Welcome to the blog of the course and textbook Facing up to global warming: What is going on and what you can do about it. This course is run by Professor Nick Gray of the Trinity Centre for the Environment at Trinity College Dublin.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

What the Horsemeat Scandal has Taught Us

 I have no problem eating horsemeat, however, what the recent horsemeat scandal has taught us, is that we can no longer take for granted what we are actually eating or where exactly it is coming from. Not only has this investigation raised questions into both the regulation and traceability of the meat industry in Europe, but it has also highlighted what a globalised and mechanised system the modern food industry is.

Following the discovery by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland that Horse DNA was contained within a third of all tested frozen beefburgers and ready meals, a large-scale enquiry was carried out into the origin of these meat products. The enquiry quickly spread to the UK where products such as frozen spaghetti Bolognese sold in supermarkets including Aldi, Tesco and Findus were found to include 100% horsemeat. It was subsequently discovered that the meat supply chain could be traced back through 8 different companies, located in different countries of Europe including Cyprus, Romania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and France.

For me, two main aspects have arisen from this scandal. Firstly, in an article written in ‘the Guardian’, it was highlighted that economy beefburgers (cheap, industrialised burgers) are legally allowed to consist of only 47% beef, the remainder made up of protein additives, fat and water (A fact that surely makes the idea of a 100% horsemeat burger suddenly sound a lot more appealing). Secondly, the distance that food is now travelling before it even gets to our plates, a figure that is certainly not decreasing.

In terms of sustainable living, the farm to fork distance is perhaps the most significant aspect that needs to be tackled. In the UK alone, one in four heavy goods vehicles are in fact carrying food. Considering how many tonnes of CO2 emissions could be saved each year if less food was transported such long distances, it is clear to see the potential this area has for drastically reducing our carbon footprints. In the USA this problem has actually worsened. In 1997, the average distance travelled by food stood at 6760 km. However, by 2004 this figure had increased to 8240 km.

By making a greater effort to source local goods as well as promoting seasonal diets, we can not only radically cut down the distance which our food is travelling, but also ensure that a higher level of traceability and quality is delivered for all food products. This will also help in both augmenting the local economy as well as decreasing our carbon footprint. The problem with this ideal however, is ultimately cost related. Although it is much cheaper for us to consume food products bought in supermarkets, the true environmental cost of this practise is often overlooked. The sad reality is, that when faced with a decision of spending a little extra on a locally sourced, 100% Irish beefburger, we will usually choose the cheaper, lower quality option sourced from far afield, attached with a substantial carbon footprint.

As it is simply not economically viable for many people to source the generally more expensive local or even national goods, the government needs to take a more active role in creating incentives for people to buy local. Unfortunately, the irony is that the government itself lacks the money to fund such programmes. Unless the general population recognises the importance of buying local, it looks likely that our future consuming habits will continue to seek out the cheapest option.

Patrick Moss


Reference: 
Lawrence, F. (2013) Horsemeat scandal: the essential guide. The Guardian. 15th February. Available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2013/feb/15/horsemeat-scandal-the-essential-guide [accessed 02/04/2013]

Friday, April 26, 2013

Recycling and My Sandwiches

Recycling is one of those things that, in my experience anyway has been drilled into me from a young age. It is something that as I grew older I became complacent with. I went to a primary school which had a green flag and a secondary school which had a strong recycling policy. I won’t sound very academic when I say this but I never really questioned any of it I just recycled because I was told to and admittedly was a bit scared of the consequences if I didn’t. Putting your yoghurt pot in recycling the bin seemed like an easy alternative to a detention.

Now that I am in college and have left all the fear behind I have continued to recycle out of habit but it was only really when I started the living sustainably course that I began to assess what  impact  recycling  can have.  Just looking around college, we as students are producing a lot of waste. I know for me any way I would throw my drinks bottle and paper wrapper from my roll straight into the nearest bin, whether it be recycling or not. Generally speaking it is not!

