Clutching at Straws: 8 Plastics Worse than Straws

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Artwork from the documentary film about plastic.

Last year, a study showed about 8 million metric tons of plastic waste flowed into our seas and oceans, enough to grow a second Brazil.

Most of this trash comes from ten rivers that are highly populated; Yangzte, Indus, Yellow, Hai, Nile, The Ganges, Pearl, Amur, Niger and Mekong. The article states, it would be best to catch the waste at the source, but even better would be to reduce the use of plastic altogether.

Ireland, doesn’t rank high on the list of countries that produce the most plastic waste, however the sad reality is we rank as low as we do, because we choose to export our problem overseas and we are one of the top producers of plastic waste in Europe, producing 61 kilograms of plastic waste per person, per year.

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In January 2018 it was reported that Ireland was exporting 95% of it’s plastic waste to China, who have declared they will no longer be accepting it. So what can we do to help our island, the oceans and the planet? “Give up straws!!!” you say. Well if it was only that easy. Straws aren’t helping, but being a not too incaaonvenient piece of plastic to give up, the straw bandwagon is overflowing with do-gooders and part-time “eco-warriors”. Alternatively, I give you a much more worrisome list of plastics that are destroying our oceans, laying siege to our rivers and holding our marine life hostage.

  1. Fishing Nets – When a fishing net begins to disintegrate, it too often gets dumped in the ocean leaving it for marine life to eat or become entangled in, and either way starving to death. The ocean’s creatures fill their belly up with plastic and can no longer eat anything of actual sustenance, leaving them to die a painful death, or they become caught in the net’s hooks and are left to languish on the end of a spike. These nets are commonly referred to as “ghost fishing nets”, as they drift through the ocean with a ghostlike quality forcing creatures to submit to its wake. Initiatives and businesses have been set up to recycle these nets in a more efficient and environmentally friendly way, however they haven’t yet been able to fully tackle the problem. Adidas designed a runner made from recycled fishing nets, which is a good way to highlight the issue, but this will not be enough to get us out of the red, so how can we make a significance difference here? My number one way would be to give up eating fish. The second option is to eat fish that has not been caught with nets. Easier said than done. Useful source on sustainable fishing from The Irish Wildlife Trust; here.
  2. Plastic Bags – Reusable shopping bags are widely available, and in Ireland we have the added incentive of avoiding them, as we’ve had to pay for our plastic bags since 2012. Long gone are the days when you get your plastic bag for free. You can extend the policy of bringing your own bags to replace the plastic bags we place our loose fruit and vegetables in. Caught without a bag? While packing a few vegetables in a plastic bag before weighing, consider if you can leave them loose? I personally weigh all my vegetables loose, and it saves me using a plastic bag with a life span equal to the time it takes you to travel from your local supermarket to your kitchen. For me, that’s about ten minutes.
  3. Coffee Cups – It came as a shock to many that their paper coffee cups were not actually recyclable. Recent pressure has encouraged coffee chains to offer incentives for customers who use reusable cups and some coffee houses now even use recyclable/compostable cups themselves. However, reusable is still the best option, as recycling cups is thirsty business, and requires a lot of energy and resources.
  4. Plastic Water Bottles – This one doesn’t seem to get the same coverage as coffee cups have enjoyed in recent years, but it’s as bad if not worse for the environment. BPA free bottles are readily available, so save yourself money, and help cut down on waste and plastic.
  5. Disposable Cutlery – A plethora of eco-friendly cutlery is out there. Same goes for lunch boxes. Try http://www.earthmother.ie for a range of options.
  6. Single-use cleaning products – J-cloths, bounty, wipes. They all make me cringe. One simple wipe and it’s dumped in the bin. Use tea clothes and at the very least cloths that have some durability. It’s even worth throwing your j-cloths in the wash to get a few more uses out of them.
  7. Menstrual Products – As women we need these products and it’s a personal item with some proving more user-friendly than others. If a menstrual cup feels out of your comfort zone, consider tampons without the plastic and cardboard applicators. But know that most tampons are drenched in some very worrisome chemicals.
  8. Microplastics- Microplastics consist of decomposing plastic waste, micro beads, synthetic fibres, to name but a few. They are believed to absorb toxins which can be harmful to humans, and microbeads have been banned in the UK since January, 2018. We know these toxic plastics enter our bodies through the water system and by consuming fish, but we don’t yet know how it might be affecting us. What we really need to do here, is cut down on every possible plastic to make our oceans healthier and happier, as well as ourselves.

