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Big Community Clean Up

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Women around the world are increasingly becoming recognised as agents of change in supporting climate action and environmental work. Over the years, we have met many inspiring women in Donegal leading the charge in supporting environmental issues. In our latest ‘women’s lives, women’s voices’ feature, Donegal Town local Geraldine McBrearty shares with us her journey to setting up the “Big Community Clean Up” group in Donegal and talks about why it’s so important to keep trying to make an environmental difference.


 

Hi Everyone, thank you for taking the time to read this article.  In 2016, I founded a small Facebook group called “Big Community Clean Up“.  Its aim was to rally my friends and neighbours to get out for a few hours for the summer months and clean up our beautiful area as much as we could.

 

What inspired me to do this? Well it was a combination of the older generation and also my children who both always inspire me in all aspects of my life. During one of my walks to my local beach at Drumbeg, I noticed two wonderful ladies in their 60’s walking towards me. I had the pleasure of knowing these ladies many years previously whilst working in Magee of Donegal and I loved meeting them out and about.


 

To my shock, they were laden down with plastic bottles, old rope, part of an old mud flap and a discarded bicycle rim to name but a few.  They were halfway across the beach and literally could not carry another item.  They stopped to chat with me and I offered to carry what I could for them.  They informed me that they regularly picked up rubbish on the beach. What legends!!

 

I was gutted that these two amazing ladies had to go to such lengths to clean up our area. Equally worrying was the danger posed to my children from discarded rubbish and broken bottles. They would often ask “Mum, why is it so dirty here”.  It broke my heart.  I decided to organise a few close friends and neighbours to help me out on regular clean-ups.


 

It was hard work especially as high tides and storms would wash in huge amounts of rubbish onto the shore.  One such beach we cleaned, Matthews Strand, had to be tackled in an almost military manner.  We all had to line up and inch slowly along the beach picking up the endless waste that lay there.  By the end of the few hours cleaning we had made a noticeable difference, everyone was so proud of themselves. The amount of rubbish lifted was so vast that we had to call in the help of the local fishing company MOWI to help us take the rubbish to a designated lifting area for the council to remove.  Just imagine that!

I try to make outings fun, especially for the little children, so I organised on a couple of occasions for an ice cream van to pull up after the clean-up and gave an ice cream to everyone.  It was the least that they all deserved. This was very kindly paid for by the generosity of MOWI and also local councillor Noel Jordan who are always on hand to lend support to the group.


 

During the Covid-19 pandemic our main supporters, Clean Coasts, have been unable to organise clean-ups around the country due to travel and group restrictions.  However, I decided a few weeks ago to approach my group members to see if we could at least get out with our family members within the 2km area and clean as much as we could.  It worked out fantastically and a lot of rubbish along the roadside and in the ditches, was cleared up before it was covered by the growing grass of Spring.

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A socially distanced clean up

Our next mission is to get onto the beaches for a much needed clean up and to implement social distancing and some safety measures.  It’s so important to keep trying to make a difference.  The council and local litter warden are so helpful and I appreciate their regular support.  I believe that any effort at all is so worth it and will make a difference if we can all get out and make it a part of our daily lives to pick up the rubbish.


 

Our future

Maria Murphy and her grandkids out and about cleaning up the area around their home on our recent clean up.

The effort we put in today will benefit our children and relatives in the future. What really stands out for me is that there are so many people like my older friends who are out selflessly lifting other people’s rubbish.  We can join them and it makes the burden they are under a little lighter.  That is why I try and get out when I can to lift rubbish.  Thanks so much to everyone in the community who helps out.  It is very much appreciated and every little helps.  Thank you.

 

To date the group has been a great way to rally people together and to showcase the difference a clean-up makes. People can ask to join the bigcommunitycleanup group or contact their local council who will supply pickers and bags for their own clean ups. Moving forward I’d love to get the beaches cleaned up for the summer but we will have to navigate the social distancing restrictions. Even if each family clean up their own areas and beaches it would make a massive difference.

 


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.

The Ripple Effect: Making Change in a Changing World

In this ‘Women’s Live’s, Women’s Voice’ feature Gortahork local Joanne Butler shares her journey of becoming an environment educator and setting up the social enterprise OURganic Gardens an outdoor green space focused on food, sustainability, and horticulture. While also reflecting on her learning experience and the importance of embracing sustainable living and making small changes to support the environment.

 


16 Years ago I moved to Donegal, coming for the big smoke of Derry to a relatively rural area and never having grown a vegetable in my life. The following year in 2004 having tasted my first cabbage straight from the field, I asked my landlord at the time for a drill and bought my first seeds. In 2008 my husband and I bought an old cottage with a wonderful view in Gort a’ Choirce. We carefully restored the house for myself, my husband and my (then only) daughter to live in.

Three years later now with 3 children we started to slowly work on our 4 acre garden at this stage I was already growing some of our own food  for a number years but,  I still  was not really aware of where our food comes, thinking back on it now, I was living in a bubble, a nice cosy ‘good life’ bubble as we had observed the land for a number of years (being a bit busy with the kids) we now felt confident to start working on the plans we made.

