Opening up to new ways


LOOSEN UP Buying loose fruit and veg helps cut down on plastic, and making a plan for using up leftovers cuts down on waste.

Simple ways to start back better as life starts returning to normal

Green Living
McKinley Neal

Our business has finally been able to fully reopen our shop so customers can refill their own containers, as they did before the first lockdown came into effect. Seeing new people coming in to try this system for the first time is exciting, and it makes us think that there is scope and energy for us all to keep up or adopt sustainable habits as we adapt to life without restrictions again.
People often ask where to start their sustainability journey, but I don’t have just one answer. I believe the best place to start is with something you feel is both reasonable for your personal context AND that will give you a boost when you adopt the practice, so you will be able to keep up the habits over the long-term.
Starting with food is a high-impact option, as we use lots of different ingredients on a daily basis, and the packaging waste and effects of processing, transport and food waste on our carbon footprint quickly add up.
Before purchasing, a simple plan for batch cooking two to three main meals for the week and options for using up leftovers can radically reduce time spent in the kitchen on a daily basis – and can keep your family going for several busy days. Homemade snacks will also keep costs down on impulse purchases, and are absolutely healthier and more filling than commercial snacks.
Buying vegetables loose or as a box scheme from a farm, or whole foods as refills from a speciality shop (try also the Habit Store in Castlebar or Wild Rocket in Ballina) will quickly cut out loads of soft plastics, and allow you to control the amounts you purchase and use.
Additionally, choosing Irish-grown and -produced items helps build resiliency into our economy, as we see global price rises coming into effect as a result of the pandemic, Brexit and increased transport costs and all businesses still struggling from the reduced trading.
Simplifying other daily routines in stages will help build lasting habits. February could be the month to switch to only solid soap and shampoo bars, or to refill empty hand and body wash and shampoo containers, cutting out waste in bathrooms. Then, other swaps can be introduced one by one. Continuing in the bathroom, options include switching to bamboo toothbrushes, natural toothpaste and reusable facial wipes and all-natural body-care products in plastic-free packaging.
In the kitchen, ditch plastic sponges and brushes once and for all by choosing a luffa sponge and wooden washing up brush with natural bristles and a replaceable head. Not only do these not shed microplastics, they are compostable at the end of life.
Washing-up liquid bottles are robust enough to be refilled hundreds of times, which is a huge reduction in the constant production of new containers (of which very few are fully recycled in our current system). All of these actions reduce your personal impact, and send a clear message to producers about what consumers want.

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.