The Environmental Impacts of Recreational Drugs

by Rebecca Gutteridge

The vast majority of us consider the environmental impacts of our bus or car ride into college, try to reduce food waste, and recycle – then why the cognitive dissonance when it comes to drugs?

The legality surrounding drugs often means they are sourced through friends, dealers or the dark web, removing the consumer from the process of manufacturing and transporting the drug to them. Unfortunately, many often don’t want to consider the repercussions for the communities involved in sourcing our good time or the environment, as it can be seen to defeat the objective of said “good time”.

This excuse is under strain. We cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the impact of drugs on our environment if we hope to reverse climate change and limit the rise in global temperatures to below 1.5℃ and protect our local ecosystems.[1] With a plethora of issues such as deforestation, pesticides, air pollution and the carbon and human footprint of the drugs trade, it is not tenable to consume drugs at our current rate.

Ecosystems are coming under increased strain from the production of cannabis; more than $5bn of weed –legal and illegal– was reported to have flooded the market last year.[2] Banned pesticides used in the illegal Californian cannabis trade are taking a catastrophic toll on the local ecosystem. At one illegal cannabis farm in California, the compound carbofuran (similar to rat poison) was discovered by inspectors, who stated that “it is incredibly toxic. A quarter-teaspoon could kill a 600-pound black bear”. From their expertise, “just a tiny amount can kill a human”, and mentioned that “it remains in an ecosystem for a long period of time”.[3] 90% of the Californian Mountain lion population and 85% of fishers have been exposed to dangerous levels of rodenticide (rodent pesticides).[3] More than 1360kgs of waste was also found at the same Cannabis farm after it was shut down. Aside from the pesticides, cannabis also guzzles water– one plant requires six gallons of water (two gallons more than one energy-saving dishwasher load). The plant also admits toxic levels of ground-level ozone, contributing to air pollution and impacting human health.[4] An average of 220 of these illegal weed sites are raided yearly by the Forestry Service; this is estimated to be only half of the actual number.[4]

Could legalisation be the answer? Legal farms are monitored closely and are required to submit plans for mitigating air pollution.[4] In spite of efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of legal weed in California, they have failed to tackle the staggering 472 tonnes of annual electricity-related carbon used in its production –that’s enough to power 92,500 homes.[4] Bureaucratic barriers also mean many growers are unlikely to go legal, and the industry will thus remain largely unregulated.[4]

Soil erosion and pollution of waterways from MDMA are major problems to the environment. Closer to home; after Glastonbury Festival 2021, scientists found “dangerous” levels of MDMA and cocaine in the river Whitelake in Somerset, UK, due to public urination: damaging river life. The damage is forecasted to “derail” eel conservation efforts for years to come.[5] A study from The University of Naples Federico II showed that drugs such as cocaine are also excreted into wastewater and often improperly disposed of by being flushed down toilets.[6] The study suggests that these compounds may also be making their way into our tables when we eat contaminated fish and eel.[6]

The compounds in MDMA and cocaine are highly damaging to the environment. The Glastonbury findings and eel studies reflect that the story of a quick high with few consequences is a fallacy we tell ourselves to excuse the environmental and social destruction of our habits.

[1] IPCC report, https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/.
[2] Roberts, Chris, Forbes, ‘It’s Gonna Be A Bloodbath’: Epic Marijuana Oversupply Is Flooding California, Jeopardizing Legalization’
https://www.forbes.com/sites/chrisroberts/2021/08/31/its-gonna-be-a-bloodbath-epic-marijuana-oversupply-is-flooding-california-jeopardizing-legalization/.
[3] Westervelt, Eric, NPR, ‘Illegal Pot Operations In Public Forests Are Poisoning Wildlife And Water’ https://www.npr.org/2019/11/12/773122043/illegal-pot-grows-in-americas-public-forests-are-poisoning-wildlife-and-water?t=1650187711984.
[4] Michaelson, Andrea, Smithsonian Mag, ‘The Cannabis Industry Is Not as Green as You’d Think’ https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/cannabis-industry-not-green-youd-think-1-180973659/.
[5] ‘Glastonbury Festival: Traces of drugs found in river at site’ BBC, 2021,
< https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-somerset-58710377 >.
[6] Katz, Brigit, Smithsonian mag ‘Cocaine in the Water Is Hurting River Eels’ https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/how-cocaine-water-harms-european-eels-180969421/.

5 Podcasts to Stay up to Date With Climate Action

by Rachel Smyth

Drilled
Told like a true crime podcast, where the offender is Big Oil and ordinary people are the victims, Drilled is a fascinating and shocking look into the deepest secrets of the fossil fuel industry. The show has been running since 2016 and has seven full seasons for you to get stuck into, plus bonus episodes along the way. Each season follows a new story from investigative journalist Amy Westervelt, in which she digs deep into the real factors behind climate policy decisions made in the USA and around the world. I would especially recommend Season 7, The ABCs of Big Oil, where Drilled collaborates with online climate newspaper Earther to find out how Big Oil has been behind pervasive climate denial messaging in American schools and universities.

The Climate Alarm Clock
The Climate Alarm Clock is a weekly Irish podcast where the hosts discuss the latest climate news, interview experts, and chat with the people making a change in their communities. While the news stories discussed incorporate climate impacts around the world, discussions often focus on the Irish context. This is a great way to catch up on our national climate policy decisions and to find out more about the amazing work that Irish activists and small business owners are doing on a daily basis.