One of the tasks on this course was to examine the contents of a refuse sack at home.  I live in my family home so as a whole we would produce more waste than the average group of students living in rented accommodation.  This was a seemingly basic task, I remember doing the same in primary school and proceeding to harp on at my mum for her lack of awareness about all things green.  This time I was approaching it in a new light with the understanding that we as a community of inhabitants of the earth really do not look after what we’ve got.

On examining the bin I found a number of things and I have mentioned this in my assessment. Firstly, the general waste bin I found cling film and then aluminum foil. These are both very commonly used household products. Even for those who but lunch when they are in college many sandwiches are wrapped in such packaging.

This may sound silly but I wasn’t sure whether or not these could be recycled. I took it upon myself to check. (This course really has made me interested in the world around me!). It transpires that cling film cannot be recycled everywhere and neither can aluminium foil.  I was shocked at this! Cling film is something that I would have always choses over aluminum foil simply because I believed it would be recyclable and more ecofriendly than aluminium. I’ll admit, this seems like a very small and insignificant discovery but if it were not for this module I wouldn’t have checked.  So my answer is to get a lunch box.

Although a tiny thing I am now more aware of the small changes I can do to avoid contributing to landfill. Something as small as what I chose to wrap my sandwiches in everyday.

I realize I have picked up on a very small issue however out of the whole module I feel it is one thing in particular that felt very relevant to my life and I felt it was something I could deal with straight away.

Naomi Gibson

Monday, April 22, 2013

Today is Earth Day

It’s hard to believe that it has come around again…another 12 months and for many of us not a lot has changed…or has it?  More and more people at taking personal and community action to do something about reducing carbon emissions  and increasing biocapacity… so let’s join the other 1 billion people who are doing something and start to deal with global warming. Link to Earthday.org or their blog.

This year everyone is invited to download a photo  to help  personalize the massive challenge climate change. They say every picture tells a story…what does yours say about how has climate change impacted you? Or what are you doing to be part of the solution?  

Nick Gray

Image: vectordesignideas.com

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A Greener Trinity Ball?

Trinity Ball is clearly the most anticipated and famous night in our college calendar. With 7,000 students eagerly awaiting this prestigious event, the logistics and running of such an event are often forgot about. With all the hype, it is easy to forget about all the emissions caused by such an event. The hundreds of lights, world class sound systems and the five different stages all contribute to what can only be imagined as a rather large contribution to Trinity’s CO2 emissions. In this blog I will examine a number of eco-friendly festivals and see whether their initiatives could be implemented for the Trinity Ball.

World-renowned music festivals such as Glastonbury and Coachella have become famous, not only for the festival itself, but due to their ability to provide a rather eco-friendly and sustainable festival. They have both adopted a “no trace policy”, which ensures any waste generated at the festival is optimally recycled. Coachella has also become famous due to its solar powered DJ booths. At Portugal’s bi-annual Boom Festival where “biodiesel, solar and wind energy powered 25% of the festival, sustainable bamboo construction techniques literally took center stage” . However it is clear that these festivals are on a much, much larger scale than that of Trinity Ball.

So what could be done at Trinity Ball? Small and creative ideas can be implemented to help reduce its carbon footprint. Something that I feel could be easily implemented is that off providing only organic food produce at the number of food stands. Another idea that could be introduced is one that is similar to what was in place at the former Oxegen music festival. There aim was to reduce the amount of plastic cups that were used at the festival. A pint of beer at Trinity Ball costs 5 euro. My suggestion would be to charge the five-euro for your first pint, and if you return with the same plastic cup, your next pint would see maybe a euro reduction in the price. This would encourage people to keep their plastic cups rather than flinging them on to the ground. This would, I feel, have a significant impact on the amount of waste reduced. Changing the energy sources to a more eco-friendly source would also be a viable option available to the organisers of Trinity Ball. Even something as simple as a pledge by the organisers to ensure that all of the waste is taken care of with the highest diligence is something that would make for a greener festival.

Even small steps towards a greener ball will be something that would be met with great enthusiasm not only by the organisers but also by the college as a whole. If anyone has any other suggestions, big or small, feel free to leave them in the comments section.

Kevin Mateer

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Real Cost of a Google Search!


Can Google go Green? 