 


First things first we wanted to clear the land as much as possible and as natural as possible, so we enlisted the help of a few friends, we enlisted the help of some pigs and they got straight to work clearing the ground for us. In 2013 my local community group Pobail Le Chéile asked me to run a Community Garden, it pushed my boundaries and enabled me to work with people in my local community, we shared tips, stories and food.

 

Coming initially from a background always doing some sort of community work I wanted to put together a programme of events that reconnected the links between the food we grow, the food we eat and the people we feed.  We ended the year with a harvest festival, inviting people from all over the area to come together to celebrate food and enjoy the experience of coming together in a social setting. This sparked the flame and OURganic Gardens was born.

 

That winter I attended many courses and events around the country connected with community gardening, I joined the community garden network and completed my FETAC level 6 train the trainer. I put together a community garden course working with local people growing, cooking and connecting with each other.

 


I then started to look beyond just the gardening aspect of it , outside the ‘bubble’, I wanted to bring more than just healthy eating into the classes, I wanted  to show people the impacts of what we do here now, locally and how it will affect other people in the future and Globally.

In February 2014, I began a FETAC level 4 in Global Development with Donegal ChangeMakers, this opened doors I didn’t even know existed. It took me on a journey of learning that not only burst that bubble but entered me into a whole new world of conscious thinking. Hearing the shocking, hard hitting facts I learnt left me feeling overwhelmed to say the least. We looked at the developing countries and how our lives here, affect their lives there. And then more than ever this word CHANGE started to resonate deep within.


 

I went on to complete a tutor facilitator course and I remember hearing  more and more disturbing  insights into the global state of play, where we were at with our natural environment. I had heard enough, I left the course early on the last day barely unable to breath …. I had heard a lot …. I thought to myself … What could I possibly do in any way that could make one ounce of impact in the world today. In tears I wept, for the peoples who’s lives that our choices are destroying, the unfair food trades that are dealt. For the lack of control that we have over large companies that wreak havoc on our food and the environment.

 

But it was then that for me the defining moment came. And it was around that time that the ripple effect, for me came into play. I realised that what we do here, now and the choices we make, while at the time may feel like it’s only a tiny drop in a puddle. But if we allow this drop to affect everything it meets, then in turn this drop creates the possibility to reach all of the ocean. Even the smallest changes we make can affect the people around us.


“For me community gardening and teaching about growing local food became my drop”

 

Since then I have worked with lots of different groups in community gardens and Community Gardens Ireland. Fast Forward four years and the more that I left home to work with people about sustainable living, I realised that I was not being sustainable myself, I was driving all over the county and beyond and not taking time out for me, my family and my garden. So since the beginning of 2018 I took the decision to start to work from my home garden in Gortahork. To start a social enterprise that will show people how and why I do it.

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I have since discovered permaculture which is set of ethics and principles that help me understand nature and work with it rather than against it.

 

EARTH CARE – PEOPLE CARE – AND FAIR SHARE

permaculture

 


 

When I work with groups now we talk about the nature of our global food system. A system where the fruit, vegetables, and herbs found in grocery stores have often been grown hundreds of miles from our kitchens and packed, shipped, distributed, and displayed, all while being refrigerated, this is a process that can wreak havoc not only on the environment but on the flavour and nutrients.

To talk about how growing a simple bag of salad naturally at home can not only cut down on your chemical intake, but in terms of the water it takes to grow the vegetable from seed to bag. In a country like Kenya where water charges are literally costing the earth. As most companies’ triple wash their salads at packaging point, we are literally running the well dry and that doesn’t even take in the transport.

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To learn about how only a few generations ago, most of the food on the dinner table had been growing in gardens only hours before it was served. While it would be a full-time job these days to feed your family this way, it’s surprisingly easy and fun to grow some of the staples on your grocery list and it saves a whole lot of air miles in between.


 

 

We follow the principles as best we can. We observe nature, use and value diversity, produce no waste and use small and slow solutions. Now me and my family have taken it one step further and have looked at these permaculture principles in all our aspects of life at home. From saving our rainwater, building with natural materials, managing our waste materials and using renewable resources we are hoping to show people how they can live more sustainable lives on a home scale basis.

69911756_2406689436035154_6369487674503331840_oI now work with a fantastic team at OURganic Gardens and during 2019 we ran successful  courses in Permaculture, Horticulture and social and therapeutic gardening. We have set up volunteer days and community garden co-operative sessions. We have done numerous walks and talks around the land and we have even set up a small stall at the house providing surplus vegetables to the community with an honesty box to help keep the garden going.

This year we plan to do more of the same with some extra workshops and further development on the land. Who knows what route our learning together will take at OURganic Gardens, but one thing I do know and  that’s the more and more people we can get involved in our garden project then the more and more people that we can get thinking about their own ripple effects and in the near future we look forward to a tidal wave of hope from all of the ocean!

Go Raibh Maith Agat

 


Adapting to Change

Joanne is currently doing a series of online live facebook videos on Sundays under the title #GrowTogetherDonegal check it out here 

 

 


NCCWN Donegal Women’s Network 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.

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.