Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Growing Concerns As Plastics Waste Spreads Across the World. Article 2 by Fr. Seán McDonagh, SSC

In last week’s article, I outlined a short history of the discovery of plastic and how today, a mere 70 years after plastic was invented, it has become a problem of global proportions. In the aftermath of World War II, especially since the 1950s, plastic was seen as a cheap, light –weight  material which could be used for a huge variety of purposes and which could be thrown away after a single use.  The major problem is that plastic does not go away; it lasts in the environment for hundreds of years. This means that almost all the plastic which has been created i during the past 70 years, is still in the environment today.

In September 2017, a British-led expedition to the Arctic Ocean, on the Pen Hadow, included scientists from the US, Norway and Hong Kong. They discovered sizeable amounts of polystyrene lying on remote areas in the Arctic. Much of this is very dangerous for the Arctic’s wildlife. Beaches in the remote Arctic islands were found to be more polluted than European ones due to plastic being carried  there from much further south.[1]

Estimates suggest that there are more than 5 trillion pieces of plastic floating on the surface of the world’s oceans. It has been claimed by Dr. Ceri Lewis from the University of Exeter, who was a member of the team, that there is now enough plastic to form a permanent layer in the fossil record.[2]
The American Chemistry Council, based in Washington, carried out  a study of “Production, Use and Fate of All Plastics Ever Made”  in July 2017. It estimated that there are now eight billion tonnes in circulation. That is enough to cover the entire country of Argentina.  It is now estimated that we are creating a million plastic bottles a minute and that by 2050 the annual production of plastic bottles is  predicted to top half a trillion. Most of these bottles are only used once.

David Attenborough points out that “pieces of plastic in the oceans will soon outnumber fish.” And, of course, plastic is dangerous for all marine life. According to Attenborough,  “fish eat the plastic debris, mistaking it for food, and can choke and starve to death.”[3]

Five countries – China, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand – are responsible for half of all the plastic waste that enters the oceans globally each year. In these countries, little plastic waste is recycled. In fact, at the moment, with oil prices quite low, it would not be profitable to develop recycling facilities in developed countries. In developing countries, plastic recycling facilities are very rare. This is why so much plastic ends up in landfills, rivers and in the oceans.
The first global estimate of marine plastic pollution was published in 2014.   It found that there were now an estimated 269,000 metric tons of plastic pollution in the oceans and that there were 5.25 trillion particles on the ocean’s surface. A 2017 study for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, found that 95 percent of plastics in the oceans comes from land. Much of this plastic is rubbish from highly-populated cities and also from marine activities such as fishing and shipping.

 An Irish Times editorial, entitled “A plastic plague”, lists how plastic is very functional and is used for a wide number of activities.  It is important in food safety, transport and even in medicine. Campaigning for the elimination of plastic is probably unrealistic.  However, we need to have a more critical examination of our use of plastic.  Above all, we need to find more sustainable end-of-life management strategies  for dealing with  plastic.

Next week I will look at the effects of microplastics on other creatures and on humans. In the oceans, large plastic pieces can break down into “microplastics”. These tiny particles are accidentally consumed by filter-feeding animals. The particles remain in the animals’ bodies and are passed up the food chain, threatening wildlife at all levels from zooplankton to apex predators such as polar bears and, of course,  human beings.[4]

[1] Jamie Doward, “How did that get there? Plastic chunks on Arctic ice show how far pollution has spread.” The Observer, 24th September 2017,  page 7
[2] ibid
[3] , Fiona Harvey,  “David Attenborough on the scourge of the oceans: 'I remember being told plastic doesn't decay, it's wonderful'” The Guardian,  Monday 25 September 2017. Monday 25 September 2017
[4] Editorial, “A plastic plague”, The Irish Times, September 19th 2017, page 13., 


Plastic is now all around us, in land and in the Oceans Article 1

This is the first in a series of four short articles by Fr Sean Mc Donagh, ecologist and environmentalist on a challenge that needs a response from us all.

Fr. Seán McDonagh, SSC

Though it is a relatively new product, plastic is present all around us, sometimes for good, but more often, as toxic waste.  Its uses are many and varied. It insulates electric wires and makes them safe.  Most light switches and plugs are made of plastic and it is also used to make pipes that transport our drinking water and sewage. Babies’ bottles, toothpaste, tooth brushes and shampoo bottles are also made from plastics. In our hospitals, plastic is used to carry human blood and deliver antibiotics intravenously. Toilet seats are made from plastic and toilet paper is wrapped in plastic. In our wardrobes you will find a number of clothes items that are made from plastic. Billions of water bottles and other liquids are now manufactured from plastic. In the supermarket many, items, such as meat and fish, are displayed in plastic containers and covered with plastic-.rapping.  At the fruit and vegetable counter most of the fruit and vegetables on display are packed in plastic bags. In the kitchen, food is covered with clingfilm so that it is not contaminated.   Most sauce-bottles are made of plastic.  

