a massive impact on our health and the health of our environment. Coca-Cola, Mars, Nestle and Danone are responsible for 6 million tonnes of plastic every year, according to company-provided figures in a report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Coca-Cola alone produces 3 million tonnes. For as long as we are buying their products and not demanding that they take responsibility for their actions, we are complicit in the damage that is being caused. It’s time for us to get angry at the gratuitous waste, make some noise, and demand solutions not postponements. We all have a right to live healthy lives in a healthy environment. But that is no longer going to be an option unless we take action. We need to move the current emphasis off waste management, go back to the source, and put legally binding measures in place to prohibit the production of plastics – putting a stop, finally, to the practices of the real culprits and holding them accountable for the irreparable damage that is being done to our bodies and our ecosystems. See plasticfreejuly.org for more info.

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Drumlin Nature Watch – by Liam Murtagh

Will Swifts continue their annual flying visit to Castleblayney? Walking around Castleblayney, or any other town on a summer’s evening, it is likely that you will hear the shrieks of Swifts. This is before you catch a fleeting glimpse of the birds flying past as if performing an aerobatic display. Swifts are a wonder of Nature. They sleep on the wing and fly for over a year without landing.Recently I observed some landing and clinging to the walls under the eaves of two-storey houses at Lakeview, Castleblayney, and they seemed to be nesting there.

In late April or early May, Swifts arrive from countries in Africa, south of the Sahara. After their summer breeding season here, they migrate again in late August. Over recent years, Swifts have declined in numbers and, according to Swift Conservation Ireland, they are on the ‘amber list of birds of conservation concern’. Swifts generally nest in colonies in towns and they usually return to the same nest each year. The loss of nest sites due to building renovations and the construction of modern buildings without suitable cavities is considered to be the main reason for us having fewer Swifts. Their food supply of flying insects is also thought to be declining due to changing land use, air pollutants and the use of chemicals.

In some towns, nest boxes have been erected to help new breeding pairs of Swifts. Castleblayney Men’s Shed and Castleblayney Tidy Towns have erected nest boxes high on a wall of St Mary’s Hospital (pictured). While Swifts were already using nesting sites on the building complex, the nest boxes will add to the available sites, but they have yet to avail of the extra facilities.

In February last I visited GMIT Castlebar and while there I heard about the Swift project on the campus. As well as erecting nest boxes with multiple cavities, the enthusiasts play Swift attraction calls through a speaker located close to the nest boxes in order to encourage Swifts to occupy them. To erect such a system, an annual ‘lure licence’ is required from the National Parks and Wildlife Service. The GMIT project has been very successful, with most of the nest boxes occupied by breeding Swifts this summer. Anyone can view the nesting Swifts live on the project’s webcams at gmit.ie/mayo/swifts.

Next year, I plan to erect a Swift nest box with multiple cavities and hopefully other nature lovers will do likewise. In this way we can do our bit to slow the decline in the numbers of this amazing bird. More information on Swifts is available at birdwatchireland.ie/publications/saving-swifts-guide and swiftconservation.ie.

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Insect Asides – by Patrick Gleeson

Insects and Trees

Trees, particularly native species, are incredibly important for supporting insect life. Each tree species has its own array of insects associated with it. A study in Britain showed that Oak is associated with 284 insect species, willow 266 and birch 229. Some tree species like the Purple Hairstreak butterfly are rarely noticed, spending most of its life in the canopy of oak trees.

Dead wood and standing dead trees are just as ecologically
important as living ones. Dead and decaying wood is an important habitat for many invertebrates like saproxylic beetles. These beetles rely on dead or decaying wood to complete their lifecycle. They have an important role in the nutrient cycle as decomposers, breaking down dead wood, as well as providing food for other organisms that feed on the beetles themselves.

There are believed to be 208 species of these beetles native to Ireland and species richness is highest in areas with old trees with decaying and dead wood. For this reason, their numbers are high in ancient woodland sites. Many of these beetles are very rare, with only 25 species considered to be common.

Old, twisted, alive and dead, each tree is important. When a friend of the Irish politician and
environmentalist Henry Grattan commented that a large beech tree was in danger of falling on his house, Henry replied, ‘Yes, I have often thought that I must have the house moved’.

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NOTICEBOARD

Staying Connected @ Home

The Organic Centre: Saturday, 11 and Sunday, 12 July, Dry Stone Wall Building Masterclass;
Saturday, 18 July, Mindfulness in Nature; Sunday, 19 July, Make and Recycle Fertiliser Sustainably from Domestic Waste Water; Sunday, 26 July, Summer Garden. See theorganiccentre.ie for more details.

Irish Seed Savers Workshops: Saturday, 29 August, (1) Introduction to Scything and (2) Introduction to Seed Saving; Saturday, 12 September, Introduction to Composting & Green Manures.

 

Transition Longford Global Goals Programme: (1) Thurs 6 August, Life Below Water; (2) Thurs, 27 August, Sustainable Cities and Communities; (3) Thurs, 10 September, Good Health & Wellbeing. See Facebook pages of Transition Longford and Longford PPN or email transitionlongford@gmail.com for more details.

Transformative Holistic Teaching Methods: An applied and active learning opportunity inspired by permaculture, using whole systems thinking coupled with reflective learning and action! Dates to be confirmed, likely to be July 2020 at Carraig Dúlra Permaculture farm, County Wicklow, Ireland. See dulra.org.

 

Permaculture Recovery Training (PDC): The Covid-19 pandemic is revealing the need
for our globalised industrial systems to adapt so that our values and quality of life are central to our way of life. Course runs with recommended safety measures from 31 July to 9 August, see cultivate.ie for more details.

 

Are you a reader of the column? Do you have something to say? Is there a particular
subject you would like to hear more about? Do you want to submit an article?
Contact us by texting Dermot on 086 830 3392, even if it’s just to say hello!

“The world has not to be put in order: the world is order incarnate.

It is for us to put ourselves in unison with this order.”

[Henry Miller]

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