30 Nov 2021

Waste Not - Want Not

Your weekly column from the natural landscape of Cabragh Wetlands


We are creating more waste than ever before in Ireland.

It's time to turn our minds to waste disposal

Now that the celebration of the birth of Christ or in the modern world, the zenith of conspicuous consumption, is over, it is time to turn our minds to waste disposal.
This is a topic close to the hearts of Cabragh Wetlands since the whole project grew out of the idea of waste disposal. In this case, industrial waste from the agri food industry, Irish Sugar, which pumped thousands of tons of waste soil and other by products of the sugar manufacturing process to lagoons on the bank of the Suir, a few hundred metres from the present position of the Cabragh Wetlands holding itself earmarked as an extension of the original dump.

Our bins are over flowing after the Festive Season.

About the only hint of silver in the very dark cloud above Thurles that was the closure of the Sugar Factory was the sale, engineered by Sean Buckley and Eddie Olden, for a nominal sum, of twelve acres of reedbed to the Cabragh Wetlands Trust. This was an inspired decision and since then the area of the wetlands has been added to and continues to be with the help of your contributions to the Adopt a Plot Scheme, the local farming community have been extremely helpful from the very beginning and today Cabragh Wetlands has achieved an excellent status regarding all things environmental, educational and conservationalist.
The main avenue for waste disposal is recycling. Great strides have been made but we must be careful with contaminated items. Plastic containers should be rinsed, cardboard flattened and plastic bottles squashed.
Around Christmas, it is sometimes felt that there is excessive packaging on many items but that may often be necessary to ensure that the product arrives unbroken.
What is really necessary is for the manufacturer to ensure that they are using sustainable raw materials that are safe for the environment and to consider how the product will be used and disposed of.
As always, nature is the best teacher. As we look out on our frozen, soaked or windswept garden in the afterglow of our Christmas feasting, we are totally unaware of what is happening beneath the earth. In a typical Irish woodland or garden there is a 98% recycling of calcium while heavily fertilized agricultural land has calcium losses of 25-60% calcium. Our cities strive for 30% in recycling programmes.
Let’s take an oak leaf that flutters from the tree in the corner of the garden. By next dewfall or rain, the leaf’s protective chemicals have begun to leach out and on the now tenderized leaf, the feasting begins.
The first at the table are the bacteria on the leaf itself and in just a few hours, the leaf is speckled with dark blotches. Spores of fungi burst into life and knit a lacework across the leaf. Their enzymes digest the tough woody parts and now moistened and softened, the leaf quickly succumbs to attack by larger creatures, millipedes, fly larvae, springtails and earthworms etc.
Of all these primary decomposers, the earthworm is the most important. Mixing soil and leaf fragments into a fine paste in its burrow it will create the equivalent of one inch of topsoil over the Earth’s land surface every ten years. The leaf continues to be shredded into tiny pieces and working together, an orchestra of thousands of species of bacteria, fungi, algae and others fully decompose the leaf. As they do so, gums, waxes and gels hold the tiny particles of soil together making sure that the soil does not dry out and allowing it to hold huge volumes of water.
Eventually the soil’s microbes are themselves consumed by secondary decomposers and tertiary decomposers. The leaf’s contents end up as plant food to start the cycle of life once again.
So the natural world never really shuts down. You can have a unique experience in the quiet and beauty of Cabragh Wetlands over the winter holiday period. Why not watch out for the first lambs’ tails or catkins on the hazel, the first marsh marigold in the wet meadow, even the first redwing or fieldfare which seem to be quite late this year, the first clump of frogspawn in the pond etc.
Even in the darkest winter days, Cabragh Wetlands is the life affirming, hope filled place it has always been and with your help will continue to be for many years to come.
Guímid úrbhliain faoi mhaise daoibh go léir.

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