“a great way to catch up on our national climate policy decisions”

TILclimate
Looking to get into the nitty gritty facts of climate change? TILclimate might be the podcast for you. This award-winning podcast from MIT presents interviews with climate scientists and experts to explain the societal factors behind the climate crisis, the impacts on our planet and the viability of potential solutions. Broken down into short, 15-minute episodes, you can grab bite-sized insights into the future of climate change without getting overwhelmed!

TED Climate
As a part of TED’s Countdown initiative, which seeks to find solutions to the biggest problems of climate change, they have created TED Climate. Host Dan Kwartler compiles short TED talks from an interdisciplinary range of climate change experts, innovators and survivors. This podcast combines hard-hitting facts and inspiring ideas to drive home the urgency of climate change while leaving you focused on the solutions.

Mothers of Invention
Former Irish president Mary Robinson joins comedian Maeve Higgins and series producer Thimali Kodikara in this inspiring podcast based on climate justice through feminist solutions. The hosts shine a light on the uneven burden of the climate crisis on those who contribute the least, focusing on women and people of colour. Each episode features an interview with a new “mother” of the podcast, including speakers as diverse as Christiana Figueres, a key negotiator in the Paris Agreement, and Mohamed Nasheed, the first democratically elected president of the Maldives. Full of eye-opening stories and inspiring people from around the world, this is definitely worth a listen!

Spring is in the Air

by Jessica O’Connor

I would firstly like to thank Dr Anne Dubéarnès and John Parnell for their help. Without them, this article would be very sparse! Now onto the good stuff.

Sometimes we find ourselves getting wrapped up in the many items on our to-do lists that we forget to take notice of what is around us. I plan to fix that with this article on the flowers that are to be seen on campus! Over the last few weeks colour in the form of flowers has begun to emerge on our campus. Anyone, whether you are looking or not, will have been greeted by them. There are currently many different plant types in flower, from small understory plants to shrubs and trees.

You will hopefully have noticed the many daffodils around campus. Daffodils mark the beginning of Spring and good weather for most of us. These bright yellow and often cream flowers are throughout campus, planted around the trees by the cricket pitches and dotted throughout some of the garden areas. These plants are part of the amaryllis family and are known botanically as narcissus. They are hardy plants that are not too bothered about soil or the amount of light they receive. This is probably why we see so many of them. Daffodils return year after year during the spring meaning they are perennial. Daffodils emerge in Spring after going dormant during the winter. After they have finished their growth season in Spring, they will use their foliage to accumulate food sources so that they may flower the next year. A tip is to let them die back naturally and when the leaves have lost their green colour cut them down to grass level.

Another yellow flower that may be seen around campus is the dandelion. Some call it a weed but I would have to disagree! Like the daffodil, dandelions are also perennials so they come back yearly. Dandelions are a favourite with pollinators as they provide food early on in the season. For example, they provide both nectar and pollen to many insects including Bombus ruderarius, also known as the red-shanked carder bee or red-shanked bumblebee. We all probably have memories and plucking fluffy headed stems from the ground when we were younger and making a wish as the bits of fluff floated away from us in the wind. This is how dandelion spreads, ensuring pollinators have food and we have a bit of colour the following year.

Primrose is another famous flower we know can be found in the physics garden. Primroses are extremely diverse in both flower shape and colour, ranging from blue to pink to yellow, and are one of the first species to flower in spring. These flowers are also good for our pollinator friends- the bees and maybe lesser-known hawkmoths.
Another common plant throughout campus is the hyacinth. The ones on campus are generally purple and white and can be found surrounding many of the great trees, especially in New Square, where they bring a lovely colour to the otherwise green lawn. They are also in the small garden plot near the Museum Building. Although they are pretty for us to look at and exude a lovely smell, they have little to no pollination value.

Onto some flowering plants that are a little larger! The Japanese cherry tree or as we probably know it the cherry blossom is arguably one of the prettiest flowering trees on campus. The flowers range from pink to white depending on the variety and flowering usually only lasts a short time, around 2 to 3 weeks. After this time the petals begin to float down and the brief beauty is over. The trees on campus are of the ornamental variety and are therefore grown for beauty as opposed to fruit production. Interestingly they are quite short-lived, some only living between 15 to 20 years!

Another stunning flowering tree although lesser known is the Amelanchier. This tree goes through multiple colours in a year. It flowers on bare branches adding colour when little else is in bloom. These star-shaped blooms are followed by orange-coloured leaves which then mature to green before turning a deeper orange or red in Autumn. This tree can be found in the Provost’s Garden.

Another, though much smaller plant you may not have noticed is the purple Anemone, this plant is in the same family as the buttercup. If you want to have a look for these, they can be found in the shaded area that lies between the rugby and cricket pitch. As the name suggests, the flowers are purple in colour. These plants are sometimes called windflowers. This is linked to the frailty of their petals which can easily break and be blown off in the wind.