Google searching has become a basic tool in everyday life. If you don’t know the answer, just Google it! Since its launch in 1997, billions of people worldwide have been using it. It’s a free search engine which I’m pretty sure most people use on a daily basis. For us it’s free to use, but what is the real cost of a Google Search? There are many factors that need to be taken into account, such as the amount of carbon dioxide emitted not only from generating the search results, but the emissions from our electronic devices while we are searching.
A typical Google search takes on average about 0.2 seconds to return results. That Google search is equivalent to about 0.2 grams of CO2. [1] It seems to be a small enough figure. But in 2011, Google handled about 1,722,071,000,000 searches! [2] That amounts to roughly 350 thousand tonnes of CO2 emissions that year! But who owns that carbon emission? Us or Google? We’re the ones using the search engine, but Google’s the one that’s returning the results. Google has gone green and offset their carbon emissions to deal with their environmental impact. We too should aim to reduce our carbon emissions.
That was just the carbon dioxide emission cost of the actual Google search, the cost of running the device that the search is done on has not been taken into account yet! According to a Harvard University physicist, a typical search on a desktop computer generates about 7 grams of CO2. [3] This is taking into account the CO2 emissions generated from both the Google search and the desktop computer. So really that amounts to about 12 million tonnes of CO2 emissions for the year 2011 just for Google searches!
In doing this blog alone, I have already done three Google searches. One for finding out the actual cost of a Google search, another for how many searches Google handled in one year and finally another for getting an image for this blog. So I have already generated 21 grams of CO2 just by searching for information for this blog. This does not include the time I spent using the computer to type this blog up and emailing it!
So how can we reduce our Google search carbon emissions? Instead of making unnecessary searches, we should think about what we really need to look up. In fact, we can reduce our overall carbon emissions by using sustainable renewable sources of energy, such as wind and sunlight. If our electronics are powered by renewable energy, we have already immensely reduced our CO emissions.
Ivana Yeow

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Is green the new black?

Is green the new black? 

Every year, during the Spring/Sumer and Autumn/Winter Fashion Weeks, fashion houses showcase their latest designs, setting the tone for the latest trends and fashions. High street shops take note of the up-and-coming trends, and produce affordable alternatives to the luxury brand pieces. While these products may save you money, the cost of mass-clothes production on the environment can be over whelming. Many of the materials used for the production of both high street and luxury brand clothes are non-sustainable, and can have a hugely negative impact on the environment.

According to Green Choices, the environmental impacts of materials used for clothes are varied. Nylon is unsustainable in that it takes between 30 and 40 years to decompose. In addition, the production of nylon results in the formation of nitrous oxide (commonly known as laughing gas). Nitrous oxide is a greenhouse gas, and is 310 times more potent than CO2.

Viscose, a major component of both high street and luxury brand clothing, is an artificial fibre made from wood pulp. To make space for the plantations needed to generate wood pulp many forests have to be cleared, causing huge disruption to the natural fauna and flora in the area. The trees planted for wood pulp are often eucalyptus, which draws up large amounts of water through its roots. This causes problems in regions where water is scarce, and will disrupt the soil and vegetation surrounding the plantations. Cotton uses more insecticides than any other single crop. Each year, cotton producers use more than 10% of all pesticides and 25% of all insecticides globally.

However, while growing enough non-organic cotton for one t-shirt uses 257 gallons of water, the benefits of organic cotton are huge. The Swedish high street fashion house H&M are the world’s largest user of organic cotton for the second year in a row, and they should be commended for this. It would be fair to refer to H&M as a model company for sustainable high street fashion. In December 2012, the company launched an incentive to recycle old clothes. For every every bag of old, ripped, or stained clothes returned to the store, you receive a voucher for H&M. There is also their conscious foundation, which, according to their website ‘aims to improve the quality of life of people in the countries where H&M operates’.

Stella McCartney SS’13, Paris Fashion Week 2012
(Image source: Her World Plus)

Stella McCartney is renowned for being an activist for the environment. None of her products use real fur or leather, and she is a campaigner for animal rights. However, the Stella McCartney fashion house is part owned by the PPR Group, which owns other fashion houses, including Gucci, which don’t sanction the use of fur.

