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Getting to Zero Waste

Cloth Sanitary Protection (CSP) is a return to what our grandmother's and great grandmother's used. These are colourful and comfortable and above all reliable. (1)

This feature is part of the NCCWN Donegal Women’s Network, ‘Women’s Lives, Women’s Voices’ series. Written by Mary Lane to highlight the need for us all to play a role in reducing our waste. This is the second in a two part feature by Mary who reflects on her experience of becoming aware of the concept of Zero Waste and how she has managed to bring a zero waste lifestyle into her family home.


I first became aware of the concept of Zero Waste in 2016, when I was expecting my first child and was researching breastfeeding and cloth nappies online. I’ve always been pretty frugal and I didn’t want to waste money week after week on disposable nappies or formula and contraptions associated with infant feeding which had always seemed so gimmicky to me.

I had decided that I’d breastfeed to cut down on the costs, but naturally as I researched further, I became so aware of the health risks associated with not breastfeeding for both me and my child, as well as the environmental impact of opting out of breastfeeding. To me, these simple decisions to use natural or reusable resources for my baby would not only save us a fortune, be kinder to our baby, but they would also have a substantial environmental benefit.

My digging online lead me to more and more stories about people living a Zero Waste lifestyle. Bloggers and Instagram accounts proudly showing their home made almond milk and their entire years rubbish fitting into a mason jar. I was in awe of their dedication, but disheartened that is never be able to obtain that level of environmental perfection. It seemed pointless to even try, but try I did! Just a few small changes were actually easy to implement.


Here’s a few examples of my initial changes

Cloth Sanitary Protection (CSP) is a return to what our grandmother's and great grandmother's used. These are colourful and comfortable and above all reliable. (2)

I stopped using face wipes and swapped back to good old face cloths, water and cleansing soap.

We used cloth nappies 80% of the time for our son until he was a year old.

I stopped buying unnecessary cosmetics. I had been so guilty of impulse buying the latest products and only using them a few times before they became resigned to a box or a cabinet somewhere. Now not only do I not have the product and plastic waste, I also didn’t waste money, and I don’t have box loads of stuff I’ll never use clogging up my bathroom or bedroom. 

I also started skipping unnecessary paper bags where possible. For example in a pharmacy where they pop a pack of paracetamol into a paper bag, or a single book in a bookshop, or when buying something small like a pack of socks when I know I’m going straight to the car.


  • I bought shampoo and conditioner in 4 litre bottles from the hairdresser suppliers shop for about €33 in total. I used pretty soap dispenser bottles in the shower and refilled from the big bottles as they ran out. 3 years later, I’ve just finished my last top up from these bottles and I’ve estimated that I’ve saved over €200 in hair products, and over 70 plastic bottles!

  • We used cloth baby wipes and water, which I made myself from two unused baby blankets.

  • I swapped the use of kitchen paper towels to kitchen cloths which are used for spills, sticky hands and faces, wiping counters, you name it. While we still have kitchen paper for some things, In the past 3 years, we have used approximately only around 15 rolls of paper towels, rather than a full roll almost every week.

  • I opted for a minimal wardrobe. When I was pregnant, I realised I was surviving perfectly well with a dozen maternity tops and three pairs of trousers. I loved not having to think too much about combining outfits and what was or wasn’t fashionable. I began to realise that I didn’t really care about what other people wore, so I realised probably nobody really cared about what I was wearing either. That realisation was very liberating. I now keep a very limited number of clothes – using only three drawers in a small chest of drawers, and a handful of hangers in the wardrobe. I have four pairs of shoes! My husband also keeps a small amount of clothes, and we don’t go overboard with our son’s clothes either.

  • We swapped to a 2 in 1 washing powder to cut out all the extra plastic bottles of fabric conditioner, or the use of capsules in plastic boxes.

  • I made a much better effort at bringing reusable bags to the supermarket or finding a cardboard box if I’d forgotten to bring the bags.

  • I stopped taking the special offers leaflets or catalogues home from the shops, and rejecting handouts and flyers.

  • My husband started using shaving soap with a brush instead of a foam from an aerosol can.

I felt that these changes have actually made a difference to our home and our lives.


NCCWN Donegal are always looking for women to share their stories and looking for women to write features on topics of their choice which we will profile as part of our Women’s Lives, Women’s Voices’ series.

