Waging a war against plastic in their town
WHEN two concerned mums from Kinsale posted a video to social media in early February, discussing which items of common household plastic were suitable for recycling, the video went viral nationwide and generated more than 205,000 views.
But that’s not the full story.
The mums in the video are Dr Tara Shine and Madeleine Murray, and they’re the driving force behind a new community initiative to get Kinsale to go single-use plastic free.
They’re a dynamic duo with a wealth of expertise and knowledge, and they say the town where they raise their families could serve as a model for the future, one in which single-use plastics are a thing of the past.
They’re bang on trend. In the wake of January’s news that China would no longer accept recycling waste from the EU, there’s been an increased awareness that the issue of single-use plastic needs tackling.
Milkmen are returning to good old-fashioned glass bottles in the UK, France has banned single-use plastic take-away items, and an increasing number of cafés are waking up to the need to cut back on disposable coffee cups by offering compostable alternatives or offering a discount to customers who bring their own cups.
“We just happened to set this up right at this moment; we didn’t fully anticipate the zeitgeist we were stepping into,” Dr Tara Shine says.
“But the videos are just a small part; our biggest goal is to get the commitment from schools, clubs, societies and businesses to minimise their use of plastic, and particularly single-use plastic.”
Tara is an environmental and climate change consultant, as well as a nature documentary presenter who has worked with RTÉ and the BBC. The other force behind Plastic Free Kinsale, Madeleine Murray, is an archaeologist with a keen interest in sustainability.
The two women met, fittingly enough given the perils that plastic waste is posing to our oceans, through a mutual love of sea swimming, just one year ago.
“The impetus was really organic,” Madeleine says. “I was saying that my child was on the green schools committee; we started saying, ‘why isn’t there a green committee for women?’ We’re the ones buying the food. I’m the one cooking the meals.”
Agreeing to join forces to tackle a sustainability project in their area, Tara and Madeleine held a focus group on Women’s Little Christmas, and the issue that reared its head again and again was plastic.
“We said we’d start a little local initiative to try and get rid of all the single-use plastic in Kinsale,” Tara says. “And we wanted to try to increase recycling rates, because a lot of plastic currently doesn’t get recycled.”
A website, a series of workshops and, of course, the videos ensued.
Tara says it’s “bonkers” that their simple videos, filmed in the kitchen and displaying which common plastic grocery packaging can be recycled and which can’t, have proved such a hit.
“We made them for our neighbours, in a rush after Pilates one morning,” she says. “But I think it really shows that people care what they’re putting in their recycling bin; they really do want to do the right thing. It’s great that so many people want to be informed.”
But as well as the focus on homes, Plastic Free Kinsale are reaching out to schools, clubs and businesses in the area to make three simple pledges to cut back on plastic use.
“People want to do the right thing, but they have absolutely no idea what that looks like,” Tara says. “If it’s a decision around three items, suddenly it’s a doable thing.”
Madeleine says that Kinsale is an ideal spawning ground for a plastics revolution in Ireland. Although we may think of the popular coastal destination as an affluent town, last year it was chosen as “Ireland’s Town” by Newstalk following a review of census figures which showed it best represented our national demographics, and it was used as a sample town for the radio station’s budget analysis.
Also, it’s a town of nature-lovers, Madeleine says: “Kinsale is good because these people live on the coast. They go to the beaches at the weekend, and they see all the plastic. Our little project, in its peculiar way, has managed to bridge a gap: people are picking up rubbish on the beach and they’re changing the way they pack their kids’ lunches.”
Madeleine is a mum to four boys of ten and under, and says the goal of Plastic Free Kinsale has nothing to do with adding guilt to the burden already borne by hard-working mums and dads. There’s no room for halo-polishing, just simple, practical steps to turn our throw-away culture on its head.
“We need to make sustainability convenient,” she says. “Plastic is all about a convenient, disposable lifestyle, so if we could at least start that process of turning that on its head that would be great.”
Tara, who has a ten-year-old and a seven-year-old, agrees. “Hopefully, being parents makes us realistic as well,” she says. “We all have busy lives: I was in Lidl last night because I’d run out of time and needed food in the fridge for Monday morning. We need convenient sustainability, regardless of income level. It’s not only the elite stuff; this has to be for everybody if it’s going to work.”
Through awareness comes change, and Tara and Madeleine believe it’s consumer pressure that will bring about change in large retailers and food producers and persuade them to move away from wrapping all their products in the single-use, disposable plastics that ultimately end up choking our oceans, buried in landfills or converted to toxic fumes in incinerators.
The only onus shouldn’t lie with the consumer, they believe, but the consumer has an important role to play.
“We didn’t set out to be a lobby group because we want it to be about solutions in the community, but I think by raising awareness, people will start speaking up and asking for alternatives themselves,” Tara says.
“Then the supermarkets will have to have those conversations with suppliers. Hopefully, the more places that are asking, the more response there will be.”
Are the duo determined to see Kinsale eliminate single-use plastic entirely?
Tara laughs. “Short answer, yes!” she says. “Is it possible? We probably can’t eliminate plastics entirely from everyone’s life. We’re not naïve: if you have a hazardous chemical, it’s better off in a plastic container. But if we could have every business, schoolkid and house in Kinsale informed, that would be amazing.
“We want it to be clear to visitors to Kinsale that we’ve said no to plastic: we want to all be singing from the same hymn sheet. And it all attracts to ‘brand Kinsale,’ whether it’s to come and live here, or have a business here, or holiday here.”