High Waste Genes

A wee look into the wasteful habits that were handed down through generations of an Irish family and the things we’re not doing too bad either.


As a child, you learn about life through your parents. You listen if they tell you not to stick your hand in the fire. Because that’s good advice. And when your mother barks at you: “not to leave the lights on!” for the umpteenth time, you figure there must be a good reason for this order, so you follow suit (sometimes). 

Most of the things we learn from our family are incredibly valuable, make us the people we are today and keep us safe. However, some of them are leftover bad habits from a previous generation who didn’t know any better. How do we discern one from the other? 

By questioning the reasons for your ingrained daily habits! It’s called being self-aware, and it’s the first step. 

What I’m talking about here is the issue of sustainability. I’m talking about how we consume and dispose of our food, clothes, toys and all of the things we took for granted as children.

And here is the big problem with the consumption habits of Irish people today. We got rich way too fast!

Disposable incomes led to disposable socks.

As families got more money, sure we didn’t know what to do with ourselves. We still love a bargain, we still try to find the cheapest price for things. But we have loads of money (compared to our grandparents). So we just keep purchasing many cheap things instead one expensive thing. 

And to back up my argument, I submit into evidence the following. 

Every Irish person:

  1. Knows the price of a pint in the local pub to the cent, and we know if it’s higher or lower than his neighbour. 
  2. Buys our socks in Penney’s and when we inevitably lose them to the washing machine in a couple of weeks, we just go back and buy more.
  3. Is compelled to tell you the price of the item of clothing we’ve just purchased “This? Sure it was only 7 euros. Bought it in 3 colours”. 

This exact mindset is what led many Irish people to have some great habits towards environmental protection, and also subsequent outrageous contradictions. 

Rule 1: Save water at all costs (unless it’s sunny out)

I have two siblings. And when we were wains, all three of us had to bathe in the same bathwater. I was the oldest so at least I got the clean water. My youngest brother Ciaran would have been stewing in our dirt by the end. 

And yet, if we had one day of sun, the paddling pool would be straight out. 300 L of water was used to keep us occupied and cool. And don’t forget the running hose for our water fights. 

Rule 2: Conserve energy and don’t use the oven too often. But shtick the kettle on there. 

The audacity of us asking our mother to stick us on a couple of chicken goujons there in the oven. “Are you mental? There is no way that I am putting the oven on for a handful of goujons. Do you think I’m made of money? Maybe if it’s a Sunday and I’m doing a full roast.”

Turning on the oven every day was not something that we did in my family. And I know that to be true of many Irish families. It’s bougie. It’s the height of notions to think that you could be wasting that much money. 

“Stick the kettle on. I might make myself a cup of tea.” But sure, you don’t make a cup of tea. You get distracted with something else. Then you go back and you turn the kettle on again, just in case someone else wants a cup of tea. Then you go back to make yourself a cup of tea and you turn the kettle on again just to make sure that it’s fully boiled.

I reckon that on average the kettle gets boiled in my house about 32 times. 

But turn the oven on? Don’t be ridiculous.

Rule 3: Never litter! But who knows what happens after that?

We were never ever allowed to litter. We always took great pride in our home, in our community and in our town. We were told to carry things home with us and then throw them in the bin. I remember my parents complaining when they saw someone else throwing their cigarette on the ground, or kicking a plastic bottle. 

However, we never discussed what was happening with the rubbish. Our rubbish had to go in the bin but where were the bins going? 

‘Out of sight, and out of mind’ stopped working for us though when in 2017, China refused to take a vast amount of contaminated waste from Europe. Then we all started scrambling. Ireland has come a long way and has a robust waste management system so… just take your litter home, will ya?  

Rule 4: Don’t Waste Food

You have to finish the food on your plate. Think about all of the starving children in Africa, that’s what we were told. “Why can’t we just send them the food then?” I’d ask. To which my mother would always respond: “Don’t be smart, now finish your stew.”

I have to say, my family were very good at not wasting food. We had a compost bin in the back garden and my mother would never let me leave the table unless I had an empty plate.

And even though we have good habits in this regard, we were never taught about why food waste is so bad. Of course, my parents worked hard to put food on the table and that should never be taken for granted. 

But also, food waste from our plates ends up in landfills. There, it breaks down over time and creates methane, a greenhouse gas emission which is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

How was I 25 years old before knowing this? 

Rule 5: Recycling is so important. 

It was drilled into us. Paper, plastic, glass. We would take regular trips to the local recycling centre and it was honest to god the best playground. Flinging old bottles of beer into a mass grave of Carlsbergs. Using the can crusher and feeling like the hulk. Shouting into the vast milk bottle receptor to see if the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would come out of there. 

We had great respect for our waste and how we disposed of it. 

But did you know that only 9% of the world’s plastic is actually recycled? If you were only today-years-old when you found this out, don’t feel guilty! This is not common knowledge because it’s a different mindset. 

We have to stop thinking about the waste we’re disposing of and start thinking about the waste we produce. Stop buying 6 apples wrapped in plastic when you can go to the veg shop and take half a dozen in your tote bag. Use bars of soap instead of plastic pump bottles. Use a safety razor, not disposable razors.

There are an endless amount of simple swaps you can do to make big changes to the waste you’re producing and the footprint you leave on this planet. 

Remember, your actions are being observed by your children, your siblings, and your neighbours. Don’t pass on your high-wasted genes. 

About the author

Emma is co-founder, sustainability consultant and marketing wizard at Moiety Consulting. Having spent her career in the Spirits and Wine Industry, she championed sustainable hospitality and events. From zero waste cocktails to challenging tourism trends, Emma is passionate about developing convivial moments that don’t leave a trace.

She also has the gift of the gab and loves making new friends so feel free to reach out to her for a chat on Instagram.

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