Zero Waste Cashel
Ireland's First 'Towards Zero Waste Town'
As Zero Waste Cashel sadly comes to an end, Project Manager, Derry O'Donnell, shares his highlights over the past 18 months.
"The announcement of Cashel being chosen as the first 'Towards Zero Waste Town' in Ireland back in 2016 immediately caught my attention with it being such an ambitious undertaking. You can imagine my sheer joy sometime after, when I saw a notice announcing that there was a job vacancy for a Project Manager for the Zero Waste Cashel Project.
I began in February 2017 with the launch on March 2nd at The Rock of Cashel among local community members, TD's, local groups like the Tidy Towns, the Southern Region Waste Management Office and Tipperary County Council. The launch received quite a lot of media coverage and public support, giving us lots of enthusiasm for the year ahead. You can see some of the activity from the launch in this video.
From day one I was keen to get as many local community groups involved as possible. There was no active environmental group in Cashel, so it was pretty much like entering a ‘green field’ site. With Patrick's Day being one of the biggest events after the launch, we entered a walking float in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade to highlight the project and sponsored a new category in the parade; ‘The Best Use of Recycled Material’.
Engaging business was an important part of ZWC, the Southern Region Waste Management Office and GreenBusiness.ie were a great help in getting businesses on board. Many local coffee shops began taking interest and it wasn't long before they had the Conscious Cup Campaign poster and stickers in their windows encouraging customers to bring their reusable cups. The Zero Waste Map of Cashel represents all of the efforts being made by businesses and groups across Cashel that have joined the movement towards zero waste.
At the end of March I attended the Zero Waste Europe (ZWE) Conference and AGM in Madrid. That was a wonderful experience meeting so many other like minded individuals all doing their own thing in their own countries to combat waste and protect the environment. Both VOICE and Zero Waste Cashel are now full members of Zero Waste Europe.
To gauge the level of people’s understanding of waste and barriers to waste prevention a number of focus groups were organised. A steering committee was established consisting of representatives from local organisations, the EPA, SRWMO and VOICE. From this, we recognised the need for segregated recycling and also to create more awareness around managing waste correctly.
In January 2018, we installed six on-street recycling bins around the town. The Recycling Ambassador Programme hosted a number of recycling workshops promoting the new recycling list and helping people understand what can and cannot be placed in recycling bins. As expected, change in behaviour takes time, and the beginning was challenging and a little disheartening to find contamination in the bins. But after some better signage and awareness contamination rates have reduced.
Consultation with the local community was a big part in making ZWC work, we met regularly with local groups to see how we could work together to bring about change. At first I worked without an office space, spending most of my time out talking to community members and setting up meetings between various groups, but when a space came available I was delighted to have a central location to make ZWC more visible and for people to come and find out what we were up to. In keeping with our reuse ethos, I put out a call on social media seeking used or unwanted office furniture. People were great to respond and desks, chairs and even carpet was offered to us at no cost to ourselves or to the environment.
From that I got in contact with TerraCycle and registered as a collection point for some of their waste recycling initiatives. In keeping with getting local organisations on board with the project I contacted the newly formed Playground Development Committee who came on board as the beneficiary of funds raised through the TerraCycle initiative.
After establishing ZWC as part of the community, running later events including the Cashel Arts Festival and Reuse Month 2018 was very much a community effort involving everyone from schools and Scouts to the Men's Shed and Meals on Wheels Scheme.
One of the more creative partnerships was with the Brothers of Charity who provide services for people with learning disabilities. Some of their service users created supermarket shelf signs (shelf wobblers) from old plastic milk cartons with a ZWC sticker on it. These were placed on shop shelves above items such as loose fruit and veg, to help remind consumers to think about zero waste when shopping.
Thanks to funding from Tipperary County Council we ran a one day Zero Waste Festival to showcase zero waste living to coincide with Earth Day on 22nd April. Members of the community also participated in the Sick of Plastic Day of Action in the local SuperValu store, urging customers to leave behind excess packaging and for the supermarket to reduce unnecessary plastic packaging.
As part of our research into the areas that needed improvement the Southern Region Waste Management Office carried out a Waste Characterisation Study. From this we found that over 22% of the weight of the general waste bins was food waste. It was a pity we didn’t have this data sooner into the project as we could have then focussed more of our efforts on this large waste stream, but we didn't let this stop us from making a start in tackling the problem.
In July we set up a trial with over 100 households encouraging them to segregate food from other waste. Each household received a Kitchen Caddie for disposing of food waste indoors. From speaking with different people it emerged that the brown bins weren’t being used to their full capacity. We are waiting to receive data from the waste management company to measure the reduction in food contamination in general waste bins.
Single issue campaigns can be easier to manage such as ‘Plastic Free’, ‘Reusables’, ‘Recycling’, ‘Stop Food Waste’ etc. You have just one message that you keep delivering and they’re great for getting headlines in the media which is great for creating awareness around all these issues. In Cashel we were focussing on all these issues and more so it can be harder to translate. Thanks to local and national media coverage the message has been delivered widely throughout Cashel and beyond.
Looking back on the project it was a very ambitious undertaking. Things can move a lot slower than one would like which can be frustrating when you have a new idea and are full of enthusiasm to do something new. Anecdotally people will tell you that they’ve changed their ways and are more conscious of the waste they generate. The fact remains however that most of the waste is hard to avoid as producers continue to use excess single use plastic packaging, products are designed to fail after a certain period of time and mindless consumption is encouraged on a grand scale.
Although our office is now closed in Cashel, it is vital that all the work that has been done will carry on. I have no doubt that the community will ensure it continues. Much of the groundwork has been done and there are some wonderful people in Cashel to move it forward. I will still be involved in a volunteer capacity for the time being to ensure continuity.
I would like to thank Mindy O'Brien, Coordinator of VOICE and Zero Waste Cashel for coming up with the idea and for having faith in me to work on the project and to all the people of Cashel, to all the businesses, organisations, sporting groups etc. who all embraced the concept and supported the initiative."
Zero Waste Cashel will be featured in the next season of Eco Eye - keep an eye out!