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The amount of food waste in Ireland, and the world, has been playing on my mind a lot. Since I can remember my mum has taken produce out of its packaging at the checkout. Cringing behind her, studiously looking at the wall, I used to be so embarrassed. But then I grew up and found the amount of packaging ridiculous and disgusting. Now, at 34, I follow in her footsteps annoying customers behind me at the checkout. Frankly, I don’t care, I mean come on, why do I need packaging covering packaging to hold four pears? Does anyone else find this frustrating?
Lauren Singer from Trash is for Tossers, came into my scope about three years ago when I read about her zero waste lifestyle. For me, living a completely trash free, zero waste life seemed impossible, in this day and age. It still seems impossible, if I’m honest. The rules, however, are pretty simple: always carry your own containers, bags, egg cartons etc. and only buy products in glass. While this seems quite simple it’s only simple if there are shops that sell bulk goods and let you use your own packaging.
Bea Johnson whose book Zero Waste Home was in Dublin recently and has five simple rules: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rot. She says the primary concept is to say ‘no’ to things like the amount of clutter we’re given for free at festivals, and so on. If you’re like me and my mum this can be pretty easy but multinationals are only looking at spending costs. They don’t really pay attention to Mrs Jo Blogs from down the road who leaves all the packaging at the checkout.
Recently in Dublin, a few places here and there will let you use your own packaging but it seems that customers are the ones taking responsibility for consumer waste rather than the government or retailers. I, for one, think an all round ban on packaging would be a fantastic option. Take India and its full ban on plastic bags. It’s going fantastically. Ireland should be pushing boundaries in this way too. A full ban on non-recyclable plastics. Hands up if you actually know what’s supposed to go into your recycling bin and what doesn’t?
The Dublin Food Co-op has recently introduced 15 items that come package free and they let you take your own packaging/boxes with you. They’re starting small and working their way to more and more, so get behind them to increase products available. Currently they’re stocking a small range from grains to liquid cleaners.
Temple Bar Food Market is another one where goods can be bought without packaging. Recently a friend bought some cheese and was met with healthy enthusiasm when she asked if she could use her own box. Make sure you buy your fruit and veg without packaging, I know it can sometimes be more expensive, but the way retailers work is that if you show them a trend, they go with it. Perhaps try to source from farmer’s markets instead of the bigger supermarket chains? Not only are you supporting the farmer/grower/producer directly but you’re also not getting packaging.
Food waste is a massive worldwide issue. FoodCloud, an Irish start-up, says that 1 in 8 people in Ireland experience poverty at the same time that 1 million tonnes of food is thrown out by Irish consumers and businesses every year. To put it in financial terms, that’s €700 of food per household per year. CRAZY.
As someone in the food industry, I know that this is partly because people don’t have enough knowledge about food. Is a carrot a bit wrinkly? Most people will bin it – we’re aesthetically driven when it comes to food. “Sell by” and “use by” are other examples. Most consumers today have no idea that “sell by” isn’t the same as “use by” and most use by dates are a ridiculous retailer rule. Obviously, don’t eat things that have gone off, but in my household milk that’s two days past use by date and smells and tastes fine, does not get thrown away. Bread gets frozen so that it lasts, older looking vegetables get turned into soup. It’s really simple, admittedly if you know how.
If you have electrical goods you’re thinking of throwing away, don’t. Head over to WEEE Ireland to find your local spots where you can hand in things like lightbulbs, batteries, fridges. Most of these everyday items contain a huge amount of random ingredients that need to be separated properly. Taking it to WEEE Ireland is a great start!
I’m starting small, trying it for a week and then seeing how I can slot more long lasting solutions into the way we live. It’s all about changing behavioural patterns – which can be the hardest but it’s worth it.