The consoling thing here, is that all these plastics have more environmentally friendly alternatives. Please see a list to get started with below;

Fishing Nets (Further Reading) – https://www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/fish-net-recycling-money-for-old-rope-407047.html

Plastic Bags – https://littlegreenshop.ie/?product_cat=bags

Coffee Cups – https://eu.keepcup.com/?countryNameChange=Ireland&countryChangeType=auto

Wipes – https://ie.iherb.com/pr/Charlie-Banana-Organic-Cotton-Multi-Usage-Wipes-10-Reusable-Wipes/76798?gclid=CjwKCAiA8rnfBRB3EiwAhrhBGqzlagENDvTLSxzR4c9BQhgd9N1M7kTJLGhUOf8JinwLeFdC1M-wZRoCkioQAvD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds

Water Bottles – https://www.independent.co.uk/extras/indybest/outdoor-activity/sports-equipment-accessories/best-reusable-water-bottles-for-work-running-cycling-hiking-reviews-a6717726.html

Menstrual Products –

https://gladrags.com/

https://www.shethinx.com/

https://www.bodykind.ie/browse/brand/17-mooncup.aspx?Referer=Google_ie_moon-cup&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIzdKYxI6L3gIVybHtCh2j_wgmEAAYASAAEgL7A_D_BwE

Microbeads – https://www.elle.com/uk/beauty/skin/articles/a31140/7-alternatives-to-microbead-exfoliants/

Demystifying Cruelty-Free Cosmetics

Going vegan is very daunting for most people, and it’s often forgotten that going vegan isn’t just about your diet. If you are really behind the vegan message, you will most likely want to cut out products that aren’t vegan and those tested on animals. Unfortunately, the truth is that virtually every ingredient has been tested on animals at some point and time, even water, so labels can only demonstrate a companies’ desire not test in the future.

Why go vegan and cruelty-free?

For vegans, this question is a simple one to answer. However, you may not be vegan, and want to know the benefits this would have for you. One reason is to cut out harmful chemicals from your daily beauty routine. Many skincare products contain toxic chemicals that can affect fertility and even cause birth defects. Parabens, lead and formaldehyde are just some of the dangerous ingredients that can be found in your everyday products. Generally vegan means more naturally based products, and moving in a more natural direction can help remove a lot of harmful chemicals from your everyday regime. However, if you care for the welfare of animals and the environment, switching to vegan, cruelty, organic and natural cosmetics will have a lasting affect on your planet as well as your body.

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Why do we test on animals?

Animals share similar DNA to humans; chimpanzees share 99% of their DNA with humans and mice 98%. Some would use this as an argument NOT to test on these animals, but it’s often presented as a an argument for animal testing. Other than the ethical issues surrounding using humans for testing, animals are seen as beneficial for testing because of their shorter life-spans in comparison to humans. They suffer the same diseases and issues as humans, and a mice that lives two to three years allows scientists to study certain affects over a lifespan in a much shorter time than a human.

Procon.org says 26 million animals are used for scientific and commercial testing each year. Peta estimates the figure at 100 million. The reality is, both figures are scary and colossal. These animals include mice and rats to monkeys and pigs, and anything in between; birds, dogs, guinea pigs, rabbits, cats, fish, etc. They experience being restrained, put in cages, burns, cuts, holes drilled in their skulls, crushed bones and spinal cords, forced inhalation of toxic fumes, and the list sadly goes on. Noted, not all of these injuries for just the cosmetics industry.

The reality is that the majority of animal testing that is currently done isn’t applicable to humans or even useful, as animals are so vastly different to humans. Drugs that have passed animal testing, have still been found to be harmful to humans in the past. 95% of the animals that are used in testing are not protected by the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), leaving birds, mice, rats, reptiles and fish vulnerable to abuse, however I think it’s undeniably that any animal being used in animal testing, protected or not, is being both used and abused.

So as you can see, the reason for animal testing is not clear and arguably not in anyway necessary for something as trivial as cosmetics, particularly if we have alternatives. If you would like to research the topic further, I’d advise reading Procon.org’s pro and con list.

What do the different symbols mean?

An important thing to remember is that just because a product is marked “Vegan” does not mean that isn’t tested on animals. Furthermore, virtually any company can label their products “vegan” or “cruelty-free”, but sadly this might not consider beeswax or commissioning animal testing to a third party. Also some of the certifications, do not test or probe into the companies’ statements about their products, so they cannot be fully relied upon unfortunately.

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The most reliable is the leaping bunny surrounded by a blue circle. It does not mean the product is vegan, however companies that have the leaping bunny on their products have to agree to be audited every three years, it is internationally recognised, and seemingly the most rigorous for following up with companies to stick to their promises. So, the best way to go is to team this symbol with a vegan symbol when buying skincare products.

