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Dublin: 7 °C Tuesday 15 October, 2019

7 easy ways to be more green in your food habits this week - from the Big Shop to composting

Airfield Estate’s John O’Toole shares the small but powerful changes you can make.

Image: Unsplash

IF YOU’VE BEEN a little overwhelmed lately by issues such as climate change and Ireland’s obesity epidemic, one of the most powerful and proactive ways to tackle these is to look at what we’re eating, and the way that we’re eating it.

Fortunately, the choices that you make as a consumer around your food can have a huge impact on how companies approach their environmental habits. And one of the Irish organisations trying to change our approach to food is Dublin’s charitable trust, Airfield Estate.

We spoke to John O’Toole, their Director of Operations and Sustainability, about the small but important changes you can make inside and outside of the kitchen to live more sustainably and in a way that is kinder to the environment.

Here’s what he had to say.

1. Stock up at your local farmers market

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Trying to cut down on your food waste? One of the best ways to do so, O’Toole believes, is by supporting local agriculture and better conditions for farmers by buying locally produced, seasonal food: “Not only does it taste much better, it lasts much longer in the fridge and you avoid plastic and cardboard by being able to just transport it in your carry-all bag.”

He adds: “They’re also social – you get to meet the maker and the grower and find out about what you’re buying”. Need some inspiration? O’Toole recommends one of Ireland’s oldest farmers markets in Kilternan every Saturday, Dun Laoghaire People’s Park on Sundays, or of course Airfield Estate have one every Friday. Check out this nationwide list for your nearest.

2. Cook with the parts of veg you’d usually throw out

Ever confused by food labels and which product is likely to be kinder to the environment? To get an idea, you can download the Evocco app to upload your food shopping receipts – they’ll send you a weekly climate impact report straight to your phone. There are two things in particular you should look out for, according to O’Toole – that it’s locally grown, and ideally, organic:

If it’s grown in Ireland that has a huge impact on carbon footprint and it’s fresher to your table because it spends less time in transit.

The advantage with organic produce is that you don’t need to throw out the bits that are usually exposed to pesticides: “You’re more likely to use the whole plant”. For example, if you get your hands on the greens of an organic carrot, you can make a pesto with it (see here for a  lovely recipe). This means less food in your bin and more nutrients for the money you do spend on it.

3. Make full use of your freezer (especially if you’ve a baby)

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“As a nation, we seem to be very poor at planning ahead to reduce our food waste”. Here’s a life hack that O’Toole uses – try to only buy ahead for four days time, in order to reduce what you buy. He reminds that: “Leftovers are as good the next day as they were the night before”, and to put them into sealed containers and the freezer, if you won’t have a chance to eat them.

And if you’re a busy parent trying to plan meals for your baby, here’s something to make your life a little easier when you’ve no energy to cook or go to the shop, and that avoids any nasty additives: “Try making a carrot or pea puree by just blending veg and then freezing them in small ice cube trays that you can take out as needed.”

4. Use a water jug and think about your dishwashing habits

“I’m a bit of a fanatic about water”, says O’Toole, “it’s not going to last forever.” He reminds us not to forget that we used to conserve water when there were shortages, and that we should still be concerned about its availability. Often the best of us turn on the tap and let it run until it gets cold. A good way to avoid this? “Always keep a jug of water in the fridge”.

This also comes to the way that we wash our dishes after dinner. O’Toole cites a recent report he read that found that: “We use around 140 litres of water washing by hand, compared to just 13 litres for a quick cycle in the dishwasher.” Additionally, hand washing uses approximately 3.5kwh of energy, while a quick cycle uses 9kwh.

5. Stock up on natural kitchen bits (and toiletries too)

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When it comes to your kitchen, there are some easy swaps you can make that make a big difference: “I’ve gone from wrapping sandwiches in tinfoil to beeswax and they’re brilliant – they keep your food so fresh and they’re reusable.”

And while you’re at the farmers market, it’s also worth having a think about your cosmetic needs, says O’Toole: “I’d direct people towards natural products such as organic soaps and cleaners – they’re much better for the environment.” He also urges people to move away from aerosols and try more natural deodorants.

6. Check you’re recycling the right items

If you’re confused by what can or can’t go in your recycling bin, you’re not on your own with it: “Here at Airfield, we’re trying to educate people on where to put their rubbish – that’s the big challenge.” He urges people to try to use either reusable or compostable cups as they are the least damaging for the environment.

In relation to learning more, O’Toole suggests visiting mywaste.ie, which explains exactly how to best dispose of any waste in your home. “We are now able to recycle more and everyone needs to do their own research”. He explains that recyclables should be clean, dry and loose (so no plastic bags). 

7. Try a composting course at the local council

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Are you fed up watching all of your vegetable skins end up smelling up the general bin? Another brilliant resource that O’Toole sends people to is stopfoodwaste.ie to learn more about starting a compost heap with your food waste. They can actually help put even more veg on your table: “It’s a simple investment by a family but it acts as a brilliant nutrient if you are growing vegetables.”

If you would like to learn more about composting and how to do it, O’Toole says that “lots of local authorities run free composting courses.” Just last week at Airfield Estate’s Food Festival, they had a composting workshop given by expert Craig Belton, who often works with Dun Laoghaire County Council. “Ultimately, if it goes in the black bin, it’s likely going to end up in a landfill and that’s not helpful for anyone.”

Airfield Estate is a non-for-profit organisation which seeks to help inspire and enable people to make better food choices. Open daily for people to visit, there’s a working farm, gardens, heritage centre and farm to fork restaurant. Here you can have a look at their brilliant education programmes for primary schools, secondary schools and colleges and universities.

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