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Green habits

Living

SIMPLE CHOICESAvoid food that has been unnecessarily wrapped in single-use packaging.

Green Living

McKinley Neal

What exactly is ‘green living’, and how does one embrace it? It can feel as elusive as enlightenment, but I’m here to inspire hope that there are day-to-day actions that can make a difference. I’m no expert, but I have been learning about food and the environment for several years, and trying to adapt my habits.
We’ll start off with the first three of the ‘Seven Rs’ – green guidelines that help us make decisions that lessen our impact on the environment.  

Refuse
Just (politely) say ‘no’ to things you don’t need. Apples in three layers of packaging? I don’t have enough time or money for bin charges to enjoy those, so I have options: refuse to buy them; buy them and leave the packaging at the supermarket; or buy directly from farms like Hollymount-based Glasraí at a market stall or subscribe to a box scheme for veg, like the one offered by Galway-based Green Earth Organics, who deliver nationwide.
I find it easier to refuse items when I have a plan and some key items with me: a tote bag, a container for takeaway or buying fish/cheese at a counter, and a reusable coffee cup. My young daughter likes to use a straw, but she already knows it is better to refuse a plastic one if we haven’t remembered to bring her bamboo straw.
You can also refuse receipts, flyers, junk mail and other ‘free’ bits that you are offered – there is no obligation to accept them!
 
Reduce
What do we really need? Six types of breakfast cereals? Ten white T-shirts? How many toys do the kids really enjoy? I try to take a breath and have a think before buying, and for bigger purchases, I leave it for a few days to ensure I still think it’s worth the investment.
We all have things that are more or less important to us, so it’s helpful to prioritise what you can’t live without and find the best way to buy these. I love dark chocolate and books, so I try to get my chocolate in fully recyclable or compostable wrappers, and I visit the library and second-hand book shops.
We can also think less in terms of things, and more about pursuing experiences that will enrich our lives without cluttering our homes.

Reuse
With fewer things, we can think creatively about how to make the most of those we have. Much to my husband’s amusement, I shop for food based both on taste and how long the packaging will last. This means we get to reuse glass jars, for example, for spices, leftovers or other bits. And, I have cut up a pile of old T-shirts to use as facial wipes and handkerchiefs.  
I know a family working together to refashion pallets for all kinds of furniture. The internet has no shortage of clever ideas to keep objects in use as long as possible.

In the next column we’ll cover the other Rs: Recycle, Rehome, Replant and Rot.

McKinley Neal co-runs PAX Whole Foods & Eco Goods, a minimal-waste shop in Westport offering bulk organic foods, reusable goods, household products, eco-friendly personal care items and gifts.