One of 60 totes by Yves Saint Laurent,
made of partially recycled
plastic bags
(Image source: Ecouterre)
Some progress is being made in luxury brands and their use of sustainable and eco-friendly materials. An article in Ecocuterre written in April 2012 outlined how the PPR Group had uncovered a five-year plan to reduce its environmental and social footprint. One piece featured in the article, was a bag by Yves Saint Laurent. The Muse Two Artisanal Recycled handbag is made from recycled plastic bags and organic cotton, and retails at $1,720. Only 60 were made, and bags could only be purchased online. I really felt that this was a shame, as the price already limits the potential consumer range. Having samples of the bag in store allows it to be seen by a wider audience and further promotes the message that sustainable fashion is in.



British model Lily Cole
(Image source: My Fashion Life)
In my opinion, shopping in second hand and vintage stores is one of the most practical methods of ensuring you’re dressing sustainably. The clothes have already been produced, and by buying restored, donated or vintage clothes, you’re not putting pressure on the environment in terms of more clothes being produced. Shops such as Lucy's Lounge in Dublin offer a fantastic range of affordable second hand and vintage clothes, and most charity shops are a hub for affordable, second-hand finds. Siopaella is a personal favourite shop of mine; you can pick up luxury and high-street brands in mint condition for a fraction of the original price. It’s an environmentally sound way of shopping and it will save you a small fortune. Thanks to initiatives such as Red Carpet Green Dress, the use of dressing sustainably is becoming more and more fashionable (pun intended). Promoting both the benefits of sustainable fashion, and the consequences of unsustainable clothes production is vital in ensuring that green will permanently become the new black.

Kate Purcell

 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Is Healthcare Exempt From Environmental Care?

Those who preach that ‘the power of one’ will save our planet and allow us to coexist in a sustainable manner are right: If every individual made a significant effort to turn off lights, to conserve fuel and to reduce waste, each minute action would have a cumulative effect and we could prosper sustainably. However, I feel there is an over-emphasis being placed on small actions and that large siphons of the country’s resources, such as the health sector, are, to a certain extent, being disregarded, sidelined or taken for granted.
           
Last summer, I was diagnosed with a systemic autoimmune disease and, during my stay in the hospital; I underwent two X-rays, one MRI, one CT scan, an ECG and numerous blood tests. Finally, the conclusion was reached that I had sarcoidosis. My mother also has sarcoid. Before any test took place, identification of identical symptoms could have indicated I have the same, genetically linked, disease. In hindsight, I cannot help wonder if all the tests were truly necessary? Helium, supplies of which are critically low, is essential for MRI machines. Did I really need the MRI scan to confirm something we already suspected? It’s a frightening reality that, in the near future, an MRI may not be an option for those that genuinely need such an invaluable diagnostic tool. X-ray, MRI and CT scans also require a substantial amount of energy to power. These key diagnostic tools are clearly invaluable to hospitals, however, strides could be taken to supply alternative, more energy efficient options.
           
During my stay on the ward, I realized lights remained on throughout the night and the heating was constantly on. I realize it’s important to maintain a comfortable ambient temperature, however it was July and much of the time the windows were opened, as the heating was stifling. Up to 70% of the expenses of a hospital comprise heating and lighting. Perhaps, by making smart decisions and incorporating a more environmentally friendly ethos, hospitals could cut down on both their expenses and carbon footprint.
           
Furthermore, when I received my prescription, I could not understand why so much packaging was ‘necessary’. Of course it is imperative to ensure medication is sterile, desiccated and airtight. However, I received several large, colourful, cardboard boxes, half-filled with blister packs: plastic packaging with foil laminates that are practically impossible to recycle. Was it necessary to house the sterile packs in a large, aesthetically pleasing box? Would it not be less wasteful to minimize packaging?
           
I also feel the quantity of medication produced needs to be more accurately monitored to avoid excessive and unnecessary waste. In Wales alone, over 250 tonnes of out of date or surplus medication amounts each year. It seems heedless to manufacture such an excess of medication, which must undergo costly and elaborate methods of disposal. That’s not including the large proportion of medication that is improperly disposed of, which impacts the environment by entering and contaminating water. Recent reports from India indicate that levels of antibiotic in the surface water surrounding a certain drug factory were actually higher than the levels of drug found in patients undergoing treatment!
           
