I’ve recently done something that I never thought I’d get to do. I’ve moved to live beside the sea, overlooking beautiful Cork harbour.
Cork harbour is – depending on who you believe – the largest or second largest natural harbour in the world. It’s home to thousands of people, incredible bird life, seals and even the odd dolphin (I haven’t seen one since we moved in, but I’m hopeful). It’s also been home for centuries to all sorts of dirty industries including the infamous Irish Steel, an oil refinery and many more too numerous to mention, going right back to a Bronze Age fishing industry in Blackrock, where the village is now. So it’s fair to say the harbour’s had more than its share of pollutants throughout the ages. Humans are great in many ways but we are woefully dirty creatures.
Last week I attended an event at the beautiful Sirius Arts Centre in Cobh. There was an exhibition on that drew my eye, little vials containing what looked like plastic beads. I went through a phase of making my own beaded jewellery and it looked just like one of the bead shops I used to frequent. Unfortunately though the beads in these vials were microplastics drawn from different bodies of water, including one drawn from Cork Harbour, just outside the town of Cobh. Thanks to Ellie O’Byrne I’ve identified the artist as Mandy Barker – more in this article from Ellie.
I’ve read before about the dangers of microbeads and plastics to ocean life but – as with most things, I suppose – I tended to think of it as something far away that you might see in a documentary. I didn’t expect to see this kind of pollutant literally outside my front door.
I went home with fresh eyes, and returned to some articles I had previously read about plastic pollution. The website plasticoceans.org has some really frightening statistics about how our over reliance on plastics which are not recyclable is damaging every single part of our eco system, from the tiniest fish right up through the food chain. It’s horrifying.
Since my son was born I’ve been horribly aware of the amount of waste we now generate as a family. It seems like every single baby item is plastic. Nappies, of course, but also spoons, plates, bibs, cups, fleeces, toys… it’s in everything he uses. And in trying to feed him healthy home cooked food, I find myself buying more fruit and veg and throwing away piles and piles of plastic. I always thought I was a great recycler but when I examined the packaging on my typical weekly shop from Aldi this week, it turns out almost everything I put in the recycling bin isn’t recyclable.
I shop between Aldi, Super Valu and the English Market most weeks (I try and buy Irish where possible but there are so many ways of making yourself feel guilty that I won’t go into that here), and only in the market do I feel any sense of control over the amount of waste we generate.
Now that I’ve moved out of the city I’m researching more convenient options like delivery of vegetable boxes etc, but unfortunately the distance does make me a bit more reliant on supermarkets. There is a movement called the Cork Zero Waste group with a branch in Cobh also (this is an international movement and seems to be getting a bit of traction in Dublin, with a couple of shops buying in to it) but I think this is for people who are a little further along the path of enlightenment than me – I’d be happy just to cut down for now and to just try and make sure the waste I do generate is recyclable or reusable.
View this post on Instagram
I thought I was a great recycler… turns out almost everything I put in the recycling bin isn't recyclable. I am determined to change my shopping habits to cut down on my plastic use for #plasticfreejuly… it won't be plastic free but I'll do my best. Link to blogpost in bio and do tune in tomorrow to @corks_96fm to hear more. #plasticfree #plasticfreeforthesea #recycle #reuse #retail #packaging #waste #seasideliving #cobh #corkharbour #siriusartscentre
With pay-by-weight bin charges coming in soon, finances might make a lot of us focus a little more on our waste, but without regulations stopping manufacturers and retailers coating everything in plastic, what can the consumer do? It’s very hard not to feel totally helpless but I think in addition to signing petitions and writing to TDs and MEPs there has to be some way of (in the words of Theresa May) “taking back control”.
This month I will be taking the Plastic Free July pledge to cut down on my use of single use plastics like water bottles and coffee cups. I’ve bought (another – this is not my first go on the merry-go-round) reusable coffee cup, this one made of glass, and I’m making a conscious effort not to contribute to the one million bottles of water per minute being bought around the world. I’m going to try and shop in outlets that don’t put layers and layers of plastic around every product, and to reuse the packaging I do end up with.
It’s amazing how so many of these things – reusing things, being thrifty and avoiding waste – would just have been basics to my granny, so I’m going to try and think like her (but with more takeaway coffee and fewer babies!).
Wish me luck – and even better, sign the pledge yourself here.
Tune in to the show tomorrow at 96fm or www.96fm.ie between 9 and 12 to hear more about Plastic Free July from some people who know more about it than I do, including journalist Ellie O’Byrne who did a far more thorough version of this over on her blog.