Kathriona Devereux: It’s the most wonderful — but wasteful — time of the year...

So often the pleasure of well-meaning presents is short-lived and before you know it the toy is in the bin destined for landfill, writes Kathriona Devereux
Kathriona Devereux: It’s the most wonderful — but wasteful — time of the year...

RECYCLED TOYS: Some of the cuddly toys at the drive-thru entrance to the Civic Amenity site at Tramore Valley Park in Cork city

A RECENT trip to Tramore Valley Park made me mindful about what happens to our stuff when we no longer want it.

The park is a surprisingly pleasant spot considering its former life as a dump — €40 million and a decade of decontamination and rehabilitation has paid off.

The pitches were all busy with matches and training sessions, the BMX track was packed with daredevils and the walking and cycling paths had people of all ages rambling at varying speeds.

Apart from the baffling fact that you can’t walk or cycle there safely with kids, it is an amazing transformation from a landfill site to an active public park.

One corner was a source of great entertainment for my three-year-old, “There’s Olaf, there’s Winnie the Pooh, a polar bear, Elmo, Nemo, a panda bear...”

We hadn’t stumbled upon an incongruous gift shop at the end of our walk, rather an impressive display of cuddly toys that had been rescued from the recycling bin and cable tied to the railings for the amusement of kids.

It works. My smallies love the cuddly toy section but it also works as a timely reminder of the long lifespan of an oversized teddy bear once the initial novelty has worn off.

A day, week or month of cuddles and attention from a happy child, gives way to indifference and neglect before the teddy bear is heaped in a corner (or an attic) and the ‘What are we going to do with this thing’ phase kicks in.

Whoever bought the teddy thought about the immediate happiness it would bring, but so often the pleasure of these well-meaning presents is short-lived and before you know it the toy is in the bin destined for landfill, or cable tied to the railings of a civic amenity site (or recycled if you can find a functional textile recycling facility).

It happens with lots of things we buy, but the 3ft kangaroo toy is a particularly monster reminder. Thinking of the materials, energy and resources put into creating these toys should make us pause this Christmas.

So, before springing for that squishy toy because it’s just soooo cute, pause and think, where will that toy be in a year’s time when the cuteness factor has waned?

And while you’re thinking about reducing toy waste for Christmas, why not think about other wasteful areas?

For instance, at the moment supermarkets are stacked with selection boxes proclaiming bulk buy special offers. A selection box can cost as little as €1.25, in or around the average price of a single bar of chocolate, but they contain approximately four times more chocolate. So, in purely in economic terms, a selection box gives good chocolate bang for buck. BUT the environmental cost of all those cardboard boxes and plastic trays is colossal.

Cardboard can be recycled easily enough but a lot of trees still have to be chopped down, transported, made into cardboard boxes and transported to the chocolate manufacturer.

Transporting bulky selection boxes to supermarkets takes up more space in trucks, using more fuel, and on and on.

Plastic is a major problem and every unnecessary piece of plastic packaging adds up. Ireland is the top producer of plastic waste in Europe, producing the equivalent of nearly 2,000 plastic water bottles per person annually, according to 2018 research by Friends of the Earth Ireland.

You might be an ardent recycler, but overall roughly one third of our plastic is recycled, one third is incinerated and one third is landfilled.

And just to underline the interconnectedness of plastic pollution with climate change, the Center for International Environmental Law recently reported “In 2019 alone, the production and incineration of plastic will be equal to the pollution from 189 new 500-megawatt coal-fired power plants — we can’t achieve the 1.5C if we keep producing plastic at the rate we are doing it now”.

So, basically, lay off the (plastic) bottle over Christmas.

I know I sound like a Christmas crank, but if chocolate manufacturers abandoned the plastic tray, put five bars of chocolate into a paper bag with a happy Santa face on it, and charged us €1.25, the kids would be just as happy. And the planet would be much happier.

And while I’m on a roll with my Christmas crankiness, I might as well give out about disposable aluminium trays. There are also stacks of them in supermarkets at the moment.

About a million turkeys are cooked on Christmas Day and even if just 10% of people used a disposable tray to cook their turkey, that’s a lot of aluminium potentially ending up in the bin. Aluminium trays (and foil) can be recycled as long as they have been washed clean.

I suspect the reason many buy these trays is to skip the washing up but this Christmas, make the effort to wash and recycle your aluminium tray. Or, better yet, make a lifetime investment in a big roasting tin.

Over the festive season, we produce 30% more waste than normal. Make sure to recycle everything you can, but really, prevention is better than cure. Give experiences as gifts rather than stuff. This time of year we hear warnings from animal rights advocates that ‘a puppy is for life not just for a Christmas’, we should keep that sentiment in mind for all our festive purchases.

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