Screen Shot 2018-07-09 at 20.42.55.pngUnfortunately many well-known brands that produce potentially vegan products end up being testing on animals by selling products in China. China requires all products manufactured outside of China to be tested on animals.

So where can I shop?

The truth is that in the world we live in, it is a bit of a minefield. Lines offer cruelty-free, but use animal products, so labels and ingredients have to be scrutinised if you want to get it 100% right. However, it is a worthy cause to work towards, and joining locally based vegan facebook groups will help you and others share information about the newest and best products.

THE BODY SHOP

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The body shop is not exclusively vegan, but they are committed to cruelty-free products. Furthermore, the brand is committed to high quality that is both sustainable and ethically produced. They test by computer data, on human subjects or lab produced tissue. Currently they are leading a global campaign to bring 8 million signatures to ban animal testing to the UN, you can read more about their mission and sign the petition on their website.

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Map of countries that have currently banned animal testing.

SUPERDRUG

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There’s not much to say other than Superdrug’s vegan and cruelty-free products have gone from strength to strength. Their skincare range was always strong, but they’ve recently launched a vegan and cruelty-free make-up line called B., offering everything from foundations and powders to lipsticks and mascara, and it has a men’s skincare range too.

HOLLAND & BARRETT

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Readily available, reasonably priced, and regularly offering special offers like, buy one get one half price or the one cent sale, Holland & Barrett’s Dr. Organic range is worth the visit alone. The range offers; toothpaste, moisturisers, face wash, toner, lip balms, shampoos, deodorants, soaps, and much more. Not all their line is vegan, also offering beeswax, honey and snail slime, but most of their line is in fact vegan friendly, tested on humans and organically produced.

ELF @ BOOTS

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Elf is a reasonably priced cosmetics line on Peta’s cruelty-free list. All their products are vegan friendly, including their brushes. You can find them in Boots and Sam McCauley’s stores around the country.

The last word…

It isn’t easy changing everything in your makeup bag and bathroom shelf, however it’s also never been easier than it is now. More and more companies are heeding to the demand from consumers to supply vegan friendly and cruelty-free products, so the more we buy and vote with our dollar, the more we’ll see on our shop shelves. Happy shopping!

Ten Simple Changes for the Environment

Want to help the planet, but you aren’t sure where to start? How does starting small sound to you?

I’m a firm believer in making small changes, if everyone made a small change to how they consume, we would be looking at a very different future for our planet. I’m also a fan of small steps, because small steps can be the gateway we need to monumental changes. Ireland ranks one of the top in the EU for its recycling rates and according to Repak.ie, Ireland had 154 landfills 20 years ago, now it only has 4. That’s a pretty amazing turn around for a small change in households across the country, a change that no one really gives a second thought about now.

So here are ten small changes that anyone can do and that if everyone did, would lead to one big change for our planet and its inhabitants.

1. Use reusable coffee cups – Conscious Cup Campaign detail how Ireland is estimated to dispose of 200 million non-recyclable coffee cups every year. Their aim is to focus attention on the plight and encourage consumers to use reusable cups and cafe owners to both accept and incentivise their use. Insomnia just recently announced that all their cups would be recyclable, so coffee chains are breaking under the pressure. It’s great to see. If you are interested in learning more and seeing how you can take action e.g., encouraging your local coffee shop to become a conscious cup campaign supporter, check out their website.

Most importantly, make a once off purchase of a reusable cup. I have a William Morris designed cup made from the world’s most sustainable crop; bamboo fibre. However, Keep Cup is very popular, and comes in many different shades making it a good alternative, especially the glass ones. More and more cafes are offering discounts to customers who use reusable cups too, so expect a regular saving on your coffee. Melanie May’s blog has a map of cafe’s that offer said discount.

William Morris

It goes without saying, plastic bottles fall directly under this column too. So swap your plastic bottles for a refillable bottle. 

2. Be a bag lady, not a plastic hag – A “bag for life” is not a plastic one in my opinion. Though the plastic bag levy has done wonders, and been very effective in reducing our plastic waste, I would encourage you to go the extra mile and avoid plastic bags on your next shopping trip entirely. Getting into the habit of keeping a small tote bag every time you leave the house will never leave you stranded in the supermarket and having to reach for an icky piece of plastic. I really like these ones from Amazon that are machine washable and have an extra piece of canvas for your overflowing shopping. I also use it when I need to carry a lot for work or as an overnight bag. However, there’s endless choice in local shops, if you don’t wish to order online.

