Waging War on Waste – at Christmas and Beyond


Jen McSreeJennifer McAree, an Environmental Scientist and member of Transition Monaghan says we can have a happy Christmas and at the same time reduce the vast amount of waste that we generate at this time of year.

Jennifer McAree –

loves Christmas but hates waste

Christmas 2015 is here and most of us have already stocked up on food and gifts for the season of merriment and indulgence. And what a build-up it’s been – Christmas begins in August in the retail world these days. There was no escaping the temptation, even if we all knew it was too soon.

According to a recent study, the Irish are the biggest spenders in Europe per capita at Christmas, splurging on average over €550 per person on gifts alone. The average budget of EU countries is approximately €250. Should we pat ourselves on the back for being generous or stand back and wonder at the extravagance? How much do we actually need? And is this pressure to spend coming from ubiquitous media advertising and recent American blow-in trends like ‘Black Friday’?

Growth is viewed by many as a good thing but when our economy tilts on how much people spend on ‘things’, it can be easy to get caught up in buying more. Many of the items we covet and buy require large amounts of resources and energy before they reach our stores. Food has been grown, watered, packaged and transported, sometimes thousands of miles. Products have been derived from natural or chemical sources, often made by labourers in a foreign land and shipped or flown in to fill floor space.

Nobody likes a Scrooge, but it’s healthy to question our actions and motives sometimes. We’re bombarded with so many tempting images and displays in the lead up to the big day that it can be difficult to view Christmas as anything other than a pleasure-seeking fest. After the holidays are over and we return to everyday life, what is it we really cherish? The swanky new iPhone and gimmicky gift sets or the memorable meet-ups with friends and family after months of separation?

A fantastic recent two-part series on BBC One highlighted our current consumer patterns called ‘Hugh’s War on Waste’, featuring celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whitingstall. Britain wastes more food than any other European country, but Ireland is not far behind in per capita terms – and we share many of the same large supermarket chains. For example the Irish dispose of one million tonnes of food annually (i.e. 22 million wheelie bins). One third of this comes from households alone, with the average home wasting €700 worth of food each year.

Hugh challenged residents in an ordinary English neighbourhood to waste less and recycle more efficiently over several weeks. It encouraged a sea change in their behaviour and attitudes. He also demonstrated how many clothes we buy and discard in the contemporary world of fast fashion, revealing that it takes a shocking 10 minutes for people to dispose of seven tonnes of clothes (i.e. 10,000 garments) in Britain.

Sometimes it can seem pointless to make positive changes to our shopping and waste behaviour when we believe many others can’t be bothered. But where does all this ‘stuff’ go once we’re finished with it? Out of sight is out of mind – but not out of our environment. Thus our landfills are reaching full capacity despite impressive recycling figures.

It’s never too late to begin doing things differently. The New Year is a chance for everyone to begin afresh and approach our everyday buying and binning behaviour in a better way. For now, below are a few tips to get you started. (Suggestions inspired by ‘Eco Congregation Ireland’. For a full list see http://www.ecocongregationireland.com):

  • Buy organic, locally-produced food where you can
  • Buy local produced crafts
  • Recycle used cards
  • Steer clear of plastic if possible – recycle if not
  • Give vouchers for a meal out or cinema/theatre/concert tickets
  • Use a compost bin for all fruit & vegetable waste
  • Recycle real trees after Christmas
  • Consider buying rechargeable batteries instead of regular ones
  • Buy well-made, durable toys and gifts
  • Make a donation to a charity

The list of events for January can be found here

White Paper on Energy

The Environmental Pillar which is made up of 28 national environmental groups has welcomed the publication this week by the Minister for Energy of the White Paper on Energy. The Group says that the White Paper outlines a vision for an emission free future and is a first step in a road towards the end of the use of fossil fuels. With over 90 actions listed to achieve Ireland’s energy transition the document is broad in scope but the Environment Pillar says that it needs to be flexible enough to deliver zero emissions far sooner than the 2100 target. To read the White Paper on Energy see http://www.dcenr.gov.ie.

Transition Monaghan Chairperson Leaves Role

michealMícheál Callaghan, Chairperson of Transition Monaghan has withdrawn from his role as he has been nominated by the Green Party as their Dáil candidate for the Cavan- Monaghan constituency. Mícheál has been an integral part of Transition Monaghan from the very start having co-found the group (then known as Monaghan Ecological Group) back in 2011.  He has been a driver for many of the events and workshops we have held over the years and has contributed a number of articles to our ‘Sustainability Matters’ column in the Northern Standard newspaper.

