Sustainable Living In A Throw-Away Society

portrait gemma collins doyle


EHS Consultant


How many of us are really aware of the amount of waste we produce? Ireland, per head of population, is among the highest waste producers in Europe. Our waste every year would fill Croke Park to the top of the stands! We live in a world that is overflowing with things and objects, cupboards stuffed with electrical items we might only use once in a blue moon, drawers full of pens and other plastic junk, playrooms stuffed with plastic toys that are hardly used, the list goes on.

Just over a century ago, “disposability” related to small, low-cost products such as disposable razors and paper napkins. Now, nearly everything is disposable – it is culturally accepted to throw away anything from a barely-used smartphone, television, or microwave, to an entire dining set or fitted bathroom.

Our relationship with the environment has changed so much over the last few decades. Our ancestors lived by the seasons, they respected the land they lived on, they were more aware of nature and how to protect it. Today, more and more of us live in city and suburban areas, we spend most of our time indoors, we have lost that powerful connection between us and the real world, planet earth. We have become a throw-away society, with no cares about the consequences. It just can’t go on, we must begin to practice sustainable living again.

“Studies have shown that people who buy experiences rather than things are happier.”

Did you know that studies have shown that people who buy experiences rather than things are happier. We think that buying things, like gadgets and jewellery will make us happy and while they will for a short time, for most of us, after time, they just become another “thing”. Having experiences, will create memories that will last forever, give us a good feeling and we will have something to cherish for the future. That is what makes us human, our happiness is a natural thing, that comes naturally when we are having fun, sharing our lives and being with others.

With the Christmas season hurtling towards us, it is the perfect time to put into action some of the ideas below to live a more sustainable life:


Fun instead of stuff!

I’ve made a pact this year with my other half. I want to have more fun, go more places and experience new things. So, we have agreed, instead of presents to each other this year, we both have to book a concert/play/night away instead. While I love to get gifts, I have decided that experiences are my new favourite thing; I want 2018 to be full of fun and excitement!


Creativity over plastic!

If you are a parent, you might feel like I do when I see more plastic toys coming into the house at Christmas. It makes the hairs on my neck jump! Not only the toys themselves, but the packaging that comes with them. For us, we have decided to ditch the big plastic toys and the ones that need 100 batteries and choose toys that are more creative and maybe even wooden.


Real not artificial

Although plastic Christmas trees are reusable from year to year, real trees are the more sustainable choice. Plastic trees are made of petroleum products (PVC), and use up resources in both the manufacture and shipping. While artificial trees should last forever, research shows that they are typically discarded when repeated use makes them less attractive. Discarded artificial trees are then sent to landfills, where their plastic content makes them last forever.

On the other hand, real trees are a renewable resource, grown on tree farms. They are replanted every year. They help contribute to the air quality when they are growing and the majority of them are recycled into mulch. Most real trees are grown and sold locally, saving on transportation costs. Bonus, real trees smell like Christmas!


Clever wrapping

Hands up who had a mother back in the day who used to save all the wrapping paper? My mother was one of those! I remember we had a special box in the “good room” where she used to keep it all. When I think about it, it was a great idea; maybe we should resurrect the tradition!

If re-using paper is not your thing, try to help in other ways: avoid buying glossy/shiny paper, it is harder to recycle, use environmentally friendly wrapping paper, or make your own wrapping! How lovely are the old fashioned brown paper wrapping tied up with ribbons or string. Get the kids to help you decorate with a stamping set. Try to use tape sparingly or not at all, as this makes the paper harder to recycle.


Festive lighting

Let’s admit it, the festive lights are what makes everything look so Christmassy! But, the cost of electricity goes way beyond the utility bill. Electricity drains natural resources.

Consider having a smaller array of outdoor lights, sometimes less is more and after all, it’s the season of giving, so give back to the environment.

Use LED lights for house and Christmas tree lighting. LED (Light Emitting Diode) lights use up to 95% less energy than larger, traditional bulbs and last up to 100,000 hours when used indoors. LED holiday lights use .04 watts per bulb, 10 times less than mini bulbs and 100 times less than traditional bulbs. As an added bonus, if one of the LED lights burns out the rest of the strand will stay lit and you will save money.

The most important thing we can do in regards to sustainable living, is to be aware. Be aware of the planet that we are living on and the plants and animals that we share it with, have respect and have empathy. Connect with nature again. When you can instil these things into your own life and our children, making good choices for the environment, will become second nature.


Environmental Awareness Poster

Our activities, the materials and products we use and create, can harm the environment. Download your free Environmental Awareness poster and display it on noticeboards around your workplace promote more sustainable environmental practices in your workplace.

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