The ‘Plastic Free July’ Challenge – an interview with participants Maria and Shannon
– Killian Kelly
As the month of July comes to a close, so too does the ‘Plastic Free July’ challenge which saw people attempting to reduce, or completely eliminate single-use plastics from their shopping lists the entire month of July.
There’s been a lot of noise around plastic of late. So much so that McDonald’s are replacing their straws with paper ones in outlets across Ireland and the UK; Croke Park is phasing out single-use plastic items at their events; and more new and exciting initiatives and technological fixes are making headlines, presenting glimmers of hope amidst the grim and gloomy scenes of oceans filled with plastic.
While efforts are being made by companies and organisations, it must not be forgotten that consumers need to be at the centre of this change also. Single-use plastics are one of the main issues of plastic pollution, and if demand continues, so too will production. Ireland is the top producer of plastic in Europe, with the average Irish person generating 61 kgs of plastic waste each year. Almost double that of the UK. Ever since China has stopped taking a hefty 95% of our country’s plastic waste, Ireland has been left with a serious plastic waste problem. Now that we can no longer ship our plastic problems away, there seems to have been a sudden awakening, not only in Ireland but internationally.
Noticeable efforts are being made by individuals seeking to reduce their plastic footprint. Whether it’s buying a reusable water bottle or taking part the initiatives and campaigns such as plastic free July, more and more people are making conscious decisions about their purchasing choices.
I decided to interview two people who took on the challenge of plastic free July, both in different countries to compare experiences. Maria Kirrane, residing in Cork, is the sustainability officer for UCC, and Shannon O’Reilly, of Co.Waterford, recently completed her masters and is living in Utrecht, The Netherlands.
The answers to each question are given together for ease of comparison.
Did you find any big changes in what you were eating? Did you find yourself eating healthier foods?
Maria: Not necessarily, just less of everything! We usually eat a lot of spinach and it’s very difficult to get that without the plastic bag. Most meat and fish come in plastic so we have definitely been eating more veggie dishes – lots of sweet potato and aubergine.
Shannon: For sure! Living in the Netherlands bread and dip is a staple classic lunch. I realised once I started plastic free July how much plastic I was buying from hummus alone. The challenge forced me to be more organised and aware of what I was eating and how to alter my own habits.
Was there anything you had to give up/ couldn’t purchase as a result of going plastic free?
Maria: Yes, we usually buy frozen fruit and veg which I couldn’t due to the plastic packaging.
Shannon: Sweets! I couldn’t find Jellies that were suitable for vegetarians and had plastic-free packaging.
In relation to cost, was it much more expensive than before?
Maria: Yes, we have had to go to a lot of the speciality shops to get loose items e.g. coffee shop to get loose ground coffee, health food shop to get loose mixed nuts. On the other hand, though, refillable household cleaners seem to be cheaper than supermarket brands.