I truly believe we cannot let any sector be exempt from responsibility for the environment, even one as invaluable to society as healthcare. If we are to have any hope of achieving our environmental goals, the greatest contributors to energy expenditure must be addressed and made aware of the importance of adopting a new attitude. In 2009, the carbon footprint of the US healthcare sector was estimated to be 546 million metric tonnes CO2e per year. We need to work together, with the health industry, to mitigate our global environmental crisis.

Áine O’Toole 

Some interesting Research Sources:




Friday, April 12, 2013

My Earth Hour – The need to go beyond the hour.

When I heard about Earth Hour, I was surprised to learn of its global reach and participation level. Earth Hour was hosted on 23rd March 2013 8:30pm local time in each participant country and saw renowned landmarks switch off their lights for 60 minutes. The Eiffel Tower and Times Square, even as far away as Sydney Opera House, had turned off their lights as a show of support.  Initially, I thought it was an incentive to save electricity, turn off your lights for an hour and you would see the difference in your electricity bills. It was only when I investigated further, that I saw the concept behind it. Earth Hour was not just about saving on your bills but a global initiative that shined a beacon for the requirement, particularly on developed nations for action in energy conservation and sustainability on the global community. It marks the beginning for this action and is a great step in the right direction, even if it seems like an impossible battle. It highlighted the need to go beyond the hour, part taking in this initiative once a year for an hour will have little results; it is the change in thinking about our energy consumption that this initiative offers. Having never participated in Earth Hour and with this class raising my awareness to such issues, I thought there was no better way to show my family and myself the requirement to change attitudes to energy consumption.


 
Eiffel Tower; during and after Earth Hour.

As I sat in darkness with only a little candle light, I wondered what I could do for a whole 60 minutes without any electricity. Looking back at me were my family, also perplexed as what to do for the next hour. With a large family with an endless list of electronic gadgets, multiple televisions, X box, Wii, Playstations, iPods, iPads, Laptops, mobile phones and any other you can think of, all were turned off. I must admit, it felt very strange and a little lost as to what to do with myself. When I had brought up this idea with my family about taking part in Earth Hour at home, I received a mixed reaction. My little brothers were not impressed, having grown up with everything at the touch of a bottom. On the other hand, my parents were pleased and said they wanted to do their bit and it would be a unique experience. Deep down I knew it was the expected reduction in our electricity bills that they were must looking forward too. On the surface they hid that well. Eventually, we all agreed that a family game of Monopoly was in order, a game that was sure to last the hour and bring everyone’s competitive side out. After ten minutes, all our eyes had adjusted to the dark and we forgot that we were playing in near darkness. As the game continued well past the hour, everyone forgot about a typical Saturday night was like in our house, as we were so focused on becoming the winner. When it eventually ended, 2 hours and ten minutes later nobody really wanted to turn on their gadgets, having realised that there still is a fun to be had without them. Slowly as time passed, only the one T.V. went back on, a huge improvement for my house, to watch the news and see the extent to which Earth Hour had occurred this year.  I feel it was of huge benefit, as I stood back and realised my family’s heavy reliance on electronic equipment and it made me take notice of our large energy consumption. Having participated in this year Earth Hour, I will definitely be doing again next year, only this time getting some more people involved.