How to Introduce Eco-Friendly Changes

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This feature is part of the NCCWN Donegal Women’s Network, ‘Women’s Lives, Women’s Voices’ series. Written by Mary Lane to raise awareness to the global movement and campaign ‘Plastic Free July’. This is the first in a two part feature by Mary who reflects on her experience of becoming aware of the concept of Zero Waste and how she has managed to bring a zero waste lifestyle into her family home.


This month, July 2019, we have decided to try Plastic Free July. We knew from the get go that we would never achieve 100% plastic free but we definitely knew we could use it as an incentive to at least make conscious decisions about what plastic we did use, and where we could actually skip it.

It has been a very eye opening experience. Food is definitely a hurdle to get the head around. Shopping at supermarkets has its challenges, especially when it comes to fruits and vegetables. While there are plastic free options, the cost is often more expensive.

Plastic-v-no-plastic

For example, a twin pack of courgettes can be bought pre packed in a plastic tray and wrapper for around 90c for 500g weight. Loose courgettes are €3.29 per kilo, meaning a single courgettes set me back €1.14. Apples and oranges can be bought in a multipack plastic bag for less than a euro, yet the loose ones are 40-60c each, or 5 for €2. A 1kg bag of carrots containing at least a dozen pieces can cost under one euro, yet opting for 4 loose carrots cost over 50c.

On a friend’s suggestion however, I visited a vegetable market that’s less than 5 minutes from my house. I bought a whole stack of food – sweet potatoes, mushrooms, carrots, broccoli, oranges, and a bottle of lemonade in a returnable glass bottle, all for only €6.


Other swaps we have made this month are:

  • Bringing my own containers to the butchers rather than using their plastic bags.

  • Choosing a toothpaste in a recyclable metal tube.

  • I’ve ordered bamboo toothbrushes online, so we will be swapping out our plastic ones. These are fully biodegradable and can just go in the household compost.

  • I bought some glass storage jars to keep my homemade cookies, popcorn and other snacks in.

  • I stopped buying hummus and falafel – foods we love – and I made them myself at home from tinned chickpeas and they were delicious.

  • We often bought a lot of tortilla wraps, but I tried my hand at making an easy alternative – Indian chapatis. While they’re not a direct comparison, they did the job perfectly well and were very tasty. And no nasty extra ingredients!

  • I’ve been taking a stainless steel water bottle everywhere and actually using it! I’d previously been guilty of buying reusable bottles and not using them more than two or three times, and also buying plastic bottles of drinks when out and about. With an exception on one very hot day, I’ve gone without these extra purchases.

  • I picked up a set of stainless steel straws for us to use when out and about so we can skip the plastic ones as much as possible.

 

Plastic Free Swaps

 I’ve baked instead of buying biscuits and treats. 

I’ve switched as much as possible to jars, glass bottles and tins. So ketchup, mayonnaise, relish, etc in plastic bottles are all being replaced by glass contained alternatives as they finish. 

We have replaced some of our bread consumption with package free bread from the bakery, or French sticks bought in a paper wrapper. 

I’ve popped our own popcorn for snacks, instead of individual portion bags or crisps. While the kernels come in a plastic bag, the amount of plastic is much smaller than the alternative.

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 We had been buying eggs in plastic cartons, but have switched to traditional cardboard ones.

We needed new food storage as most of our plastic Tupperware had gone walkies along the way. I chose a set of glass tubs with plastic and silicone lids. Again, not totally plastic free but certainly less plastic. Also, the glass containers can be used to reheat food in the oven and microwave, and don’t pose any risk of leaking harmful BPAs into the food. 

My son loves ice lollies. And many days it almost the only hydration I can get into him. I’ve been making them just with water or juice in a mould at home and he loves them. Where possible, we have chosen ice cream in cones when out and about rather than in tubs or pops in plastic wrappers. 

I’ve brought cloth bags when buying loose fruit, vegetables, baked goods, etc. I made these myself from old T-shirts that were going to be donated.


Realistically, I think that for my family Zero Waste and Plastic Free isn’t achievable, BUT I think we have definitely benefited and will continue to benefit from having these “extreme” concepts to the front of our minds when buying things, or making decisions that might have unnecessary wasteful impacts.

 

Given that pretty much all plastic products and disposable resources have only been around for the past 60 years or so, and increasing at a disastrous rate over the last couple of decades, it’s really awful to see the impact on our environment and more worryingly is the thought that it is irreversible. But now really is the time to get a handle on it and it does start in each of our homes. Small changes mount up and each waste reduction does matter.