Mícheál’s work ethic and enthusiasm  will be greatly missed but we at Transition Monaghan wish Mícheál the very best in his election campaign.

Paris Climate Conference: Implications for All of Us

The recently concluded UN climate change talks in Paris (COP21), which have been surrounded by much hype, have provoked widely diverging opinions. Transition Monaghan member, Mícheál Callaghan, was one of thousands of activists who travelled to Paris for the final days of the COP. He gives his views on the deal as well as well as possible next steps.



I was part of a delegation of Irish activists who travelled to Paris for the final days of the Conference of the Parties (COP). We felt it was important to travel and take part in actions and demonstrations to highlight the importance of a climate deal.

Mícheál Callaghan

Thousands of people from all walks of life made the journey, and in their coming together there was a sense of a unified and powerful climate justice movement. What was striking was that people of all ages were in attendance, reflecting the fact that climate change is an inter–generational issue.

Despite the ‘State of Emergency’, a number of demonstrations were facilitated by the French police. It was a privilege to have been involved in the ‘Red Lines’ action on Saturday morning. Over 15,000 people took to the streets to demand climate justice. With chants of ‘We are unstoppable, another world is possible’, it felt more like a celebration of a strengthening movement, rather than a traditional ‘protest’. Chants, banners and samba drums, created a euphoric atmosphere. The positivity of the throngs highlighted that even faced with huge global threats such as climate change and terrorism, people can unite for the common good.


“By comparison to what it could have been it’s a miracle. By comparison to what it should have been it’s a disaster.” British journalist George Monbiot aptly captures the spectrum of opinion on COP21.

The deal, aims to keep temperature rises well below 2 degrees, and as close to possible to 1.5 degrees. While this is a huge step in the right direction, the commitments made by individual countries as part of the agreement, would lead to temperature increases closer to 3 degrees. There is still huge work to be done to ensure that countries increase their pledges to meet the target of the Paris Agreement.

Some of the strongest criticism for the deal comes from its failure to adequately protect those most affected by climate change, in the developing world. As with many international agreements there is no mechanism to impose liability or sanctions on countries who do not meet their targets, meaning good – will, co – operation and civil society pressure will play an important role. 


First, the agreement to keep temperature changes as close to 1.5 degrees as possible will require a concerted effort by leaders from politics, business and civil society. It will need a shift in direction in all policy areas. Ireland will be bound by the EU’s commitment to reduce emissions by 40% by 2030. In doing so we have the opportunity to re-invent our economy and society, by providing sustainable jobs in agriculture (in particular organic and crop based farming), forestry, retro-fitting all buildings to make them more liveable and protecting our natural habitats, especially peatlands.

Secondly, the mass mobilisation of activists in Paris is only the beginning of a strengthening and determined movement for a better future. If world leaders do not step up to the mark, they can expect to be held to account by civil society. The Paris agreement has provided the opportunity for us to win the most important struggle of our time.

For further information on how you can become involved in playing your part in building a fossil fuel free Co. Monaghan, keep an eye on http://www.transitionmonaghan.org

December and January events can be found here and here respectively.

Overuse of Antibiotics in Farming & Healthcare Creates Superbugs

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recently warned of the increasing prevalence of antibiotic resistant bacteria.  This means that common antibiotics we routinely use to treat small infections may soon be useless and could leave us in life-threatening situations.  Dearbhla Lenehan, a PhD research student and member of Transition Monaghan takes a look how this era of antibiotic resistant bacteria has come about.


There are many situations in which antibiotics are really important in combatting illness, but taking antibiotics when we don’t need them can be harmful and helps bacteria become resistant to them.  There are two main organisms that cause infections – viruses and bacteria.  Viruses cause illnesses more often than bacteria. Viruses cause colds, flus, sore throats and most coughs. Unfortunately, taking antibiotics for a viral infection  will not make you feel  better  and can help bacteria turn into                                                   superbugs.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Dearbhla Lenehan

Another reason for the emergence of these superbugs is not finishing a course of antibiotics. Antibiotics are designed to kill bacteria and when we take them, both good and bad bacteria in our bodies are killed.  When we start to feel better we might think there is no need to continue taking our medication.  This is not true.  The first antibiotic dose will kill off a lot of the infection causing bacteria, which is why you start to feel better, however, if you do not finish your antibiotic course, there are still some infection causing bacteria left in your system.  If they are not all killed off, it allows these surviving bacteria time to thrive once again by becoming resistant to the antibiotic that tried to kill them.