Rachael Kelly

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Next Generation Video Conferencing


Halo Conference Room (image)

Multi-national companies (MNC) account for a large share of anthropogenic carbon emissions. One of the biggest costs associated with these companies both in terms of monetary and carbon costs is due to air travel. Many companies such as Hewlett Packard (HP) have begun “offsetting” their carbon emissions from air travel by donating money to offsetting companies which in turn plant trees and fund sustainability projects. This offsetting strategy is not a long-term solution. Whilst the number of flights is increasing exponentially and with it the carbon emissions, the amount of space available for forestry development and other offsetting measures is decreasing. There are also business related problems with this strategy. MNC’s are primarily interested in making money and any voluntary solution which costs companies money is not going to be widely adopted and successful.
It is out of this desire to save money and time that “telepresence” projects such as Halo which is developed by HP have arisen. Telepresence projects are business-speak for next generation video conferencing technology. The aim of this technology is to re-create a conference board room as accurately as possible. Business people have often claimed the delay and unrealistic nature of normal video conferencing requires that any meeting requiring more than one to one communication be conducted in person. This can mean lengthy flights. Thousands of people travel thousands of miles every day for business meetings be it from New York to Singapore or London to Tokyo. It is with this problem in mind that HP and Dreamwork’s have developed and started installing Halo rooms in their branches around the world including in their buildings in Leixlip here in Ireland. The benefits of the technology include an identical room in both locations to simulate both parties being in one larger room and more importantly a dedicated connection which ensures no time delay exists. Users of the facilities including heads of major companies have said they quickly forgot the people they were speaking with were on the other side of the world.
It is this new immersive experience which gives Halo and other telepresence projects the potential to make a large dent in the 30% of air travel which is accounted for by business trips. It will of course be impossible to remove all business related air travel but with aviation expected to account for between 5-15% of carbon emissions by 2050, new technologies and a different mentality towards air travel in general is desperately required.
Niall Mortimer

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Friendly microbes powering our lives: One bacterium at a time!

Bacteria: disease, illness and infection. These are the first words that come to mind when we think of our microorganism friends. Would you ever think of planetary space exploration, energy fuel cells or Greenhouse gas capture systems? These are knew avenues of cutting edge research that both industry and academic institutes are researching.  As a Microbiologist, these intrinsically diverse, complex and remarkable adaptable organisms fascinate me. From Volcanoes to ice, stratospheric clouds to oceanic depth, bacteria are found basically on all corners of the globe. We see them as pathogens, yet without them we could not survive. The smallest living organisms on Earth could become key to addressing some of the world’s biggest energy challenges.

Bacteria Power: Nature’s “badass” in world of energy production

Source
Bacteria by nature are ferocious consumers of raw materials. But unlike us, they consume the waste we produce. The first law of thermodynamics states that energy is neither created or destroyed but is converted from one form to another. So, it’s obvious to use bacteria to produce our energy from waste? Sounds too good to be true I know, slightly science fiction. But in reality the process is already happening. Microbial fuel cells (MFC) are gathering recognition as viable means of producing electricity. Unlike conventional fuel cells that rely on hydrogen gas as a fuel source, the microbial fuel cell can handle a variety of water-based organic fuels such as sewage waste. By capturing the ions that bacterium leave behind when they eat, and then running the ions through a resistor to convert them to electricity, we can in essence generate our own power supply from simply biology. Researchers Biodesign Institute in Arizona, USA, are using these organisms a viable means to make electricity. "There is a lot of biomass out there that we look at simply as energy stored in the wrong place," said Bruce Rittmann, director of the center. "We can take this waste, keeping it in its normal liquid form, but allowing the bacteria to convert the energy value to our society's most useful form, electricity. They get food while we get electricity."

These simply yet novel ideas haven’t gone unnoticed by the “Big Industries”. Energy companies and Brewing Multinationals are at the forefront of MFC research. In May 2007, the University of Queensland, Australia, completed its prototype MFC, as a cooperative effort with Foster's Brewing. The prototype converts brewery wastewater into carbon dioxide, clean water, and electricity, which is estimated to produce 2 kilowatts of power. While it is a negligible amount of power, the production of clean water is of utmost importance to Australia, for which drought is a constant threat. Large-scale models are being developed with the hope of generating more energy capacity.

Bacteria powered personal devices: Science fiction or fact?
Great and all as this sounds, is there any chance that someday a bacteria will be used as an energy source in our iPhones? In 2012, a paper published in the prestigious  Nature Nanotechnology showed a MFC, manipulated with a bacteriophage (Virus that is harmless to humans but infects bacteria) produced up to 6 nanoamps of current and 400 millivolts of potential, which is about a quarter of a AAA battery's voltage. That's also enough to be used to operate a small liquid-crystal display. In their Nature paper, the scientists write that harmless virus-based piezoelectric materials potentially "offer a simple and environmentally friendly approach to piezoelectric energy generation."
  
