Litter Outlives You by Velvet Elevator (2009), Flickr

Having lived for years in African countries and loving the wonderful sunny climates there, I became very negative towards Ireland’s natural environment and was very cynical and irritated when people would constantly comment about how ‘green’ Ireland is. Of course it is – it’s always raining.

The opportunities for glimpsing the sun are rare.

However, I have recently come to realise that I have never fully appreciated the many wonderful opportunities that we have in Ireland to experience our natural environment, despite the weather.  The country really is beautiful and there are a multitude of places to visit, things to see and experience – that often cost us nothing.

I have particularly come to enjoy walking along the river Dodder and in the wooded areas of Bushy Park in Dublin.  It was while I was walking with my 2 sons that a crisis of conscience hit me. My 8 year old pointed out what a mess the River Dodder was with all the ‘plastic pollution!’  How could I have not seen this before?! I wondered how many of us walk the dog, go jogging or walking in our parks and not notice the debris as we pass by?

On subsequent visits to Bushy Park, I noticed the rubbish in and alongside the river, caught up in the trees and bushes and along the paths. So I got annoyed. And each time I’d go for a walk I’d find myself enraged at people’s irresponsible behaviour, and feeling powerless to do something about it. Or so I thought. I decided that rather than moaning about this each time I went out, I’d take a bag with me next time and gather up the rubbish that I came across along my walk and dispose of it appropriately.  At first it felt a little weird and I’d look around and pick up rubbish around me when no-one was looking.  Then when I realised the magnitude of the task, I thought it was futile and considered giving up.

However, once your environmental conscience is engaged – it keeps nagging.  If I was serious about being a concerned individual about my environment, I was take action. So each time I go for a walk in a park, I make sure that I have a bag with me to collect any rubbish that I become aware of.  My hope is that others will follow suit or reconsider dumping as they walk/run and place their rubbish in the many nearby bins.

But it didn’t stop there! Once you awaken you environmental conscience, you begin to spot litter all over the place.  You become much more aware of your own earth impacting behaviour.

For example, I have always recycled and reused – that’s easy. But reducing has been more challenging and takes a little more effort. Our ‘general’ rubbish bin only needs to be ‘lifted’ once every 6-8 weeks, however, our recycle bin is overfull each week. This is mostly filled with plastic.

Plastic is everywhere!

All the packaging for the fruit, vegetables, meats of any kind, drinks – you name it – is all plastic, some that can be recycled, others that cannot.  So I got annoyed once again, feeling that I had no options as a consumer. Or so I thought. I realised that I DO have options. I can buy meat from the local butcher, choose fruit and vegetables from the local stall or go to the many farmers markets around the city.  I can pick my own vegetables and fruit rather than buy the pre-packaged stuff.  I can ask for paper bags rather than plastic. We have options. They just may take a little longer.

At home, we’ve always been told about switching off lights, unplugging items that are not being used, switching off water taps when we are not using them, etc. Do we still pay attention to this? I know it’s a challenge in my home! Do we only engage with our ‘ping’ reminder in March when we prepare for Earth hour?

We all know the facts – we are living unsustainably and our planet can’t cope.  We really need to re-awaken our awareness of the facts and remember – that change begins with you.

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Explore more…

If you want to know more and take action, some really good sites include:

  • Kids for Saving the Earth | Primary Sector | Although an American focused site, it’s still great for ideas, downloads, action projects, engaging parents, exploring various eco environments, and much more. It’s full colour and even includes music!
  • Recycle Zone by Waste Watch| Primary Sector | A UK primary sector focused site with some great activities for example making your own paper or building a worm composter, ideas and information on reducing, reusing and recycling, ‘teacher zone,’ with resources, publications and activities, etc.

The main site is at http://www.wastewatch.org.uk/ which focuses on sustainability through waste management, consumption habits, and a green economy.

  • World Environment Day by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) | celebrated on the 5th June | multimedia resources, blogs and challenges to raise environmental awareness through projects.
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