Another flowering plant in the same family is the Winter Aconite. The flowers are small and yellow with the overall size of the plant rarely going above 10cm. This plant, somewhat like us, is a sun lover! This plant has a short life cycle during the spring. Its flowers bloom when sunlight is at a maximum and dies off completely into an underground tuber after flowering.
Another plant that is in flower at the moment is the Silene dioica, or as you and I can call it Red Campion. This plant can be found in the wilder patches of grass around campus, its flowers range from pink to as the name suggests red. This plant usually flowers in the later Spring so it is somewhat unusual that it is in flower currently. This is likely due to climate change and the warm weather we have experienced recently.

A plant that is growing in the flower patch just before the rugby pitch by the Museum Building that some of you may have noticed is the Crown Imperial (Fritillaria imperialis). This plant is imposing with a large stem that can reach over a metre in perfect conditions, orange bell-shaped flowers, and a tuft of green leaves on the top. You can’t miss it! While pretty to look at it is also a known source of nectar and pollen for bees.

I would like to thank Dr Anne Dubéarnès and John Parnell who were both a great help with this article providing a comprehensive list of the plants on campus. A little extra information for those who are interested: Dr Anne Dubéarnès also mentioned a flower which would be a shame to leave out. Although this is not found on campus, I do feel it is worth mentioning. The scented violet or as it is formally known Viola odorata. Warning this next bit is a bit botanical: Interestingly, (well to me anyway) this flower has an ephemeral scent which means that you can only smell it for a few seconds. This is because the aromatic molecule that gives it its scent, ionone, binds to our smell receptors and blocks them for a moment.
Well, I hope you enjoyed this brief introduction to some of the plants on campus (and one that is not!). Keep an eye out when you are on the way to your next lecture or to the library to catch up!

IPCC Report Results: Disappointed but Not Surprised

by Faye Murphy

On the 27th of February, the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was published. The publication was the second volume of the sixth assessment report from the IPCC, which analyses 34,000 studies, including 270 authors from 67 countries. It provides one of the most comprehensive examinations of the escalating impacts of climate change and future risks, particularly for marginalised communities and countries with poor resources and facilities. The 2022 IPCC report also describes which climate adaptation approaches are most effective and feasible. The findings further proved what many of us already knew: the world is dying at an unbelievable pace. Hoesung Lee, Chair of the IPCC, described the report as “a dire warning about the consequences of inaction”. 

“the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk”

Previous IPCC reports suggested a link between human activity and climate change, but this volume concluded with “high confidence” that humans are the primary instigators in driving global warming and causing issues such as ice caps melting and heatwaves. The report states that “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land”. UN Secretary-General António Guterres, in response to the report, echoed, “the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk”. 

The recent edition of the IPCC report contained a chapter dedicated to short-lived climate forces such as aerosols, methane, and particulate matter. Previous editions had mentioned the importance of safe methane levels in the atmosphere, but none have had chapters dedicated to it, further highlighting the importance of methane levels. It is important to note that methane levels are currently at the highest levels in 800,000 years. The IPCC report 2022 highlighted two significant examples of what could happen if we continue at our current rate: Forests could start to die. As temperatures continue to rise, forests could begin to die off. Trees play a key role in absorbing CO2, so if deforestation occurs, this will mean forests stop growing and hence have disastrous consequences both globally and locally. The report’s second example was that sea levels would continue to rise. As global warming occurs, ice caps continue to melt at a rapid pace, meaning sea levels rise, and towns and cities around coastal areas are in danger of being engulfed by the ocean. Research published in Nature suggests that if nothing is done, sea levels could rise more than a metre by 2100 and 15 metres over the next 500 years.

“half the global population faces water insecurity at least one month per year”

The report discusses how urgent action is required to deal with increasing risks. The report outlines how weather extremes, such as droughts and floods, are causing mass mortality of biodiversity, which further causes food insecurity. The report mentions that half the global population faces water insecurity at least one month per year. In order for change, the report suggests “deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions”, as progress on this initiative is “uneven”, which increases gaps “among lower-income populations”. Lee emphasises “the urgency of immediate and more ambitious action to address climate risks. Half measures are no longer an option.”

The report also discusses how safeguarding and strengthening nature are vital to securing a liveable future for all. The report mentions that climate change interacts with global trends such as unsustainable use of natural resources, growing urbanisation, social inequalities, potential pandemics and hence decline in development. Co-chair Hans-Otto Porter believes that “By restoring degraded ecosystems and effectively and equitably conserving 30 to 50% of Earth’s land, freshwater and ocean habitats, society can benefit from nature’s capacity to absorb and store carbon”. Porter believes this would allow us to “accelerate [the] progress towards sustainable development”, despite this “adequate finance and political support are essential” for progress to occur. 

The IPCC report discusses the importance of urban areas in the solution to climate change. Over 50% of the human population lives in urban areas and endures different consequences and effects of climate change. Poorly planned cities in response to unthinkable levels of population growth, increasing unemployment and poverty due to growing urbanisation. Increasing land usage, industrialisation of green areas and urbanisation into agricultural land are causing increased levels of greenhouse gas emissions within cities and therefore have confounding effects leading to future livelihood insecurity. 

The report emphasised how the window for action and opportunity is closing more rapidly than expected. The findings showed that 2 degrees of global warming in some regions would prevent climate resilience development. This is clearly a threat to human life and wellbeing. According to the IPCC Report Press Release, “this key finding underlines the urgency for climate action, focusing on equity and justice”, but “adequate funding, technology transfer, political commitment and partnership” is needed for “more effective climate change adaptation and emissions reductions”. Time is running out; we must all unite to ensure a future for all. 

