Contactless Coffee: The Way Forward

A couple of weeks ago, I was pondering aloud as to why cafes and coffee shops weren’t giving customers the option of having their coffee (or any hot drink) prepared in a jug and poured into their reusable cup, without there being any contact from either party.

I love coffee as much as the next person but I experience a pang of guilt whenever I buy a coffee in a disposable cup. Pre-pandemic, I religiously brought a reusable cup around with me in an effort to mitigate plastic waste. Now, if I fancy a coffee and a treat whilst I’m out and about, I must carry the burden of knowing that I’m directly contributing to plastic waste.

The amount of disposable crockery and cutlery used must be at an all time high. While biodegradable options are used at most establishments, it does very little in terms of battling plastic waste.

However, as society reopens and as we attempt to return to some form of normality, the question of when the use of disposable plastics will become but a distant memory, remains unanswered.

Whilst over-thinking this issue (as ever), I stumbled across the Conscious Cup Campaign – a point of information for establishments looking to start accepting reusable cups and to return to using regular crockery and cutlery once again.

A notable quote on the website from the Food Safety Authority of Ireland states:

“It is not necessary to use disposable cups, cutlery or other disposable crockery. Washing crockery and cutlery in the dishwasher will kill any virus present. Proper hygiene practices must always be observed when handling crockery and cutlery.  Using disposable crockery and cutlery can lead to a false sense of security and can mean staff are not as conscious of hygiene practices when handling these items.”

In terms of making the use of reusable coffee cups ‘contactless’, the Conscious Cup Campaign have put together a very simple step-by-step guide:

  1. The customer brings their own clean reusable cup & holds onto their lid.
  2. When placing an order they advise they have their own reusable.
  3. Customer places cup on a pre-marked spot on a table/tray and steps back.
  4. Barista prepares the drink inside the cafe in a reusable cup or jug.
  5. If the order is coffee, the barista will keep the coffee shot and milk elements separate.
  6. Barista then pours the drink into the cup without any contact with the cup.
  7. Barista steps back and customer steps forward taking their coffee away to be enjoyed.

To compliment the guide, a very helpful video can be found here, while a map of cafes accepting reusable cups can be found at this link.

While protecting each other is incredibly important, it is just as important that we make every conscious effort to protect the environment.

Buying In-Season & Local Produce

Maybe it’s just me but I recall a time when I didn’t think twice about reaching for that shiny avocado at any time of year, tempting me with its rich green hue and the unspoken promise of its silky, luxurious texture.

However, since there has been a shift towards supporting local growers and producers, particularly in Ireland, naturally I’ve begun to think twice before reaching for fruit and vegetables which are readily available on supermarket shelves all year round.

Of course, our ability to grow practically every variety of fruit and vegetable at any time of year is a gift that our ancestors would no doubt have appreciated greatly. We want for nothing. I can go to my local supermarket or corner store and pick up a pineapple or a bunch of bananas which have been grown at the other side of the world and are available to me for a ludicrously cheap price, despite the sheer distance which they have travelled to reach my shopping bag.

However, such convenience and endless choice comes at another price. A price which was previously invisible but is now coming to light, as we begin to realise and understand our impact on the earth.

Questions such as why are we choosing to buy fruit and vegetables shipped from foreign lands, when we produce our own beautiful, in-season produce? Such produce does not need to travel far to reach our plates – it is a simple change to make.

Now, I am not suggesting that you completely stop buying exotic produce. I love a slice of watermelon and I am impartial to a side of guacamole. All I am asking is that you reduce your reliance on imported produce.

Local foods can be found at farmers markets (Tramore Farmers Market), in artisan food stores (Ardkeen Quality Food Stores in Waterford are a great retailer supporting local growers) and even on the shelves of large retailers. I found Irish, seasonal apples for sale in Tesco recently! A quick label check for the country of origin when buying packaged fruit and vegetables in supermarkets will inform you of where your food has come from.

In terms of cost, many people think that local food is expensive and unaffordable, compared to the low prices we pay in the likes of Lidl and Aldi. However, this is not the case. As the produce is seasonal and often organic, farmers need to move their product quickly when they harvest an entire crop and in order to do so, they sell them at affordable prices. You are also more likely to buy only what you need when you shop for local produce, as the number of choices isn’t overwhelmingly large, unlike in supermarkets. You are presented with what is in season which results in a simpler, more mindful shopping experience.

If you are ever in doubt about what is in season in Ireland, Bord Bia (The Irish Food Board) have all of the information you need and they provide a breakdown for each month.

Progress comes by taking small steps. Maybe in November you could swap those oranges for some Bramley apples or reach for a celeriac as opposed to an aubergine.

Take advantage of the seasons. Produce tastes even better when grown in season. Not only will you have a positive impact on the planet but your taste buds will scream with delight.