Ultimate Sustainable Organisms
Microbial fuel cells are all natural. Energy generation and conservation are prevalent in all our lives. So are microbes, so why not combine the two and invest in a new means of sustainable energy production. Though, as a commercial entity it is years away from replacing conventional lithium batteries and fossil fuels. But as a model, they operate at natural temperatures using simple naturally occurring microorganisms to convert waste into energy. It's the ultimate sustainable energy system.

Karen Ward

Monday, April 8, 2013

Plastic makes the world go round...But can we do without it, when we are buying food?

 Once, I was at the airport at a time too early to be mentioned here. So, there was plenty of time to pass before the buses ran again. I decided to sit down at one of those airport restaurants, which already served breakfast, and I bought an on-site prepared smoothie, which was filled into a tiny, resealable plastic bottle. Of course, an unnecessary wrapping for me, because I finished the smoothie there, and a drinking glass would have done an even better job. Then I thought of how much unnecessary plastic wrapping there is, and how many things I just buy to throw them away again.

Back home, what I did next was to check my fridge for the last grocery purchase, which turned out to contain more plastic than I would have dreamt of, and more than was required. A sinister amount of plastic gathered in my fridge, and suddenly it struck me, why our recycling boxes are always full: not because we are so good at recycling, but because we buy so much waste, because we think that it is convenient to get six plums nicely wrapped up in a plastic basket.

But plastic is more difficult to recycle due to impurity and the mixture of different types of plastic. Therefore it is more likely to be burnt in order to generate energy than it is used to create things. Even worse, it is scarcely reused.  Paper and glass seem to be better wrapping alternatives, because paper is easier and more often recycled than plastic and glass does not lose quality, no matter how often it is recycled.

 That’s why I went down the road to the store and tried to get food without wrapping, or at least with less wrapping which would be easily recyclable. And, oh yes, I was quite successful.

As pictures paint a thousand words, just have a look for yourself.

The difference is striking: The food with less wrapping looks much nicer, and is more appealing to my appetite
There is less unnecessary waste, which does not leave me with a “Big Mac feeling“ of having eaten bad food and having created a lot of waste. Instead, buying food more consciously makes me enjoy my meals much more.


 
Within this comparison, the icecream seemed to be the most controversial. The first coming in a robust plastic box that could be reused, which would have saved me a lot of money on food containers. The latter came in thin cardboard only, not even foil on the inside.

I could replace most of the plastic by paper and glass, although many products can not completely refrain from using plastic. And even if you can not completely refrain from buying things wrapped in plastic, because there are no alternative products, you can reuse some of the plastic boxes, not forgetting to recycle them in the end.