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3. Frequent farmer’s markets – Unfortunately it’s near impossible to avoid plastic when you shop in your local supermarket and farmer’s markets can be more expensive, rarely offering the deals you receive in big chains like Tesco or Aldi. However, visit your local farmer’s market and see if there’s some foods you can adapt into your larger supermarket spend. You never know, you might develop a taste for it, and the more we support local produce the better the options will be in the future. Below are some of my favourite markets and shops that offer fresh produce without the plastic waste;

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  • Fallon & Byrne, 11-17 Exchequer Street, Dublin 2.
  • Dublin Food Co-op, 12 Newmarket Square, Merchant’s Quay, Dublin 8.
  • The People’s Park, Queen’s Road, DĂșn Laoghaire, Dublin. (Every Sunday)

4. Change your toothbrush you scurvy riddled, scumbag – Another important, everyday item that’s made of that gross plastic goop. Time to dump the plastic teeth shiners for a more environmentally friendly option; bamboo toothbrushes. Unfortunately after stringent testing it seems not all companies are delivering on their claims of 100% biodegradable materials. A burning test has exposed the sad truth that some companies are making false claims. Brush with Bamboo avoids pig hair with bristles made of 62% castor bean oil and 38% nylon. Unfortunately biodegradable bristles is not something that actually exists, so companies that offer such a thing, should be avoided.

Bonus points if you don’t leave the tap running while you brush them too. 

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5. Be a transport troll – I own a motorbike and I’m all too aware of how it negatively effects the environment, so to counteract my hobby I stick to public transport during the week. If I need to travel Monday to Friday, I need my green card. As well as trains and buses, I cycle and walk as much as possible. Thankfully Dublin boasts a great transport system, but admittedly it’s more difficult in the countryside or even in other towns in Ireland. Offer lifts or car share if possible. It might not seem like a big deal, but doing it and explaining to others your reasoning why, will be a conversation starter, will encourage good will, might influence others, and help highlight environmental concerns, at the very least.

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6. No straws – Next time you are handed a straw with your drink ask yourself, “Do I need this straw to drink my drink? Really?” Straws are one of the top items of rubbish and plastic found in our oceans. They get lodged in the stomachs of our marine life and while their stomachs slowly fill with plastic waste, they die from starvation. Now look at this cute picture of a turtle and tell me that’s right…

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It’s estimated that the US uses 500 million straws a day and it takes up to 200 years for plastic straws to decompose. The most popular plastic, bendy straw wasn’t patented until 1936, which means every one that was simply tossed, is lying around somewhere. Isn’t that simply terrifying?

If you can’t get over not having your little, slurpy, phallic friend or you suffer from teeth sensitivity, you can purchase a recyclable straw online and it never has to leave your side.

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7. Turn off the lights – I think we are all guilty of this one. Literally being too lazy to hit a switch, and it goes for heating, electronic devices, hot water, and more. If you aren’t using it, turn it off. If you want to be a real “hardcore” eco-warrior, turn off the lights when watching TV or using your phone. The campaigners behind Earth Week explained; “If we all turn off 2 lights in our homes for an hour, every day, we’ll save more than 5 million kilowatt hours of electricity nationwide, every year. The amount of coal it takes to produce that much electricity could fill up the Empire State Building – almost three times!”

In Ireland, we’ve been steadily increasing our electricity sources from renewable energy, but we are far from 100%, so it’s important to get into the mindset that every time you switch on the light or buy non-recyclable materials, that’s a resource that will never return to a planet you live on with finite resources. Puff. Gone.

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Table from Electric Ireland.

8. No to kitchen towels – What a waste to produce a plastic packaged tissue that is thrown away after one use, and just for spills. We are already doing that on our bum, do we need to do it in the kitchen too? J-cloths are a much sounder alternative and can be gently machine washed a few times, but even better use actual fabric tea-towels and rinse them out after use. Have a small bounty of them, so you are never at a loss.

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9. Take shorter showers – It can be very comforting to linger in the shower, but it’s really a waste of water. Get in, get out, and get on with your day. If you are partial to a cold shower, you can expect that to save you on your heating bill.

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10. Run full loads – This one really gets my goat, and it goes for the dish washer, dryer and washing machine. If you are someone who puts a couple of towels or under garments in the washing machine for three hours, you must have been spawned from the fiery pits of Mordor itself.

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So that’s my list of ten simple steps, but note the operative word is “simple”. This is far from extensive and far from the biggest changes you can make for the planet. However, it is undoubtedly a positive step in the right direction. So get out there and start saving the planet!!!