Amazon Rainforest Deforestation and the Beef Industry

Fire on a farm in the region of Novo Progresso, Pará, on 25 August.
Photograph: Lucas Landau/The Guardian

A Brief Introduction

60% of the Amazon rainforest lies within Brazil – at least it used to. This figure was once accurate, before the deforestation of the Amazon began to rise at an alarming rate, largely due to the growing interest in cattle ranching. Europe, North America, Central America, China and Russia are the biggest importers of Brazilian beef. This has resulted in a reliance on the importation of Brazilian beef, thus supporting and encouraging widespread deforestation throughout the Amazon Rainforest. These facts lead to an important question and one which needs to be addressed quickly if we are to repair the damage already done: Why are we supporting such unsustainable farming practices and the destruction of one of the most important ecosystems on earth? Read on to find out more and about how to make change as a consumer by voting with how you shop.

THE FACTS – CLEAR AND SIMPLE

Brazil is now the world’s largest exporter of beef. This is something that should warrant celebration. However, there is little to celebrate. The Amazon has lost approximately one-fifth of its forest in the past three decades, according to One Green Planet. As a result of cattle-ranching, trees are being cut down on an exponential scale. Beef farming is responsible for 70 per cent of Amazon deforestation. Such extensive farming is encouraged and supported by the government of Brazil. This support comes in the form of grants and loans worth billions of dollars – it is hardly a surprise that farmers and normal, working people accept these grants in a bid to secure a source of income to provide for their families.

It is clear that education, a reform of government in Brazil and investment in the development of sustainable industry, are required in order to prevent the destruction of the rainforest. The purchasing power of consumers also plays a vital role in protecting the Amazon – by choosing to purchase beef which has originated in your home country, you are making a stand against the unsustainable beef farming methods used in Brazil.

Bolsonaro, Brazil’s president, has rejected the fact that the Amazon is burning (a method used to clear the rainforest for cattle ranching). He is intent on claiming that it is a lie. However, a four-month ban on setting fires in the Amazon was announced by the government of Brazil (quite a contradiction of their previous statement), after the country was put under pressure to protect the rainforest.

Such a ban has proved to be a futile effort in protecting the Amazon, after satellite imagery captured in August 2020 showed more than 7,600 fires in Amazones (one of the nine states which forms the Brazilian Amazon).According to an article by Lucus Landao and Tom Philips published by the Guardian, more than 29,307 fires were recorded across the entire Amazon region in August.

A very pessimistic read, I know. But this is a crucial topic which needs to be discussed. If there is to be a world for future generations to live in, issues such as this must be addressed and acted upon now. The rainforests are vital for carbon dioxide absorption. Less trees = higher levels of CO2 in the atmosphere and a subsequent rise in temperature, ultimately leading to an uninhabitable earth. Not to mention the beautiful species, such as orangutans which we are losing along with the earth’s precious rainforests.

However, consumers have more power than they think. Make a stand with your money. You have purchasing power and you must use it. Buy locally produced beef where possible. If you’re on a budget – reduce your beef consumption or opt for vegetarian alternatives which are very affordable and widely available. Educate yourself on where your meat comes from. In the EU, we are lucky enough to have a great food traceability system in place. You are able to trace the origin of your meat from farm to fork. Do not hesitate in asking your local butcher where your beef has come from. Check the packaging in your local supermarket. Statements such as ‘packaged in Ireland’ probably means that the meat has been imported and has only been packaged in Ireland. If you’re from Ireland, buy Bord Bia quality approved beef where you can – you’ll know it’s Irish beef.

Action is needed immediately in order to save the earth’s rainforests. But change can be made through small steps, taken by ordinary people such as you and I. Educate others on this topic and encourage them to make a stand and fight for the rainforests and every species within them.

Photo by Stuart Jansen on Unsplash

The Yemen Humanitarian Crisis

What is happening in Yemen?

Yemen. A desert country in the Middle East on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula. It has been severely impacted by a civil war and is one of the Arab world’s poorest countries. A war that was originally forecasted to last a few weeks, has gone on to last five years.

Yemen - Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
Source: Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect

At the root of the country’s devastation, lies a failed political transition. An Arab Spring uprising lead to Yemen’s long-serving president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, resigning his power in 2011 to his deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi.

Mr Hadi, upon taking over the presidential role, came into difficulty with issues in the form of jihadist attacks, a separatist movement in the south, the continued loyalty of security personnel to the former president (Saleh), corruption, high levels of unemployment and food security.

The separatist movement in the south, known as the Houthi movement and championing Yemen’s Zaidi Shia Muslim minority, were involved in numerous rebellions in the previous decade which were against Saleh. The new president’s weaker spots were taken advantage of, as the Houthi movement took control of the northern heartland of Saada province and the neighbouring areas.