Jasmin Grossmann

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Food Wastage

Food Wastage in this Country is a huge problem, statistics show that about a third of all the food we buy gets thrown out.  Excessive quantities of food waste can be attributed to overbuying, unnecessary meal preparation or poor storage. According to Stopfoodwaste.ie which is a website run by the Environmental Protection Agency, the average Irish person produces about 280 kg of waste each year with the majority of that being due to organic wastage (37%). Out of this, 6% is due to garden waste and a massive 31% is due to food waste. Not even taking into account the cost of waste disposal, only the cost of the wasted food, the average Irish person can spend €700 - €1000 a year on food that is just thrown away.
In order for me to really comprehend and put into context how much food is being wasted, I have been keeping a diary on how much food is wasted in my house. I have included novel ways in which I can reduce my family’s food wastage on three of the biggest wastage areas there was in our house-fruit and vegetable peels and unfinished dinner plates.  
For some people the first thing they need in the morning is coffee, for me its juice. I like to make myself a large glass of freshly squeezed orange juice every morning in order to wake up. I normally use two large oranges for this (sometimes three smaller ones if that’s what we have in the house). Over a week this amounts to 14-21 oranges that I just throw in the compost bin after I juice them-this is not even taking into account the oranges used for the rest of the family.  At the start of this experiment I never really thought of this as wastage, I was using most of the orange and just throwing away the scraps, but the skins of oranges and other citrus fruit are full of flavour and vitamins and can be utilized fully before throwing them out. The average orange can make up to two tablespoons of zest, and a lemon, one tablespoon. In order to avoid wastage I learnt that you can zest or make twists out of your citrus fruits utilize this many different ways. Zest freezes really well in an airtight container and can be taken out when needed for baking or cooking.  It can also be used to add flavour to such things as olive oil, honey, sugar, pepper or vinegar simply by adding twists of the peel to them and letting the flavours infuse. Not only does adding citrus peel to olive flavour it, it also reinvigorates oil that’s getting old.
As a normal Irish family, we eat a lot of potatoes. When preparing dinner its normal that we just chuck all the potato skins into the compost. In order to try reducing this I attempted to make ‘Potato skin crisps’ I laid what would normally be considered ‘scraps’ on to a baking tray, brushed with some olive oil, chili powder and salt. I put them in the over for 15minutes and what came out was a delicious crispy snack which I will most defiantly be making in the future.
Portion size was another problem in my family whereby there would be a lot of food left over on our plates after dinner that was just thrown out. In order to combat this, I have insisted that everyone only puts a small amount on their plate to begin with and then goes back for more if they are still hungry. This means that only the food that is wanted is eaten and the rest that is left is put in the freezer for another day and not thrown away.
When I started doing this project to see how much food waste there was in my house I wasn’t aware of how much was actually wasted and was appalled by what I found out. I have learnt a lot from this experience and have now become much stricter at trying to utilize the entire product before throwing it away. I have also been paying a lot more attention to the storage instructions on products so that they don’t go off due to my carelessness, And as I have mentioned before I have been more aware of portion sizes when taking my own food.
Fiona O' Sullivan

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Water, water everywhere...?

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not known for my water conservation awareness. Growing up on an island with seemingly endless water has left me somewhat detached from the reality of the need to conserve water. To be honest, I’ve always found that we have too much… constant rain, rivers, canals, lakes, and, of course, the Atlantic Ocean. However, the recent media coverage about upcoming water charges and the need to conserve it left me thinking, what if I could no longer simply turn my tap to get the water that I needed; no longer run to the local shop to buy it?
The very thought of this is completely alien to me. Not to be able to turn on the tap to brush my teeth, no water to heat my house, no 15 minute shower in the morning, no water to cook or to make tea with, no water to wash my dishes or clothes, and above all else, no water to drink. But, like I said, we’re an island country. There’s water everywhere. So I thought of where I could go to collect water. A canal runs just behind where I live, but rather than fight off rats, and getting tangled in old bicycles and trollies, I had to think of some cleaner options. It soon dawned on me that this was not a simple task. Any sources of water I could think of were tainted by urban life. Polluted, dirty water was all I could find. Either that, or undrinkable sea water.
Assuming that there were no clean fresh-water wells around, I would have to get out of the city. I would have to trace a river far enough to its origin to minimise pollution. How long would I have to follow the river upstream to find a fresher supply of water? Taking the Liffey as my example, the answer is roughly 20km, or so Google Maps tells me. To walk, this would take a mind-numbing 3 hours 59 minutes. By car, 27 minutes in light traffic. Even if I filled a car full of water and stored it in my home, I would have to make serious changes. Gone would be the days of my leisurely showers, the ease of my dishwasher, and the comfort of my heating.
I would have to think of ways of making my water last. I decided to actually try these over the course of a day, to see how hard it would be to think consciously about my water consumption. Quick showers (with simultaneous teeth brushing), measured water for tea, and washing all dishes together in a basin, were the easy ones. Toilet flushing and clothes washing weren’t so easy to avoid. I very quickly realised how clean and safe water was taken advantage of in this country, and that many small measures could be taken to minimise waste. Perhaps the notion of no clean water wasn’t so farfetched. For millions of people, this is a constant reality. Though we’re a small island in the grand scheme of things, a little goes a long way. And we must all work to change our misguided attitude towards water.
Daragh Poynton