There would be chaos at the checkout desk, if a customer decided to take all the items packed in plastic which they had purchased and left the plastic behind in the shop. In many parts of the world, shoppers are given free plastic bags. For both the shop owner and the public, this single use of a plastic bag is thought to facilitate shopping. But the cost of so much plastic on land, in rivers and in the oceans is horrendous as we will see in the next articles.

The biro I write a letter with is made of plastic. It too will be thrown out once the ink is used up. A large part of the computer in front of me  is made of plastic.  If I take a long-distance flight, the food containers and cutlery which I will use just once, are made of plastic. I receive two newspapers each week,  The Universe and The New Scientist.  Both publications are wrapped in a plastic envelope which when removed is discarded. In the past the envelope was made of paper. 

The problem with plastic is that it stays around for a very long time.  This is why it is estimated that there are more than 5 trillion pieces of plastic floating on the surface of the world’s oceans. Almost 279 billion tonnes of plastic is created each year.  More than 40 percent of plastic, including shopping bags and all kinds of containers are used once and then are discarded. Plastic is strewn right across the world, even in the Arctic. Many feel that the problems with plastic are almost as serious as the problem of climate change.[1]

But plastic was looked on very favourably when it was first created towards the middle of the 19th century.  It is a polymer which is made up of a long chain of molecules. A natural polymer, cellulose, makes up the cell wall in plants.  Some synthetic polymers are made of substances similar to cellulose. Most plastic, however, is made of carbon atoms which come from petroleum. It is the length of the chain and the pattern in which they are arrayed which make the polymers strong and lightweight. .

The first synthetic polymer was created by John Wesley Hyatt in 1869.  It was inspired by an offering of $10, 000 made by a New York business to anyone who could invent a substitute for ivory. At that point in the 19th century, billiards was becoming a popular indoor sport in cities and towns in Europe and in the United States. The only way one could get the extra ivory needed for the expanding sport was by killing elephants.   By treating cellulose, derived from cotton fibre, with camphor, Hyatt, discovered plastic. This new product could be shaped in a variety of ways and made to imitate ivory. The creation of plastic was  seen as a  way of protecting wild elephants and other creatures.  
The first synthetic plastic which did not contain any natural molecules was invented by Leo Baekeland in 1907. [2]A major impetus in the growth of the plastic industry in the United States was World War II. During those few years the industry grew by 300 percent.  Next week I will look at the effects of plastic across the world.

[1] Frequently asked questions, “More Ocean; Less Plastic 5 gyres,” on October 27th 2017)
[2] ibid

Monday, 17 April 2017

A lot of activity in the garden lately! The grow beds are growing, the polytunnel is protecting seedlings and is also host to tomato plants. The Rainwater Harvesting system is in place, and water is flowing towards the growing plants.
Meanwhile the construction of the pizza oven is progressing in the courtyard area - that will be a great gathering area soon. Further down the garden, the plans for the meditative garden, orchard area and wild flower area are moving 'off the paper' and coming to life. The inclusion of a beehive space here is a real bonus. The sights, sounds, smells, tastes and feel of the garden will all come together in this space.
Watch this space for photos and progress updates.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Help Us Commemorate 1916 in An Gairdin Beo

Image: Thiru Thirukkumaran

We at An Gáirdin Beo, Carlow’s Living Community Garden are delighted to be able to formally invite you to Carlow’s final 1916 commemoration event. 

This will be held in An Gáirdin Beo beside St. Leo’s Convent, Old Dublin Road, Carlow, on 24th September starting at 2.00pm. 

The schedule for the afternoon will be as follows:

§  Gathering in main hall for music and introduction
§  Procession to the commemoration site led by a lone piper 
§  Commemorative events around the pond
§  Refreshments in the main hall      

The afternoon, in addition to commemorating 1916, will be a great opportunity for us to introduce the garden. You will see what it is about, the work being done along with the work that still needs to be done and the benefits of the garden for the wider Carlow community in the future.  An Gáirdin Beo is a non-profit community organisation based on two acres of land beside St. Leo’s Convent in Carlow town.  It aims to establish a garden that will enable a diverse mix of people to connect with each other, through nature, art and creativity; and the growing and making of food.

These ideals are close to those expressed in the 1916 proclamation ‘cherishing all the children of the nation equally’.  We anticipate that this event will be well attended, with prominent figures from business and politics and representatives from many community groups in Carlow and we hope that you'll visit us too on the day.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Street Feast in the Garden, June 2016

Street Feast 2016 an Gairdín Beo, Old Dublin St, Carlow

Image: John McHugh
The Street Feast is Ireland’s annual day of street parties and community lunches. The Centenary Street Feast 2016 was supported by Ireland 2016, An Post, Facebook, and the Local Authorities and the following shares a little bit about the idea and how we celebrated it in our community garden in the heart of Carlow town. You can also find a recipe at the end that will help us create a wonderful garden.

