With a full house and an enthused audience at my talk in Dublin this past March, I could tell that Zero Waste had a good chance of taking off in Ireland. What I did not foresee is the speed at which alternatives would come into place after my visit. To tell you more about it, I give the voice to Laura Cahill (right, on the photo below), member of ZeroWasteIreland FB group.
I cannot count the amount of times I looked at a picture of a zero-waste shop on the Internet wishing we had such facilities here in Ireland. On holidays abroad, I would be standing in a market bristling with unpackaged fruit and vegetables, eggs and nuts, salamis and pasta. Heaven, I used to think with envy!
Over the past decade, I got used to screening the shops for bulk or less wastefully packaged options. Putting the initial embarrassment aside, I use my Ikea glass boxes, linen bags and net produce bags with ease, and shop where at least some items are available with no packaging. Zero-waste living in a country with no bulk store has been tricky, especially when studying, working and raising children. I often failed. I did not have time to plan, or I was too tired to go to other than the local convenience store.
Fast forward to August 2017. After work and collecting my children from school, we are walking into my local Smallchanges Wholefoods Store where Peadar refills my bottle with olive oil. The lovely Íde from the Bring Your Own stall scoops my favorite tea leaves, rice and fusilli pasta into my linen bags. My 10-year old notices corn kernels, so we decide to get a small bag of those too. (…my boys are making homemade popcorn now, so goodbye microwave popcorn rubbish!) Walking out of the store I feel contended and happy. Now off to the greengrocer’s and my zero-waste shopping is done! Simple, pleasant, no-fuss.
So, what changed?
About a year ago, I joined the Zero Waste Ireland Facebook group. The group had just over a hundred members, but I was delighted to became part of a company of like-minded individuals. They share my frustration with packaging and desire to make the world a better place, one glass jar at a time. I found myself in a welcoming party where people share ideas without judging, and encourage without pressurizing. A lot of us in this group “grew up” on the Zero Waste Home blog, videos and book. We looked at Béa Johnson’s options for bulk shopping as something we might never achieve in Ireland.
Stepping right out of my comfort zone, I decided to invite her to Dublin. She has encouraged so many people to open zero waste businesses all over the world, why would it not work in Dublin? Off I sent my e-mail, and almost immediately she replied, saying that she would love to come over to Ireland!
Luckily, the Zero Waste Ireland Facebook crowd have some brilliant brains and helpful souls, so they helped me organise the visit. Over the process, the group was buzzing. Members shared the news of the Zero Waste Queen’s visit with their friends, colleagues and families. Owners of existing businesses joined and started to offer zero-waste alternatives of their products. By the time of Béa’s 14th March talk, Zero Waste Ireland had well over 6000 (Yes, six thousand!) members.
After her refreshingly energising and informative talk, in a jam-packed theatre in Trinity College, the excitement was still palpable in the foyer. Ms Johnson was surrounded by students, moms with babies on their arms, professionals in suits, pensioners, housewives, a wonderful mix of people from all parts of the country. She had time for everyone, was relaxed, pragmatic and down-to-earth. Even though she had given two previous talks earlier in schools, she was happy to go out for a pint of Guinness, and continue chatting to and inspire people until late.
And the magic happened.
Even better, some of these shops are mobile-shops, they travel within the city and the country selling everything from dishwasher detergent, to rice, nuts, grains, castile soap and bicarbonate soda. Their range of products are growing. As well as purchasing spaghetti and raisins, you can get your bamboo toothbrushes, reusable bottles and menstrual cups! They are in touch with their customers, they listen, and supply the demand. Shopping is easy and straightforward; the price is good; the produce is also of quality and available with not too much inconvenience for an increasing amount of people.
This summer, the country hosted its very first Zero Waste Ireland Festival. Not a single-use cup in sight, but hundreds of people shopping (using their own jars and bags), chatting over a (reusable) cup of coffee, attending talks, watching zero-waste related films and learning about the practicalities at workshops.
Over 13 years ago, I remember savouring the lines from a Thomas Merton book: “Why do we have to spend our lives striving to be something we would never want to be, if we only knew what we wanted? Why do we waste our time doing things which, if we only stopped to think about them, are just the opposite of what we were made for?” I remember looking at all the plastic packaging in my kitchen, the knick-knacks in my sitting room from well-meaning family members, the superfluous ‘must haves’ for the impending arrival of my first son. I gasped for simplicity and freedom under the suffocating clutter of waste.
It has been a long and slow journey for me and my family to move towards creating a minimal amount of waste, but the Zero Waste Ireland group and Béa Johnson’s visit to Dublin has accelerated the change. Not just for me, but for the whole country. Thank you!