 

In our home, we are really making changed with the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle mantra, but also adding into it the ideas of repair, rebuild, refurbish, refinish, resell and rot (compost). Anything after that should be restricted, redesigned or removed from production.

 

We need to be showing our children that consumerism and the need for everything to come in its own wrapper is not actually the best thing for our world, and that disposable is not always good. We need to set examples to our friends, family, co-workers, etc. that introducing small eco-friendly changes are not to be feared or ridiculed.

I’m pretty sure many people just want a “simple life”. Why not start by making life simple?


Plastic Free July is a global movement that helps millions of people be part of the solution to plastic pollution – so we can have cleaner streets, oceans, and beautiful communities. Will you be part of Plastic Free July by choosing to refuse single-use plastics? To find out more about this global movement check out the https://www.plasticfreejuly.org/ website

 

NCCWN Donegal are always looking for women to share their stories and looking for women to write features on topics of their choice which we will profile as part of our Women’s Lives, Women’s Voices’ series.

Small Changes Can Make a Big Difference

Life isn't an Emoji (1)

This feature is part of the NCCWN Donegal Women’s Network, ‘Women’s Lives, Women’s Voices’ series. Written by Deirdre Kennedy who reflects on her journey to reduce the amount of plastic waste generate in her home. Giving a number of practical examples she has adopted to reduce her plastic usage.


As a woman I feel a huge responsibility for the amount of plastic waste that we as a gender generate every month. As the mother of four girls and two boys there was a huge amount of waste leaving our house every week.

plastic-waste
Did you know the amount of plastic waste generated per person in Ireland is estimated to be 60kg [1] (132 pounds) in weight.

One of the easiest changes that we as women can make is in our personal care. On the shelf sanitary wear is almost completely made from plastic and like nappies these take hundreds of years to breakdown in landfill.

 

A great substitute for sanitary towels is cloth sanitary protection( CSP) these are  so comfortable and absorbent and come in varying  sizes and shapes and in the long term a money saving investment, most will last 10 years if you have a large bundle in rotation, or 5 years in a smaller bundle.

sanitary products
On average women and girls face and estimated cost of €132.34 [2] for sanitary products per year in Ireland. Which over the course of their lives amounts to at least €3970.

If you are a user of tampons then you may be interested in a Menstrual cup, If you have never heard of these before they are a medical grade silicone that is shaped like a small egg cup it is used in the same way as a tampon.

 

When I discovered the menstrual cup it was like an epiphany for me I truly felt like I had been freed from the shackles of my period. It is so handy and liberating not having to carry around pads and tampons. The cup can just be removed, emptied into the toilet, wiped or washed in the sink and reinserted it is really that simple. Women who have used CSP and menstrual cups for a few months have also reported less painful periods.

 

Being responsible for most of the products that come into my home and the waste management of it leaving, made me realise that there was so much more that I could do to reduce our use of plastic.

 

I started using cloth nappies and cloth baby wipes, cloth breast pads, Cloth make up removers, Re-useable cloths in the kitchen in the place of kitchen roll (cut up old towels or t-shirts), cloths for washing in the shower or bath. All these items can be rinsed in a cold wash and then washed in the washing machine at 60 °C using biological powder and they will be pristine ready for reusing.

 

There is a huge amount of other changes that can be made by humans in order to reduce our use of plastic. These, that I listed above are just small changes that anyone can make not only will you see a huge reduction in the waste that leaves your house but you will also feel that you have made a big difference to the future of our planet.

 

Deirdre practical tips to help reduce your plastic usage

Did you know it is  Plastic Free July?

Plastic Free July is a global movement that helps millions of people be part of the solution to plastic pollution – so we can have cleaner streets, oceans, and beautiful communities. Will you be part of Plastic Free July by choosing to refuse single-use plastics? To find out more about this global movement check out the https://www.plasticfreejuly.org/ website.

[1] 2018 Europa Report https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/web/products-eurostat-news/-/EDN-20180422-1?inheritRedirect=true

[2] Irish Times https://www.irishtimes.com/news/health/half-of-young-irish-women-struggling-to-afford-sanitary-products-study-finds-1.3534683

 

NCCWN Donegal are always looking for women to share their stories and looking for women to write features on topics of their choice which we will profile as part of our Women’s Lives, Women’s Voices’ series.