10 things I’d do if I were Minister for Transport (if I Had an Endless Amount of Money)

by Hillary Mullen

  1. Put the Vienna model in place in Dublin

As part of the Green Party’s 2020 election manifesto, they promised voters that if elected they would put in place steps to introduce a “Vienna model” of public transportation into Dublin city. As someone who was living in Vienna for their Erasmus at the time of this election campaign, it was somewhat encouraging because I could not get over how reliable and efficient public transportation was in this city. You had buses (that showed up on time), a tram system with more than two lines that connected in multiple locations and an underground system that has actually been built and used within the last twenty years instead of only being spoken about like its Chinese Whispers. 

Viennese people pay €1 a day for unlimited use of public transportation. When I lived there I paid approximately 60c a day as a student for the entire semester. You could literally spend the entire day sitting on public transportation and it would cost you pennies. It would be a dream for Dublin to have this system.

Let’s just say that Eamon Ryan is a few naps in the Dáil away from achieving this goal. If I had an endless amount of money as the Minister of Transport, I would put steps in place to make this a reality, getting the metro built as soon as possible and develop above ground transportation over time.

2.  Grants to Hybrid motorists

By 2030, it is planned by the Irish government to have 1 million electric cars on the roads. I feel this number could be achieved sooner or later if more cars on the road could become electric if better incentives or grants were given to motorists to encourage them to switch.  

3. Improve cycling roads

In recent weeks, it was announced that Oscar winner Rami Malik, famous for his iconic role as Freddie Mercury in the film Bohemian Rhapsody, spent his lockdown days in Dublin. He revealed that one thing he enjoyed doing was cycling around the city. My first thought was that he is clearly a daredevil. I love to cycle on my bike back home but I couldn’t imagine cycling in the city centre, it’s absolute chaos for our poor cyclists. How many times have we heard on the news of cyclists having accidents next to Dublin buses and on Luas lines? The cycling system in Dublin is all over the shop. I would make more roads in Dublin pedestrian/ cycle friendly to prevent these accidents from happening, by implementing segregated cycle lanes that protect the cyclists from oncoming traffic.

4. Revise LEAP card system

Miss Leap needs a makeover sis. I feel she could be used more frequently on other services where paper tickets are still used. For example, if I were to take the train from Dundalk to Connolly Station, I would need a paper ticket, whereas if I took a train from Connolly Station to Maynooth afterwards, I can use my Leap Card. Leap Cards are a staple in Dublin and other major cities in Ireland but cannot be used further than the suburbs. I would allow people to use LEAP cards nationwide on buses and trains anywhere in the country. There are many bike stations across Dublin where people can borrow a bike for a small fee. The machines in which you borrow these can be quite confusing and it could be a lot handier for Dubliners if they could tap on and off these bikes with their Leap Card instead

5.  Improve national roads

Not every road has to lead to Dublin you know, just saying.

6.  No longer make Dublin a focus point

There should be no need for me to come through Dublin in order to leave Dublin a lot of the time. How come people have to go through Dublin to travel somewhere outside Dublin? There should be more public transport stops focusing on taking people to other parts of the country. If bigger train stations were made bigger in the likes of Longford or in Cavan with more lines going to places outside of Dublin, it could divert a lot of unnecessary travel out of the city. 

7.  Give Donegal a damn train station…

…and improve Irish Rail overall. How does one of the most remote counties in Ireland not have at least one train station, you would think that would have been ticked off the to-do list years ago. Alas, that’s how Irish Rail works. 

8. Give students better ticket rates

I was glad to hear in this year’s budget that people ages 23 and under would receive 50% off public transportation rates. This was long overdue as the prices to use public transportation in Ireland is far more expensive than many other European countries. I would continue this or potentially make student rates cheaper or as they do in France, anyone under 25 gets a cheaper fare on public transport.

9. Provide funding for scientific research on more sustainable eco-friendly transportation

This may sound a bit extravagant but in the last number of years, Ireland has really proven itself to be at the helm of scientific research. I would love there to be some investment from the Minister of Transport on scientific projects that focus on making transportation more sustainable and eco-friendly. Imagine if an Irish scientist created a car like the DeLorean in Back to the Future where you used your leftover compost waste as petrol or a teleport so that you never had to sit on a stuffy bus for 3 hours a day ever again, you’d be lying if you said you did not want to buy one. 

10.  A carpool bonus

For those of us who commute to the city on buses and cars going through motorways, you may be used to seeing cars with just one passenger inside. If the government were to give some sort of bonus or tax break for people commuting into the city by car through a carpool arrangement, it could encourage less congestion on the roads of dozens of cars heading to the same commuter towns. It would make the roads safer and would greatly reduce CO2 emissions produced. 

I hope I haven’t bored you all but this is what I would do as Minister for Transport. I know some of these things cannot be achieved so quickly in reality (the DeLorean I mean unfortunately). However, with a bit more push from the current Minister and a bit more funding put in place to prioritise some things on this list, then we could see things improve for public transport sooner than expected. 

