5,000 tonnes of paint are thrown out in Ireland every year

In our monthly Green Women column, ELLIE O’BYRNE catches up with Caitriona Courtney, a Cork architect heading up a new Northside Sustainable Futures scheme that includes a paint recycling enterprise and a zero waste shop
5,000 tonnes of paint are thrown out in Ireland every year

The polytunnel that was set up through funding from Cork ETB. 

PLANNING a bit of home decorating? Maybe the kitchen needs sprucing up, or the living room is looking dated? Would you consider using a one-off bespoke colour made using recycled paint?

Morre than 5,000 tonnes of perfectly good paint are thrown away in Ireland every year.

Now, a Cork outreach programme that helps people recovering from addictions to train and upskill in preparation for employment is planning on putting all that wasted emulsion to good use. NCE Outreach has piloted a paint recycling scheme that means that no matter what colour you choose, you’ll always be painting your house green.

“There’s a huge amount of really good quality paint being thrown out,” says Caitríona Courtney, who heads up the pilot scheme.

“The last time we went to the Civic Amenity Site, we saw paint cans that were three-quarters full.”

Caitríona, a qualified architect and the manager of NCE’s Energy Hub, is now overseeing the Sustainable Futures training course of which the paint recycling scheme is just one spin-off enterprise.

How will the scheme work? NCE Outreach is working with Cork City and County Council civic amenity (CA) sites, Caitríona explains: “Members of the public can donate paint at the Kinsale Road CA or Raffeen CA, where NCE Outreach participants will inspect and collect the paint for reblending.”

Cork décor fans can then buy the unique paint blends at low cost from Farranferris. Tins from the waste paint will be returned to the CA sites for recycling or disposal.

“We’ll be doing small batches so we’d recommend to people coming to buy paint to know what size they need to cover,” Caitríona says. “That’s because we can’t guarantee we can get exactly the same colour again.”

It’s an ambitious time for the NCE Outreach programme: they have just been awarded a grant of thousands by Rethink Ireland’s Sustainable Cork Fund, one of three social enterprises to have benefited. And they’re planning on using the cash to extend a fledgling Zero Waste shop on the Farranferris campus.

Caitríona has always had an interest in sustainability, she says. Following her MA in architecture from UCC, she travelled to India and Shri Lanka to do a Yoga teacher training course; travelling in developing countries has had a formative impact on how she thinks about how the earth’s precious resources are used.

“When you’re travelling, especially in places like India, you see how people are using the resources they have,” she says.

“You see how good they are at adapting things that we might not think have much value: there’s a lot of creativity in how they use resources.”

Caitriona Courtney, who is heading up a new Northside Sustainable Futures scheme.
Caitriona Courtney, who is heading up a new Northside Sustainable Futures scheme.

Sustainable Futures training at NCE is aimed at helping people who are overcoming addiction to develop skillsets that will lead to employment: participants are in residential programmes with Tabor Group or Cuan Mhuire. The Sustainable Futures course is supported by the Cork Education and Training Board (CETB).

“There are modules in growing veg, so we’ve just set up a new polytunnel recently, and there’s design skills for things like upcycling,” Caitríona says.

“Then there’s entrepreneurial skills and things like mathematics. Sustainability is the link between them all and we hope it goes on to provide employment opportunities.”

The course subjects have been developed in response to feedback from participants and gardening and veg growing are always top of the list of favourites with those taking the course, Caitríona says.

“The course evolved out of a pilot we ran last year and a lot of people came up with projects with a sustainability focus, which is why we developed the modules we have,” she says.

“People always say, ‘I wish I had more time in the polytunnel.’ It’s that tactile quality. It draws you out of whatever else is going on in your life to a degree and it’s another way of finding connection: a connection to nature.”

NCE Outreach is based in Northside Community Enterprises’ five-acre educational campus; a new polytunnel has been installed within the past year and there’s an on-site café and bakery. Caitríona has ambitions to make the centre a place to visit and a home to several eco-friendly schemes that can continue to offer employment to outreach participants, who face a range of challenges including finding affordable housing in the current rental market.

Expanding the Zero Waste shop with the help of the Rethink Ireland funding is the next stage.

“Covid put a bit of a stall on those plans, so at the moment we’re only selling cleaning products,” Caitríona says.

“We’ll be expanding that as much as possible. We hope the shop will be a service for our own staff and our service users, but also for the community.

“We want to link in with other suppliers and producers as well. Zero Waste products can be very expensive so we’re trying to find solutions that can bring costs down. It’s just about things that are very practical and achievable in your own lifestyle.”

In Caitríona’s personal life, she is consciously aware of issues relating to waste and energy, she says: “I’m definitely not perfect but I’m constantly trying to improve.

“I try to do things like reduce waste. One issue for me is that I’m living in Bandon so I’m constantly battling that issue of transport.”

Although she’s deeply concerned by the environmental issues she sees around her, she is by nature an optimist, she says.

And working with people who are surmounting huge challenges in their own lives is always an inspiration.

“You have to be optimistic, otherwise you wouldn’t have the drive to do it and to get involved with all the different projects,” she says.

“I love this job because you’re working one-on-one and you’re seeing the direct benefits in people’s lives.

“Working with people in outreach, everyone’s so different but we’re all learning together.

“That’s what we’re doing in NCE is learning to adapt; co-operating and relying on each other. It becomes about community, and I think it’s the only way we’re going to see improvements in the world.”

Zero Waste products can be very expensive so we’re trying to find solutions that can bring costs down. It’s just about things that are very practical and achieveable in your own lifestyle.

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