8 reasons Ireland is a great place to go zero waste
Confession time: nobody in Ireland reads this blog, and I don’t understand why. I’m amazed and grateful to see I have readers all over the world, predominantly in countries with many native speakers of English, like the USA, the UK, Canada, and more, but also from countries with other and multiple official languages. However, when I look at blog traffic from Ireland, I scratch my head; English is an official language, and even if the population here is smaller than the UK, for example, the proportions are just off.
I’ve found that living zero waste in Galway is just as simple (and just as complicated) as living zero waste as upstate New York. If you’ve been with this blog since the start, you know that I spent a few months last year living in Italy. I’ve lived abroad before in the past and Ireland is the third country I’ve lived in since going zero waste. Each country has its own advantages and disadvantages to living this lifestyle, but there is some great infrastructure already in Ireland that make it so friendly to zero wasters, as well as some areas where the path for reducing your waste has already been lain.
So if you’ve ever wondered if there are supports to go zero waste in Ireland, here are eight:
Ireland has show itself to be a pretty vegetarian friendly country to me, and I’ve only come across one restaurant with absolutely no vegetarian options. Grocery stores have plant based milks available, veggie burgers, and the like. Chef’s Pencil even ranks Ireland 8th in their list of The Most Popular Countries and Cities for Vegans in 2018.
2. Walkable towns
No country is perfectly walkable, but the parts of Ireland that I’ve seem are significantly more walkable than where I’ve lived in the USA. In Ireland, 11% of commuters walk to work (x), compared to the mere 2.7% of Americans who walk to work(x).
Beyond anecdotes, this survey looked at various towns in Ireland, such as Cavan, Crumlin, and Letterkenny, among others, to determine their walkability. The study was put out by the Age Friendly Town Programme, which is part of a great World Health Organization initiative aimed at making sure people can enjoy good health, have access to necessary services in a safe and inclusive environment, and participate fully in our communities as they age. There were a series of audits performed in 2014 which found people were generally pleased with the walkability of their towns and over 75% of participants said they were able to reach necessary services/shops, as well as having access to dropped curbs and sidewalks. The participants included people of various ages and abilities, as well as people maneuvering strollers/prams. Other findings include 81% of people agreeing that there were sidewalks available on the routes they needed, although more than half felt the paths could have been in better condition and easier to travel.
Considering this research, if you live in town, you probably have access to footpaths that can take you to most of the places you need to go. If this is true for you, take advantage of this resource and do some more walking, or at least leave the car at home when possible. Walking is a wonderful option if you’re able to do so because it doesn’t require you to burn any fossil fuels and has a much lighter impact on the earth than passenger cars.
3. reusables welcome
Another great thing that has already taken on here is bringing your own cup for take away coffee.The Conscious Cup campaign advocates for reusable coffee mugs and has a great map of places that not only allow you to bring your own mug, but that incentivize you in some way, such as with a discount, for doing so. Places on this map also provide ceramic cups for people having coffee at the establishment.
Over 1000 cafes are participating in giving a discount, and this 2018 article cites that an esimated six disposable cups were thrown away every second in Ireland (x). In other words, using your travel mug is already accepted by many establishments, so it’s an easy place to begin reducing your waste.
4. Charity shops galore
While I can’t find any great information on charity and secondhand shops per capita or their exact numbers, my experience has been that there are plenty of charity shops and thrift stores in Ireland. Availability and popularity here appear to be high, meaning you won’t have to go out of your way to search out pre-existing, green resources; when you do need things, the most sustainable options is always the one that already exists, so secondhand shopping is a must.
5. Potable water
Lest we forget that water is an invaluable and scarce resource, I want to mention that Ireland has safe drinking water, and there is no need to buy bottled water to avoid getting sick or suffering health problems. Water quality here is regulated by the European Union Drinking Water Regulations 2014, which, “establish strict quality standards for water used for human consumption and set out the maximum and guideline values for various different physical, bacteriological and chemical contaminants” (x). 82% of people get their water from public water sources regulated by these drinking water regulations (x), and Ireland has one of the highest water availability rates in Europe(x)
Long story short, safe drinking water from the tap is not a resource all over the world; according to the World Health Organization and UNICEF, in 2015, 663 million people lacked access to an improved source of water like piped water, protected well water or even collected rainwater (x). If you live in Ireland, chances are that you have access to safe drinking water right from your kitchen sink. Skip the plastic water bottles.
6. Compost and waste
In line with EU regulations, brown bins (compost bins) are available to every household, only excepting people in very remote places (v). Most of the places I’ve lived have had no public compost options or only options that require driving for drop-off. In 2016, 353,000 tons of biodegradable waste in Ireland was accepted for compost or anaerobic digestion as opposed to regular landfill (x). Compared to places with few or no public compost options, Ireland has already made a great step in helping people dispose of organic material.
According to citizensinformation.ie, other waste disposal is not free and public in Ireland, but the government policy focuses on “waste as a resource and the virtual elimination of landfilling. The current and future focus is on circular economy - preventing waste, reuse, maximising recycling and using waste as a fuel in replacement of fossil fuels” ; in other words, there are already plenty of zero waste goals on the agenda, such as focusing on resources and reduction, although using waste as a replacement for fossil fuels, or energy recovery, often calls for waste to be burned and using the heat for energy (x). Some research has indicated that recycling plastic saves more energy than burning it creates, and some harmful emissions can result from burning trash. There do exist some very interesting waste-to-energy processes that don’t result in harmful dioxides that you can read about here. While burning waste for energy may bring us closer to a circular economy, it doesn’t seem to be as simple as saying it’s the best way to deal with waste.
7. mild Climate
While you may not think of the charmingly wet weather in Ireland as a plus (maybe the rainy west coast has left me a little cynical), there are some advantages to the mild weather for anyone trying to have a lighter impact. The less than hot summers mean it’s possible to get by without air conditioning and in winter, the gap between comfortable indoor temperatures and the temperature outside is less than colder places, meaning less energy is needed to maintain those temperatures than it is somewhere like New York State, where I’ve lived most of my life.
In the region I grew up, Elmira, New York averages about 24 degrees Fahrenheit/4.4 degrees Celcius in the coldest month of January and about 70 degrees Fahrenheit/21 degrees Celsius in the hottest month of August (x). If we compare that to Athenry, the nearest available location with data to where I’m living currently in Galway, the January, the coldest month, averages 42 degrees Fahrenheit/5.5 degrees Celsius. The warmest month, July, averages at 59.9 degrees Fahrenheit/15.5 degrees Celsius (x). While there are obviously limitations to looking at average temperatures (for one thing, I know August days in Elmira are almost always hotter than the data available from 1981-2010), this is to say that average outside temperatures are closer to comfortable inside temperatures in Ireland than other parts of the world. This means that less energy is used to heat and cool, and that less energy is needed to maintain indoor temperatures because rate of heat loss is slower when inside temperatures are closer to outside temperatures.
8. Socket Switches
Something special about Ireland that I haven’t seen in other countries are the outlets or sockets with switches. You can effectively switch off electricity to your plugs, meaning appliances plugged in there aren’t passively drawing and wasting electricity. This is a good way to make sure you’re not wasting electricity and makes it that much easier than buying power strips to switch on and off or unplugging appliances and gadgets.
Ireland has treated me well, and I’m glad to continue my zero waste lifestyle here. I hope zero waste continues to gain popularity here, and in the meantime I’ll enjoy these advantages; I hope you take advantage of them, too. Happy zero wasting!