Brand Investigation: Primark

by Anna Barry

Penny’s, as it is known in Ireland, first opened its doors in 1969 in its capital city, Dublin. It is known around the world as Primark, and has over 380 stores worldwide. Primark is a fast fashion chain and has a large range of products, including womenswear, menswear, baby and children’s clothing, accessories, footwear, homeware, beauty products, and confectionery. Fast fashion can be described as inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends. Primark offers trendy clothing and day-to-day products at cheap and affordable prices. This all sounds great until we ask ourselves: how can Primark afford to make these items for as cheap as they sell them for, in a sustainable and ethical way AND make a profit? That is when the question of how ethical and sustainable Primark is, comes into play. 

Environmental impact

On a good note, Primark is a member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. The Sustainable Apparel Coalition is a global alliance of retailers, brands, suppliers, advocacy groups, labour unions, and academics, who aim to create “an apparel, footwear, and home textiles industry that produces no unnecessary environmental harm and has a positive impact on people and communities” – The Guardian. Another good step made by Primark was implementing the use of paper bags rather than plastic bags, which was done in 2002. However, how environmentally friendly can any fast-fashion brand be? According to researchers, a pair of jeans requires approximately 7,600 litres of water to make. It can also take around 2,700 litres of water to make just one T-shirt. Already, we can see how damaging selling these items for €20 or less is to our environment. The cheaper the clothes are, the more we can afford to buy, and basically, the more water we use up and the more damage we do to our environment. Primark has recently started to use organic cotton and recycled materials to make their clothes but what exactly does this mean? It is true that cotton is renewable and biodegradable but growing conventional cotton has had a detrimental impact on our environment. It takes approximately 10,000 litres of water to produce just one kilogram of conventional cotton. Many manufacturers use artificial means such as chemical fertilizers and synthetic pesticides to make cotton grow faster. This causes massive damage to the soil, resulting in fields being unsuitable for growing other crops. Organic cotton, on the other hand, is much better for the environment as it doesn’t require the use of synthetic pesticides or any toxic chemical fertilizers. Its production also sustains the quality of soil and protects the native ecosystems. Recent studies suggest that the energy demand of organic cotton is 62% lower than conventional cotton. Organic cotton also uses approximately 91% less water than regular cotton and in turn produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, the use of organic cotton is a pivotal step for Primark and other fast-fashion brands like H&M. As well, cotton does not contain microplastics. Therefore, cotton does not give off microplastic pollution when washed which is an added reason why to choose cotton items over the likes of polyester, viscose, etc which DO cause microplastic pollution. 

a pair of jeans requires approximately 7,600 litres of water to make. It can also take around 2,700 litres of water to make just one T-shirt

In terms of ‘made by recycled materials’ Primark states on their website that “We have partnered with specialist suppliers to produce our recycled products. First, waste plastic is recovered, flaked into pellets, and melted down. The plastic is then spun into yarn and used to create our products. In 2020, our products made using recycled materials more than doubled to 40 million items”. It is a great idea to try to use up our already existing plastics but this still promotes the idea that recycling is the answer, when cutting down on our overall consumption is the real answer. Primark has introduced a lot of great changes, but they still mass-produce items of often low quality and sell them at cheap prices. We must also consider transportation and packaging methods before giving them a gold star. Overall, the best way to be sustainable is to use what we already have but we are human and that’s not always easy. Primark has provided some more sustainable ways to buy fast fashion but you have the real power. Companies always listen to the consumer as that’s where the money is. So if you are buying in Primark, shop smartly and support the sustainable cotton items and other more sustainable alternatives.

Animal Welfare

Primark does NOT use fur, angora, down feather, or exotic animal skin or hair in its products. However, it DOES use leather and wool without stating its sources. They also do NOT provide evidence that they trace their animal products to the first stage of production. This withholds information about the condition and wellbeing of the animals used.  In terms of cosmetics, Primark state that animal testing is NOT permitted on Primark products, but it does retail cosmetics from other brands that do test on animals. 

Primark has also been called out for showing no evidence of workers being paid a living wage

Labour conditions

On the Primark website, it states that “Primark does not own any factories and requires all its suppliers’ factories to meet its Code of Conduct, which is based on the standards of the International Labour Organisation, a United Nations body”. Primark uses the likes of GY Sen to supply their clothes and this is where some of the major ethical questions for Primark lie. In good terms, the promotion of organic cotton protects a lot of workers from the toxins present in conventional cotton and Primark is a signatory to the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety and the Cotton Pledge and a member of the Ethical Trading Initiative and has adopted their Code of Conduct. Primark has also set up “Primark Cares” which is an initiative to support the people who make their clothes and vet the factories being used. However, as Primark does not own these factories it means there is no real responsibility for them to ensure ethical practices are taking place. Over the years, we have all heard about ‘sweatshops’ making the clothes we see in Primark and other fast fashion brands. As recently as 2021, Primark hit the papers again with ‘Primark supplier accused of locking workers in a factory in Myanmar protests’- The Guardian. This supplier being GY Sen. In 2019, a report was issued by CIR who interviewed 73 Sri Lankan employees from six named supplier factories to Primark. It stated that no supplier met the retailer’s code of conduct and that some were involved in breaches of local law. Primark has also been called out for showing no evidence of workers being paid a living wage. Altogether, this is just not good enough. We expect when buying the Primark cares products that the workers behind the item are getting a living wage, but it seems that Primark isn’t being as transparent as we would like. 

