It’s a bit like the banking crisis, says Peadar Rice.
“The generations to follow will be paying for it. This is probably the last time where we have an opportunity to actually make a change, to reverse what is coming ahead.”
Rice isn’t talking about money, though, he’s talking about plastic packaging: the bags and tubs and bottles that are clogging up landfills and swirling in oceans.
Now, Rice has teamed up with an organisation called Bring Your Own, to run a weekly packaging-free market every Thursday at his store, Smallchanges, in Drumcondra.
There are 30 dried goods for sale, their earthy colours displayed on a long table with a plastic atlas-style covering below it. Among them, brands of beans and quinoa, sugar, nuts, and herbs. There is even organic popcorn.
The couple behind Bring Your Own, Íde Mhic Gabhann and Ciarán Smyth, say that the idea came to them when they returned to Dublin from Colombia.
They’ve been living abroad for two years, says Mhic Gabhann.
“Over there, the basics are sold in bulk because it’s cheaper to sell without packaging, but there was also a fancy store where you could get everything from sushi rice and honey and oil and everything,” she said.
They’d assumed there would be packaging-free markets around when they got back, and knew others were looking for one too. “We got a bit of a shock,” said Mhic Gabhann.
At first, they set up temporary homes in Bushy Park Market in Terenure, and in the newly opened Cottage Market in Newbridge in County Kildare.
As the number of customers grew, they decided it was time to set up a permanent market on the northside: the weekly Drumcondra market was born.
Said Mhic Gabhann: “It’s a labour of love. Our first market was just two months ago. We were just kinda moving around, looking for places with anyone who would take us.”
Although Ireland met European Union targets for recovering and recycling package waste in 2013, there is still room for progress.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a total of 870,109 tonnes of packaging waste was generated in Ireland in 2013.
While 70 percent of this was recycled, only 40 percent of plastic packaging waste was.
Who Makes a Difference?
On Thursday last, many of the customers seemed to have sought out the market, rather than stumbled upon it. Some said they appreciated the thoughtful approach that the shop seemed to value.
“I’m that type of customer,” said Veronica Borisova, who carried two cloth bags full of plastic containers of varying sizes.
She moved to Dublin from Bulgaria a month ago, and seeks out shops that are environmentally conscious, she said. “I love nature, and we are not taking responsibility for what we do and so we produce rubbish.”
There is a lull in customers after Borisova leaves, before a jolly energetic pensioner bustles into the store. “Now I’m from Portmarnock. What honey is best for me for the whole local shopping thing?”says Marie-Therese Boise.
While some customers are new to the idea of package-free shopping, others have been doing it for years.
“There’s one customer that shops here, she’s been filling the same washing-up bottle since 2008,” says Rice. “She came in one day and I remarked it was a very old bottle so out of curiosity, I contacted the manufacturer and they said it was 2008 when they stopped using that particular branding.”
That customer has made a difference, says Rice. “That one individual action has removed an awful lot of plastic.”
He thinks that more people are growing aware of the issues around plastic and unnecessary packaging. That it takes thousands of years to decompose, that the chemical-laced plastics can harm humans, and wildlife. But it can be daunting to tackle.
“You think as an individual it’s too much for me, but when we all come together collectively, we can have a massive impact,” he says.
For those without access to environmentally friendly shops, Rice suggests approaching independent retailers and supermarkets.
“They will jump on what’s trendy,” he says. “Pressurise your supermarkets, tell them these are the products that you’re interested in.”
Mhic Gabhann of Bring Your Own says they are looking next at expansion, but the mission will remain the same: “What we really hope to do is inspire other people to do [this] so that everybody has access to it.”