Image John McHugh
Partners this year were, Scouting Ireland, Irish Men’s Sheds Association, GIY Ireland & Volunteer Ireland while also receiving support from the Irish Countrywoman’s Association and the Tidy Towns Association.

Street Feast started out as a team of national volunteers in 2010 who were passionate about community reducing isolation, environmental impact, and boosting community resilience with the result being, what better way to bring community together than through food?!

Because An Gairdín Beo is in its second year of research, design and development it seemed fitting that the Street Feast 2016 was the perfect way to integrate the local and wider community to discover their community garden.

Image: John McHugh
Following the ChangeX guidelines we embarked on the task of organising the Feast but really it proved an easy project as what we discovered along the way showed that people were happy to be a part of something tangible.

Image: Eilish Langton
The pot luck lunch request brought such an array of different foods from different multi cultural backgrounds that the party was spoiled for choice.

From banana & walnut loaf , couscous, pasta salad, pulled pork, spring onion and tossed salad to elderflower cordial (a product of the garden), rhubarb and apple pies, and pastry delights, it was truly an amazing feast.

With little or no resources, participant really dug deep and brought what they could and wanted to share.

Image: Eilish Langton
Drone displays took place documenting the day… football, flubber madness, face painting, garden recipes with a twist, feasting, raided beds tours, photo booth…photographers, artists visits, newspaper reporters, and visitors all interacted to make the event a great success.

The event was topped off at the end with a walking tour to visit a site specific art installation exhibition down by the river Barrow by artist group Crocosmia. This exhibition continues during the current Carlow Arts Festival.

What was evident on the day showed that community gardens have the capacity to become a platform for engagement, and An Gairdín Beo in Carlow is leading the way for alternative spaces to engage, learn, communicate and share, something that many communities in urban areas lack these days.

Image: Eilish Langton
Lots of really creative and interesting ideas came about on the day as to what other events and programmes could be implemented in the future in the garden so watch this space.

Eilish Langton


Recipe for a Wonderful Garden

Our Magical Garden survives on lots of wonderful ingredients; one that is hugely important is P.E.A.T.

Let us tell you about our P.E.A.T  Without boring you too much or interrupting your lovely lunch.

It is composed of four important ingredients and you all should know about them:

P. Participation
E. Engagement
A. Action
T. ????????

Gairdin Beo Receipe
Step 1.

Gather as many Participants as possible and place in a pot together.

Mix slowly and gradually with plenty glugs of listening, keep on a low heat as all participants are rooted and over-ground vegetables and nature has given them seasons and time to grow.

Continue to keep under a low but strong heat, they need time to soften, but be careful at this stage not to burn, this is the primary ingredient

Step 2.

When the particpants are at a comfortable temperature add lots of the delightful and robust vegetable Engagement. This will draw new flavours from the Participants and when both dance together in the pan the space will be filled with exciting and unpredictable aromas.

Give this magical fusion some time to blend and just when they are both starting to change texture take off the heat and let rest for a few minutes, but no longer otherwise they will start to wilt.

Step 3.

It is now time to add Action :  these are bunches and bunches of the wonderful herbs :Planning, Vision and Imagination. These three herbs are great buddies and like to hang out together. They like to be added gradually though so don’t over-do it. They will definitely mix well with the sautéed Participants and Engagements. Stir all ingredients together at this point, add a pinch of innovation and lashings of support and this meal could be Amazing and can bring us to the ‘T’ of our PEAT.

How this dish turns out is up to YOU.  You need decide what will be the ‘T’ in our P.E.A.T

You can start by being a  P.E.A. in our Pod.

Please subscribe to our mailing list to learn more about the garden and keep up to date with events.

Image: John McHugh

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

We're having a Street Feast in the Garden, Come Join Us

What is Street Feast? 

ChangeX Street Feast is happening in communities all over Ireland on 12 June. It is a neighbourhood street party aimed at encouraging inclusion and strengthening neighbourhoods. An Gairdín Beo is the perfect location for this event while also creating a gathering to let the neighbours know the stage the garden is at.

Why run a Street Feast? 

There are obviously many good reasons to run a Street Feast; here are a few suggestions:

  • Be part of a national annual feast day of community celebration. 
  • Show off the garden. 
  • Help support community initiatives around the country. 
  • Celebrate how multi-cultural and diverse Ireland’s neighbourhoods have become. 
  • Meet and (re)connect with neighbours. 
  • Share a simple, creative, self-organised lunch. 
  • Proclaim our love for locally grown food. 
  • Feel safer around our communities in the future. 

As the Carlow Arts Festival is on at this time, Artist Clodagh Emoe and participants from Spinosa will visit and join in the activities. The group will continue on to the river Barrow where they will perform an art installation as part of the festival.

What to bring? 

This is a free event but it needs your involvement to make it happen. You will need to bring: Some food for sharing Chairs Disposable plates, cups and non alcoholic drinks If you play an instrument, bring it along!

Hope to see you there.