How it all started

Laura Cahill is a born minimalist who stumbled upon the Zero Waste lifestyle in 2003. She takes us on her personal journey towards low impact living and how a single talk brought Ireland on the fast track to Zero Waste.

In 1995, I remember buying chewing gum in Quinnsworth with my then boyfriend, now husband. As we went to buy the two small packets of gum I remember the cashier reaching for a plastic bag to put them in. I promptly said “I don’t need the bag, thank you.”, feeling weird how I even had to say that. This was one of the only ways I can remember being able to stop my use of plastic all those years ago, tiny things that nowadays I do without thinking; refusing plastic bags and using my own, carrying a reusable bottle instead of always buying bottled water.

It was around 2003 when I was pregnant with my first child, and my bins were still filling up with all of the waste that came with my weekly shopping that I started thinking about the amount of waste I produced and how this might, and I have discovered, will affect my children and future generations. It was alarming, but at the time no one seemed to be interested in reducing our waste. Politicians and businesses quite clearly didn’t care and nearly all of the things bought or used on a day to day basis came with unnecessary packaging. In an attempt to somewhat improve my impact on the environment my husband and I tried doing a number of things differently: Menu planning and attempting to buy only the food we needed, searching for the rare items that were packaged in paper or cans instead of plastic, making things from scratch instead of buying the overpriced and grossly over packaged product the shop made, or just doing without some items that can only be bought in disposable packaging.

Over the next decade, I found a lot of blogs and articles being written by American, British, Canadian and Australian people who spread their thoughts on minimalism, reducing waste and the impact we have on the world around us. I use to envy the way they had markets and somewhat Zero Waste shops where the ridiculous amount of packaging simply didn’t exist. I then looked at how the situation was here in Ireland. A time when farmers markets and small shops were being closed by the HSE for “safety reasons”, and when people only really started thinking about the environment when incidents such as the Indian ocean tsunami and the huge amount of plastic and waste that seeped into the ocean afterwards, and later the infamous Deep Water Horizon oil spill. These events shocked people who previously never thought something like this could happen and I felt that this added to people in Ireland connecting such environmental disasters to how our own way of living can impact the world.

In 2016, I came across the Zero Waste Ireland Facebook group. It was quite amazing to find so many like minded individuals who care about the future, and who are so passionate about normalising environmentally friendliness; especially reducing plastic waste. To see these people with such strong beliefs begin business and start entire companies based around these ideologies is truly incredible and it really shows how different the world has become. Another very important progression in the zero waste community in Ireland was my invitation of the most influential people in the international zero waste community. Bea Johnson is one of the pioneers of the Zero Waste movement and the talks she gave in schools and in Trinity College Dublin, moved people so much so that she inspired 5 different Zero Waste shops to open in Dublin and Leinster.

Since, the membership of the Zero Waste Ireland Facebook group has grown exponentially. As of 2019 the group has over 13,000 members and grows everyday. From this Zero Waste Ireland grew the Zero Waste Festival, Conscious Cup Campaign, Zero Waste Cork and numerous other organisations whose activities range from lobbying politicians, small businesses and large corporations to spreading knowledge through talks and workshops in schools and communities across the country.

Quinnsworth has since long gone, and now I am privileged to have a local wholemeal/Zero Waste shop where I can buy rice, pasta, nuts, fruit & veg, washing powder etc. with my reusable bags and jars. Even when I go to a regular retailer more and more items are sold without packaging or in recyclable or biodegradable packaging. However, despite of all the positive changes, Ireland is still the worst country in the EU when it comes to producing waste. 61 kg of packaging is thrown away by the average Irish person in a year. Politicians, businesses and individuals need to start caring about our future, the same way the 13,000+ members in the Zero Waste Ireland group care, for substantial change to happen.

Zero Waste Festival Ireland

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We are a community-run initiative to facilitate zero waste networking, learning, and sharing in Ireland through a series on pop-up festivals including workshops, talks, screenings, and meet-up sessions at various locations.