The overuse of antibiotics in the farming industry is a massive contributor to the emergence of these antimicrobial resistant bacteria strains.  Farm animals and poultry are routinely given antibiotics for prevention and treatment of disease.

In organic food production antibiotics are not used on the same scale as on non-organic farms. An organic farmer may only use antibiotics on animals in the interest of animal welfare and where other options have failed or are likely to fail. When an animal is treated with antibiotics on organic farm, that animal, or any derived food such as milk, meat or eggs, is not allowed to enter the human food chain for a defined withdrawal period following treatment. Perhaps we as consumers should whenever possible try to buy organic produce – the more of us who buy such produce the more farmers will convert to organic systems. In Co Monaghan there are only about 15 organic producers or processors listed as being certified or ‘in conversion’ to organics.

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland has warned that urgent control measures must be instated to reduce the number of farm animals and poultry being given antibiotics.  This comes as a recent report found that antimicrobial resistant bacteria are transmitted from farm animals into the food chain. How bacteria gain this resistance is through sharing genes with naturally occurring environmental microorganisms that have resistance genes normally. When exposed to low levels of antibiotics, in a bid to survive, bacteria can acquire these resistance genes from other species. This is how bacteria become antibiotic resistant allowing existing pathogens, to gain greater resistance and turn into ‘superbugs’.

The European Centre for Disease Control estimates around 25,000 deaths a year in the EU is caused by resistant bacteria. It is no wonder that bacteria become resistant to antibiotics when approximately 250,000 tonnes of antibiotics are used annually for medical and agricultural use.  In a bid to reduce the resistance evolution, the recent FSAI report concluded that we need to prevent infections on farms so drugs don’t have to be used and that surveillance along the food chain must be improved. WHO and the US Centers of Disease Control understand that we are entering a superbug era and have identified this as high priority research.  We too can help halt bacterial resistance by using antibiotics wisely both in healthcare and faming. The advice is not to dump unused antibiotics in drains or toilets but rather bring them to your local pharmacy for safe disposal.

While research on antibiotics and superbugs is ongoing, we all still need to take precautionary measures now to avert a situation emerging in which antibiotics are completely useless – and this could happen in the very near future.


Source: Food Safety Authority of Ireland

The December Noticeboard can be found here and the January noticeboard is here

Transition Monaghan Supports the Community Energy Proclamation

The Community Energy Proclamation visions a transition to a clean, secure energy future for everyone in Ireland.  The proclamation has been signed by over 100 community groups (including Transition Monaghan), co-operatives, energy agencies and NGO’s, and calls for a number of policy changes to allow communities to participate in Ireland’s energy generation and to allow the community energy industry to develop.
These include setting a target for community energy in Ireland and removing a number of technical and financial barriers such as access to the grid, payments for solar energy for micro-generation and for renewable heat, and support and advice structures to enable community groups to develop renewable energy projects.

The vision of the proclamation is for a transition to a clean, secure energy system for the citizens of Ireland, where communities – whether organised as co-operatives, voluntary associations or individual citizens – can get involved in energy planning, conservation, energy generation and energy distribution.

The Communtiy Energy Proclamation is available at this link and is attached.

or by clicking on the following pdf file – Community_Energy_Proclamation

It can still be signed here.
In contrast to many of our European neighbours, community owned renewable energy in Ireland is practically non existent.  A fundamental shift in policy is required that views citizens and communities as indispensable agents in securing our energy future, not obstacles to be negotiated.

This transformation will not happen without the power of the people.


Monaghan Marchers Brave Storm to Join Worldwide Campaign for a Safer Climate

On the eve of the UN Summit on climate change in Paris (COP21), hundreds of thousands of people marched to demand action on climate change in cities across the globe. Among the estimated crowd of 5,000 in Dublin, was a number of people who made the journey on a bus organised by Transition Monaghan, despite adverse weather conditions.

climate march

Climate campaigners from Monaghan pictured outside the Custom House at the start of last Sunday’s Climate March in Dublin.    

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