By Donal Lyons, Principal Analyst Developer

Moving to the virtual work environment has been a challenge for most of us during 2020 but trying to be sustainable at the same time has sometimes been met with positive intent but with diverse interpretations. These perceptions are shared by Mindy O’Brien of Voice Ireland during the concluding session of the ‘Being Resourceful at Home’ Webinar series in collaboration with Fidelity Ireland.

2020 has seen certain environmental trends revert to previous habits such as a rise in single-use plastic and a rise in household waste. We in the Go Green team at Fidelity Ireland have possibly endured our most challenging 6 months since our inception over 2 years ago during the Summer of 2018, but the level of engagement we’ve had from associates during this compelling 4-part Webinar series has been hugely encouraging.

The following 4 session narratives were chosen based on the most prominent topics on Fidelity associate’s minds, particularly with the move to a home working environment earlier in the year:

Session 1: Water Conservation at Home

Session 2: Biodiversity & How to Grow Sustainably in your Garden

Session 3: Food Waste & a Waste Free Kitchen

Session 4: Healthy Habits & Reducing your Consumption

One positive outcome from 2020 is the increase in garden productivity amongst Fidelity associates. The opening 2 sessions of the Webinar series could not have felt more relevant considering the refreshing discussions associates were having regarding a newly found appreciation for everything in the garden. I reported on these early sessions as part of the article which I penned at the midway point of the series.

The concluding half of the series opened our eyes ever so slightly to the changing environmental trends which have occurred since Covid-19 has entered our lives. This was particularly examined during the final session but before we reached that point, it was time to learn how well we were doing in the kitchen. The engaged audience at Session 3 were initially drawn by the attraction of creating a Waste Free Kitchen. It was clear from the session introduction, that this can be achieved by primarily focusing on 2 principal areas:

1)     Food Waste

2)     Excess Packaging

The issue of Food Waste is a lot closer to home than many of us may realise, particularly when we calculate the cost impact to all of us. It is estimated that each kilo of food we throw away is worth approx. €300 which is a reminder of how we can do better if certain basic changes are introduced. With the cost element in mind, the next statistic is striking:

“Ireland throws away over 1 million tonnes of food every year. This would fill Croke Park 2 ½ times. “

Of course, it must be said that more than two thirds of all food waste occurs either during the production stage or at food retailers. Even though we as consumers have more control over food waste resulting from the food we obtain, a change in shopping habits can also aid a sustainable change further down the line. Buying locally, seasonally or buying only what we need, would be examples of this. The central focus for Mindy’s Webinar concentrated on current consumer habits when obtaining food. So, the first question to be asked is; Why are we as consumers throwing away so much food?

Firstly, we are buying too much and buying more than we actually need. One reason for this is cost as we believe the retailers are giving us a good deal i.e. ‘Buy One, Get One FREE’. A second reason similar to the first, would be convenience. We buy a packet of 6 apples because of convenience, even though we may only actually require 2 apples? This may result in 4 apples going to waste a number of days later. This leads us to the next determination. We are not using food before the ‘Best Before’ or ‘Use By’ dates. Lastly, we decide to only use the best-looking food items. For example, if a piece of fruit or vegetable may be slightly discoloured or out of shape, we tend to bypass it & throw it away.

All of the above can be associated with shopping habits. Apart from suggested solutions such as using leftovers, using fridge/freezer to store food and to check the cupboards before we shop, the key advice given by Mindy is to improve our buying patterns and to “Buy the product, not the packaging.”. These words of guidance precede the closing remarks of the session detailing the amount of excess packaging we now have within the home environment. The prime suggestion is to purchase unpackaged goods wherever possible. Zero-Waste sections of food stores and loose fruit & vegetables are obvious examples of this.

The above penultimate session gave us our first indication as to how Covid related trends have had an impact on the environment. The most significant impact in relation to waste can be seen in excess packaging. Mindy began the 4th & final session with some interesting Pre-Covid vs During-Covid statistics including the following:

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Some great work has been done over the past few years encouraging individuals to reuse where possible and to use as little packaging as possible. This had introduced healthy habits which were nowhere more evident than at Fidelity Ireland where we introduced Fidelity themed reusable coffee cups & reusable water bottles back in 2018 whilst moving to a centralised trash system at the same time. The proposal of accepting reusable food containers was also at an advanced stage before the switch to the home working environment during the Spring.

So why have these habits changed? This can possibly be put down to uncertainty which is understandable considering the unpredictable times we are currently experiencing. Many believe that single-use items are the safer option in relation to hygiene. From researching what the experts think, Mindy disclosed the following statement:

“Single-use plastic is not inherently safer than reusables and causes additional public health concerns once it is discarded.”

Recent months have seen an encouraging trend where the enthusiasm behind reuse is on the rise again. The perfect illustration of this was shown by Mindy via a video introducing a ‘Contactless Coffee’ initiative. The video displays a consumer walking into a coffee shop with their reusable cup, placing it on tray and ordering a coffee before the barista brews and pours the coffee into the cup. The barista does not touch the cup at any point in this process. This brave initiative was introduced to Ireland by Voice’s partners at the Conscious Cup Campaign. Further details for this drive can be found here:

The series concluded with plenty food for thought along with some essential guidelines as to how we can be sustainable during the current unprecedented climate in which we find ourselves. Buy only what you need. Use everything you have. Reuse when you can. Go Package-Free if possible. Plan your shopping. Continue to recycle. Be a conscious consumer. Be safe.