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

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