Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.
Local County Councils in Ireland have been issuing warnings for, Palm Oil Fatbergs, that have been washing up on Irish Shores. Some of the Fatbergs are oversized chunks and others are large, boulder sized fatty deposits lining our beautiful seashores.
Fingal County Council wrote; “A number were found on Sunday at Hoare’s Rock, Skerries, and results from laboratory tests have showed that the substance was Palm Oil. It is believed that the Palm Oil was part of a consignment which came off a ship in the English Channel about 18 months ago and was washed ashore by the weekend storm. The congealed substance has been turning up sporadically on beaches and coasts in England but this is the first time it has been recorded in Fingal.”
Most worryingly, these Fatbergs are toxic to dogs, who can be attracted to their diesel like smell.
A Fatberg is not just a term for Palm Oil though, it refers to any large mass of solid waste and is often a term used when describing London’s sewage problems, where congealed fats, oils and sanitary products have become congealed together to form solid masses.
The best way to help this problem is to make a concerted effort to cut down on single use waste, and opt for reusable items for cleaning your face, make-up removal, nappies, kitchen cleaning, etc.
Household oil is a trickier product to recycle, but pouring it down the sink can cause these blockages, and can build up, causing oxygen levels in the water to shrink and wildlife to suffocate. Instead, you should let the oil cool first, transfer it to a sealable container and take it to your local recycling centre (if they accept oil, which not all will). Where they are accepted, these oils are cleaned and recycled in animal feed and fuel adapted for cars.
Otherwise, you can compost oil in small amounts, but large amounts of oil slows down the composting process.
For large quantities of oil, Enva offer a pick up and recycling service.
For more information on what you can recycle in Irish recycling centres, click here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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;
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 Campaigndetail 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.
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.
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;
The People’s Park, Queen’s Road, Dún 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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!!!