Overall Primark is no worse than any other fast-fashion brand and they are making a big effort to be more sustainable. However, until people change their shopping habits and cut the amount of clothing they are consuming down, the situation will not improve. 

Green Labs

by Faye Murphy

In the past couple of years, many Trinity students and staff have been trying to find a way to create a more sustainable lab environment. In August 2020, the Institute of Neuroscience began its journey to becoming Green Lab Certified.

As Trinity College Dublin has committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2030, the green labs initiative will significantly help Trinity in its journey towards this commitment. While the numbers vary from lab to lab, globally, labs use ten times more energy and four times more water than an office of the same size. In addition, labs alone contribute 2% of the total global plastic production.

Even on an individual basis, bench scientists contribute much more to climate change than the average individual. For example, while the average Irish person produces 61kg of waste a year, the average bench scientist can produce up to 1000kg of waste annually.

globally labs use ten times more energy and four times more water than an office of the same size

From these statistics, we can conclude that labs are resource-heavy environments, but this is not entirely necessary. Most of this energy and waste comes from poor management practices and bad habits. If only 2% of lab plastics were diverted from landfills, it would prevent 100 million metric tons of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere annually. This change would not only aid in Trinity’s goal but also aid in the international fight for climate control.

The My Green Lab programme is an international certification system where laboratories undergo a five-step programme to reduce their environmental impact and introduce sustainable practices continuously. These steps include a baseline assessment to understand the current state of lab practices. After the evaluation, some recommendations of change to improve lab sustainability are discussed and implemented. Based upon the percentage of green lab practices adopted, a lab is then certified as bronze, silver, gold, platinum or green. After initial certification, more recommendations and re-certification occurs down the road to ensure the lab is keeping up with their green practices.

labs alone contribute 2% of the total global plastic production.

As part of their green lab initiative, a group of PhD students from the institute of neuroscience and the school of chemistry created the Trinity Green Lab Guide. This green lab guide offers simple ways to reduce lab costs and improve efficiency. Trinity’s green lab guide focuses on five main areas, water management, energy, waste, green chemistry, and sustainable purchasing and management of substances inventory. The guide can be followed and used by any lab within the campus.

bench scientists contribute more to climate change than the average person … while the average Irish person produces 61kg of waste a year, a bench scientist can produce up to 1000kg

During Green Week last February, the college voted to decide which lab would be next to receive funding to become green lab certified. The vote decided that this funding would be allocated to The Cocker Chemistry Teaching Lab. This choice is a new step in the right direction as green chemistry is one of My Green Labs and Trinity Green Lab Guide’s main aims. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), green chemistry is “the design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the generation of hazardous substances”. Green chemistry involves using safer and more environmentally friendly chemicals and substances as well as reducing solvent waste. There are 12 principles of green chemistry that one can find on the My Green Lab website. Also, the EPA provides an environmental toxicity report of chemicals used in labs. All types of labs must try to become “greener”, as for chemistry labs alone, 60% of their energy is used for ventilation, which can be significantly reduced by introducing green lab practices.

There are many ways to get involved in the green lab initiative, such as introducing your colleagues or peers to the Trinity Green Lab guide. On a personal scale, the My Green Lab website offers a free course to become a Green Lab Ambassador. This course is an introduction to lab sustainability, behavioural changes as well as how to suggest and make changes in the lab. Green labs are in the best interests of all individuals as not only will they create a more environmentally friendly lab, but a safer and more economically sound environment.

Psychology around the climate crisis.

by Hillary Mullen

Unless you have been living under a rock, you have heard of climate change. Some people’s brains and thought processes react differently to the crisis than others. It may be difficult for some of us to comprehend why people are convinced that climate change is not that big of a deal or believe that it doesn’t exist at all (even though it evidently does). However, this reaction of some people towards climate change can be understood through the understanding of the human mind and its psychology. 

Psychology of the Individual towards climate change.

Big movements and big changes usually start at home by a specific individual. It is the easiest way to change something about your life. From recycling your plastics to thrifting clothes instead of buying another t-shirt from H&M, individual changes really impact how one lives a sustainable lifestyle. 

However, beginning with the individual is important in order to emphasise to people that there is in fact a climate crisis in the first place. Under the concept of individual and household behaviour towards climate change, the theory of “overlooked dimensions” fits here (Nielsen et al., 2021). This means that there are choices individuals must make in order to be more sustainable and combat climate change and obstacles putting them off or preventing them from making such choices. For example, it is better to take public transport to get into work than a car. However, it is easier to get the bus if you live in the middle of the city compared to the middle of the countryside. 

Big movements and big changes usually start at home by a specific individual

According to Time Magazine, many psychologists have made the point that it is incredibly difficult for the human brain to fully comprehend the concept of climate change. The point was made by Samuel Schleffer for Time that a human’s purpose is to provide a legacy and work on something that has a significant impact on those living in the future. When people hear about climate change, it makes many feel that the work they are doing is not worthwhile or has any point in continuing if there is no future to look forward to. 

However, the argument could be made that a person’s work is worthwhile if it is to create a sustainable planet for the next generation that is not worrying over climate change the way many young people are today. 

On the other side of the spectrum, many people are struggling with their mental health as a result of climate change becoming more of a reality. This is as a result of people who have been directly affected by the consequences of climate change or are nervous for a future that does not look so bright anymore.

climate change … makes many feel that the work they are doing is not worthwhile

Climate anxiety develops as a result of action or a lack of action towards the crisis. Responses are needed for those who feel that issues to do with the environment are beginning to lose control.

