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Dublin: 5 °C Thursday 22 March, 2018

Disposable fashion and take-away coffee cups: Are you part of the throwaway culture?

We need to take back our consumer power and start talking about the impact our throwaway culture is having on the planet, writes Sundara O’Higgins.

Sundara O'Higgins

MY DECISION TO re-think my consumer habits and become more eco conscious was an awareness that grew slowly over time.

It was an accumulation of noticing rubbish strewn around the city, seeing videos on the effect of plastic pollution on our oceans, numerous documentaries and books and the infamous Blue planet II.

It finally culminated with the realisation that the cheap synthetic material involved in fast fashion, the rows and rows of plastic film covering items on the supermarket shelf, the takeaway cutlery, and every disposable coffee cup you see in the hands of people in the city, cannot be recycled and are therefore going straight to landfill or to be incinerated.

Plastics can stay around for up to 450 years, releasing toxins into the environment and breaking down into smaller pieces (microplastics) which pollute our oceans and harm birds and marine life.

I quickly realised that the throw away culture and the plastic waste epidemic that is destroying the world’s oceans and finding its way back to us through the food chain wasn’t just happening ‘elsewhere’ – the Emerald Isle was just as much a part of the mess and what’s more we were all contributing to it! But why? How had it come to this and why wasn’t this being talked about?

Minimise personal contribution 

I knew that I had to make a change and transform my consumer habits so that I could begin as much as possible, to lessen my negative impact on this beautiful planet. I decided to start with my personal contribution to landfill waste and began to reduce the amount of items in plastic packaging that I bought, seeking biodegradable and compostable options, or simply no packaging at all, aswell as durable and recyclable replacements such as glass and stainless steel.

I bought a book ‘Zero waste home’ by Bea Johnson and attended the Zero waste festival in Inchicore. I realised that what I had quietly and independently decided to do had become something of a movement the world over with the 5 R’s: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Repurpose being used as a guide on how best to minimise our personal contribution to the plastic epidemic.

Take back our consumer power

Our current linear economy where we endlessly “make, use, and dispose” and intentionally construct products ‘designed for the dump’ is creating global depletion of natural resources and over accumulation of waste which is detrimental to our environment, our wildlife and our health.

We want to create a more sustainable circular economy where items are designed and manufactured to last and then kept in use for as long as possible by repairing them, reusing, upcycling, sharing, or repurposing them and at the end of their life, when they are completely exhausted, the individual parts can be used again to make something else or otherwise biodegrade harmlessly back into the earth.

We need to take back our consumer power and start talking about the impact our throwaway culture is having on the planet. Each one of us can make a difference and if we engage and empower our families, friends and communities and through this begin to influence local government and businesses, small changes can lead to big ones!


Single use disposable items such as plastic bags, water bottles, plastic straws, food covered disposable cutlery and coffee cups etc. Switch these for reusable versions for on the go i.e. Keep cup or equivalent, reusable water bottle, reusable straw,tote etc.

Refuse freebies like pens, keyrings, etc and say no to junk mail. If you don’t accept an item then you won’t have to get rid of it.


Curb impulse buying- become a conscious consumer. Ask yourself will this item really add value to my life, will it be used numerous times, is it durable etc. If not don’t buy it.

De-clutter and pass on unworn or unused items- clothes swap with friends, check out swapsies Dublin on FB, or bring to a charity shop.

Consumerism tells us we need many different beauty products but is this really the case? With just a few simple ingredients you can make your own moisturisers, body wash, shampoo, soap etc, cheaply and easily. Start to question the consumer message!


Save containers and jars and re-use them to store dry goods, or bring them to get filled at places that do refills. Local markets and health stores generally provide package free organic vegetables.

Fast Fashion has a big environmental impact- which includes worker exploitation, chemical pollution and depletion of natural resources. Synthetic fibres also don’t biodegrade and are derived from coal and petroleum products. Globally we consume 80 billion new pieces of clothing each year, this is 400% more than we consumed 20 years ago and we are discarding them even faster.

Repair clothes and upcycle items, don’t throw them away. If an item is unwearable see if it can be used in another way i.e. cleaning cloths/napkins etc.

Buy second-hand. If buying new, consider purchasing natural fabrics (cotton, silk, wool, hemp etc) that easily biodegrade at the end of their life. And watch The True Cost on Netflix


Make sure you know which items go into your recycle bin.

You can also check out your local bring centres and civic amenity sites. They can recycle some items that don’t go into your household bin. Give them a call and have a conversation.

If you are still unsure contact VOICE Ireland for advice or get a free recycling workshop for your area or workplace.

Some charity shops take clothing rags and send them on to be recycled, such as St Vincent de Paul and the Irish Cancer Society.

Community over consumerism

I am interested in minimalism, zero waste and in becoming part of a circular economy where things are built to last, where we can reduce the over consumption that is draining the earth’s resources and polluting our oceans, and instead become conscious consumers, where we value and take responsibility for our possessions, and repair, swap, thrift, upcycle or recycle rather than throw away.

Where we begin to value experiences over things and community over consumerism.

Sundara O’Higgins has worked in the health industry for over 10 years and is a recycling ambassador for South Dublin city. You can Check out insta_twig on Instagram where she explores sustainability, minimalism and zero waste living in Dublin.


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Sundara O'Higgins

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