Circular solutions


GREEN OUTLOOK Savoir Fare, Bridge Street, Westport, operates with a zero-waste ethos.Pic: Conor McKeown

Our supermarkets need to catch up with our small businesses

Green Living
McKinley Neal

It’s always big news when the government announces a new levy, so you’ve probably heard by now that this year a charge of €0.20 is to be introduced on all disposable coffee cups used in Ireland as part of the ‘Circular Economy Bill 2022’, which the cabinet recently approved.
The levy on disposable coffee cups is designed to radically reduce their prevalence, much like the levy on plastic bags did around 20 years ago (and, the new bill includes a €0.03 increase per plastic bag sold, bringing it to €0.25). The government estimates that the approach led to a 95 percent reduction in the sale of plastic bags, which of course dramatically reduced associated pollution. The revenue generated from these levies is ringfenced to fund environmental and circular economy projects.
But what exactly is meant by the ‘circular economy’?
According to the European Parliament, “The circular economy is a model of production and consumption, which involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products as long as possible.” In short, it’s a way for us to move our recent habit of taking natural resources, making them into something and then wasting them (either fully or partially) and transition to a more sustainable system that designs out potential waste and recovers materials.  
I lived in Germany for seven years before moving to Ireland, and one of the first things I had to learn about was the ‘Pfand’, or deposit, on glass and plastic bottles and aluminum cans, as it was added on to the cost of the product (mostly drinks, and some food sold in glass jars) and refunded when you returned the items to a machine at the front of each supermarket. It was a habit for people to take empty bottles, and reusable bags, with them before doing the shopping.
In Ireland, we need to demand much more robust action to get rid of single-use packaging and transition to reusable alternatives. All supermarkets will have to invest time and energy into transitioning to loose food options—fruit and veg, baked goods, dried foods—and drinks and other suitable foods in returnable containers. Refill shops like PAX in Westport and The Habit Store in Castlebar plus multiple others across the country have shown it is possible not only for food but also cleaning and selected personal-care items, but the incentive for supermarkets to change needs to come from customer demand and government leadership.
Similarly, cafés and restaurants with takeaway options can also implement waste reduction schemes. In Westport, Savoir Fare has two options: drink a coffee in house in a mug, or bring your own cup for takeaway, as they don’t have disposable cups at all. They will also sell food into customers’ own containers and have a zero-waste meal option in returnable glass jars suitable for reheating food at home. This Must Be the Place, another Westport café, partners with Returnr to offer reusable stainless steel cups and bowls for takeaway on a deposit scheme.
As these businesses show, another way is possible.

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