Psychology of people within Government towards climate change

It is submitted that many governmental bodies are not bringing in enough policies and systematic change to help combat climate change. Despite an ongoing demand by the citizens of these countries, the government is hesitant to abide by some points. Governments when deciding on policy observe the mood of the people towards certain issues over others.  

Many people do want to see climate change policies implemented by their governments over the growing concern by the individual over the climate crisis. However, governments are beginning to understand and prioritise climate change policies through agreeing to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and signing up to the Paris Agreement. 

the concept of a complete climate catastrophe is too overwhelming for the human brain to fully comprehend

If there’s one thing we know about the human mind it is that it tends to procrastinate. Tell me that you have never procrastinated an assignment or put off doing some housework at some point in your life, I doubt it. There are just some people out there procrastinating about climate change because the entire concept of a complete climate catastrophe is too overwhelming for the human brain to fully comprehend. However, it is essential for humanity to move past this and deal with the crisis head on for a sustainable future. 

Recycling is a Myth

by Faye Murphy

With the recent news that soft plastics can be placed in the household recycling bin, I took it upon myself to research why this was happening now, why all of a sudden and what was stopping this from happening in the past. 

When the media was flooded with appreciation for companies such as MyWaste and Repak for pushing this change in policy, there was simultaneously backlash. Three days after this new policy was announced, the EPA produced a press release of Ireland’s recycling failures. This included worrying figures that our recycling rates had been declining, yet our waste production had been on a steady incline. According to the EPA, “Ireland generated over 1.1 million tonnes of packaging waste in 2019, up 11 per cent on 2018”, which had been “the third year in a row that packaging waste in Ireland has exceeded one million tonnes”. Even more alarming is that “less than a third (28 per cent) of Ireland’s plastic packaging waste was recycled in 2019”, all while “the share of plastic packaging that Ireland incinerates has grown year-on-year and now stands at 69 per cent”, stated by the EPA as of September 10th 2021. 

The news that soft plastics can now be accepted into the recycling bin may seem optimistic, the reality is that while the soft plastics are entering the recycle bin, they are still not being recycled. According to MyWaste, these soft plastics will be used to make solid recovered fuel, which will be used to replace fossil fuels as a source of energy in cement kilns. 

Using materials made of fossil fuels to replace fossil fuels may seem defeatist, and I would have to agree. Will this really have any benefit when the same substances are entering our atmosphere?

Recycling is also not infinite. Recycling degrades the material, especially for plastics and paper, meaning there is a limit on the number of times it can be recycled before new plastic must enter this recycling process in order to produce “recycled plastic”. All this said plastic recycling is non-existent in Ireland. In Ireland, we collect materials, separate them in our waste factories and then those with enough economic worth are then exported abroad to be recycled there. The remaining “worthless” materials are then either sent to landfills or incinerators or else sent to cement factories to be used as fuel for their kilns. The latter is now being used for soft plastics. 

I believe that this new policy will lead to increased rates of contaminated recycling bins unless the “clean, dry, loose” message is engrained into Irish society as much as the angelus is engrained into RTE1

For decades we have been recycling plastics and other materials with the hope and belief that they will be recycled and enter a new life cycle. It was only over the summer when a friend of mine introduced me to the concept of “wishcycling”, which she describes as the way most people place their contaminated food packaging in the recycle bin with the hope it might possibly be recyclable. Being introduced to this idea made me realize how I am also a sucker to wishcycling. The thought of it perhaps being recyclable seems better than the idea that it will end up in the local landfill. Unfortunately, the new change in policy seems to only make my “wishcycling” worse, as now, although I understand that only clean, dry and loose plastic packaging should be placed in the recycling bin, as the majority of it is not recyclable (and not recycled anyway), will my bad habits make any difference? I believe that this new policy will lead to increased rates of contaminated recycling bins unless the “clean, dry, loose” message is engrained into Irish society as much as the angelus is engrained into RTE1. 

Plastic companies paid for recycling advertising in the 1990s to produce more plastic. 

According to previous oil industry insiders, the inefficiency and ineffectiveness of recycling have been known from as far back as 1974. While the ineffectiveness of recycling was known to oil companies, the industry still spent millions selling and advertising recycling. Why would oil companies promote recycling if this extends the life cycle of their products? According to Larry Thomas, former president of the Society of the Plastics Industry, “If the public thinks that recycling is working, then they are not going to be as concerned about the environment”. Therefore the industry can get away with selling more and more plastic as the public believes recycling is effective. One of the main problems with recycling is economic inefficiency, as making new plastics is much cheaper than collecting, sorting, melting and rebuilding recycled plastic. From the very beginning, this problem was known, yet we and our parents have been sold a lie for almost 50 years, so why do we continue to wishcycle and have such a strong belief in our recycling bins? 

We should put the main emphasis on reducing waste consumption and production initially. There is a reason why reduce is first in the 3Rs

So, recycling is clearly not the answer, then what is? We should put the main emphasis on reducing waste consumption and production initially. There is a reason why reduce is first in the 3Rs. There are many ways to reduce waste, including making a meal plan and shopping list, buying second hand, using reusable bags, cutlery, bottles etc. We should also look into reusing our waste for other purposes, be it using our jam jars to hold makeup brushes or turning takeaway pint glasses into plant pots, there are many exciting ideas to flex your creative muscles. Without changing our attitude towards waste and recycling, nothing will change, and we will continue with ever-growing landfills and incinerator fumes entering our atmosphere. We must globally reduce our waste production and codependence on plastic. It will take a global attitude change to force us out of our bad habits and force companies to change their ideology towards packaging and waste management.

Wellbeing, Markets and Careers; Green Week Day Two

By Rory Chinn, Aoife Kiernan and Faye Murphy

The second day of Green Week began with a Climate Wellbeing Workshop, organised by the Green Campus Committee. Gary Tyrrell, Climate Action Officer with An Taisce’s Climate Ambassadors spoke to a group of budding and experienced climate activists on addressing eco-anxiety. For reference, eco-anxiety is the feeling of anxiousness and fear that comes with fully embracing the scale of the climate challenge. The committed climate activist is sure to run into this feeling and although some may feel that it is part and parcel of advocating for climate justice, this can lead to burnout. True strength, according to Gary, is about setting boundaries in our own lives and knowing that we can’t do everything. 

The highly interactive session was most akin to a tutorial in its comfortable intellectual discourse. This meant that engagement was free and encouraging to those with their ideas. One attendant discussed the relevance of the history behind the climate movement, with a particular focus on the esteemed marine biologist Rachel Carson. He said that the history of humans’ relationship with the earth has been thousands of years of connection, thrown away in the past few hundred. 

The session rounded up with a chat on how we take care of our well-being, and those privileged to take part in the workshop shared their outlets. 

The final message from Gary should stick with everyone, as a reminder of the optimistic attitude we should have in our approach to climate action and life as a whole, “Failure is not making a mistake- failure is giving up”.

The afternoon continued with a plant market organised by Envirosoc and Botsoc. This market facilitated students and staff in buying and swapping plants, cuttings and seeds. It proved to be a great success, with many members of the college community bringing in plants that they had propagated themselves, and expanding their own plant collections. Several botany students and members of the botanical society were in attendance providing sound advice on the caretaking of the plants. The society set up the market within one of the kiosks in the arts block and managed to gain traction throughout the college. The market was run as a fundraiser for the charity SEED Madagascar, and attendants were extremely generous. In total over €450 was raised. This money will go towards a myriad of projects, mainly in southeast Madagascar, ranging from conservation to food distribution, as Madagascar is currently experiencing a famine caused by drought, to education. Madagascar is commonly referred to as a “biodiversity hotspot” due to the high numbers of endemic species caused by its locations and nature as an island. 

The evening finished off with two talks, a discussion with Manchán Magan and a panel on Careers for a Sustainable Future. In a collaboration between the Environmental society and the Cumman Gaelach, Manchán Magan joined his discussion from zoom, which was then streamed into the beautiful surroundings of the Botany Lecture Theatre. The event was bi-lingual and gave insight into the interconnectedness of the Irish language and nature, and the common struggles the Irish language movement and the environmental movement have. Manchan proved to be a very engaging speaker, and his extensive life experiences made for an interesting talk, as he described his worldwide travel, casually dropping in comments like “when I came back from the Himalayas” , and inspired students with talk of his self-build house in county Westmeath.

The Careers for a Sustainable Future panel began with Melanie Allanson, Head of Human Resources at FoodCloud.  She discussed how FoodCloud goes about eliminating and distributing food thus addressing the SDGs 2 and 12.3. Allanson stated that there are many ways to get involved in FoodCloud, from technology, data analytics, finance or communications. She mentioned that before joining FoodCloud she wanted to find a purpose and believed joining FoodCloud would achieve this goal. 

The next panellist was John Dardis, Senior Vice President of Sustainability at Glanbia. 

Dardis discussed how the nutritionist solution business is targeting dairy industry waste and converting it to protein. He mentioned that Glanbia is also developing packaging and partnering with Foodcloud. When looking into future careers, Dardis believes that you “don’t need to decide on a path immediately”, and should “stick with your gut”. You must “be prepared to grow, and see setbacks”. Dardis mentions that he “enjoys helping people with a vision”, and states that “trust with the team is important”. He maintains the outlook that empathy is a skill set, that in order to be in charge you must be able to “give solutions rather than issues”. 

Dr Sabrina Dekker, Climate Action Coordinator at Dublin City Council was the final panellist. Dekker discussed her career experience, from originally wanting to be a doctor to becoming involved in DCC.

She gives the advice to “love your space and don’t need to know your path immediately”, as it took her until the age of 25 to decide on a path. Dekker believes that one needs “skill in uncertainty and how to respond and think creatively to give aid and answers where needed”, she mentioned that as students have already suffered through the pandemic they, therefore, have increased resilience.

There are currently graduate programmes at DCC and unpaid internships but with a chance of ending up with a job. There are also Foodcloud internships including a stipend, Allanson mentioned that FloodCloud is waiting on a graduate programme, they just need funding.

Graduate programmes are available within Glanbia, with sustainability entry jobs available in the future. There are also two campaigns for students, in spring and autumn.

Day three of Green Week sees a myriad of events, from a college-wide swap shop, a green lab panel discussion to a flower hammering event by Trinity’s Environmental Society.