Many Yemeni civilians, including Sunnis, unaware of what the outcome of the transition would be, supported the Houthi movement, resulting in Sanaa, the capital, being taken over by rebels in late 2014 to early 2015.

Saleh, thought to have supported Houthis who originally fought against him, ensured their loyalty. The result was Houthis and security forces who were loyal to Saleh, attempting to gain control of Yemen and causing Mr Hadi to seek safety abroad in March 2015.

Concerned by the rise of a group associated with the military backing of Iran, Saudi Arabia and eight other states, launched an air campaign in an effort to defeat the Houthis, put an end to Iranian influence in Yemen and to restore the former presidents government. Support for the campaign came from the US, the UK and France and resulted in a coalition.

Coalition troops landed in Aden, a southern port city of Yemen, in August 2015, helping to drive the Houthis and their allies from most of the south over the following months. Since establishing a temporary home in Aden, Mr Hadi’s government has had trouble with the provision of basic services and security, resulting in the president remaining in Saudi Arabia.

The Houthis still hold Sanaa and the north-west of Yemen, while also maintaining a siege of the third city of Taiz and launching ballistic missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia.

Both Yemen and Saudi Arabia have large oil production industries. Two of Saudi Arabia’s eastern oil fields were attacked by air in September 2019, causing a disruption to approximately half of the kingdom’s oil production. Although the Houthis claimed to be responsible for the attacks, both Saudi Arabia and the US accused Iran of being responsible for these.

To make matters worse, territory has been seized in the south and attacks carried out in, specifically in Aden, by militants from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the local affiliate of the rival Islamic State group.

A more restrictive blockade of Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition occurred when a ballistic missile was launched in November 2017 towards Riyadh. This blockade was claimed to prevent the smuggling of weapons by Iran to rebels, an accusation denied by Tehran. However, the restrictions lead to significant increases in the cost of food and fuel, ultimately causing major food insecurity throughout Yemen.

The Houthi and Saleh alliance also collapsed in November 2017, due to the occurrence of violent clashes in relation to the control of Sanaa’s largest mosque. Resultant, was the death of Saleh, caused by an operation launched by Houthi fighters to gain full control of the capital.

In June 2018, in an effort to put an end to the war, the Saudi-lead coalition launched a major offensive to capture the Red Sea city of Hudaydah, from the Houthis – its port being a critical lifeline for approximately two thirds of the population of Yemen. The UN warned against the occurrence of a famine, should the port be destroyed, ultimately resulting in a massive loss of life.

Six months on from fighting, a ceasefire was agreed on in Sweden (the Stockholm Agreement). However, there is a fear that the agreement will collapse, leading the fighting to resume.

In July 2019, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a prominent ally of Saudi Arabia in the war, was the subject of international criticism due to its actions. The resultant action was a withdrawal of UAE forces from Yemen.

In August 2019, conflict occurred in the south of the country amongst Saudi-backed government forces and an allied southern separatist movement (the Southern Transitional Council (STC)), who had the support of the UAE.

Forces loyal to the STC, who had accused Mr Hadi of having links to Islamists, seized control of Aden and would not allow the return of the government cabinet, until November of 2019, when Saudi Arabia created a power-sharing deal.

It was hoped that the agreement would put an end to the war. However, in January 2020, there was an increase in fighting between the Houthis and coalition-led forces.

In April 2020, a peace deal signed with the internationally recognised government was broken, due to self-rule being declared by the STC in Aden. This peace deal would have resulted in the internationally recognised government governing the port city and southern provinces.

A unilateral ceasefire announced by Saudi Arabia occurred in the same month due to the coronavirus pandemic. This ceasefire was rejected by the Houthis, who demanded that air and sea blockades should be lifted in both Sanaa and Hudaydah.

The true cost to Yemeni civilians:

By March 2020, the UN estimated the deaths of at least 7,700 Yemeni civilians, in what is described as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Many of these deaths are due to the Saudi-led coalition air strikes.

However, the death toll is estimated to be far higher by monitoring groups. In October of 2019, one such group stated that it had recorded more than 100,000 deaths, including 12,000 civilian lives lost because of direct attacks.

In 2019, more than 23,000 deaths were reported. Malnutrition, disease and poor health have also resulted in the loss of life of thousands more civilians. It has been estimated that 85,000 children who were suffering from acute malnutrition, died between April 2015 and October 2018. About 2 million children are acutely malnourished, including a figure of 360,000 children who are struggling daily to survive.

Approximately 80% of the population need humanitarian assistance and protection, while around 20 million people need assistance with securing food. Half of these people are one step away from famine.

As only half of Yemen’s 3,500 medical facilities are fully functioning, it is estimated that almost 20 million people do not have access to sufficient healthcare. While 18 million people do not have access to adequate levels of clean water or sanitation facilities.

On top of these statistics, the largest cholera outbreak ever recorded has occurred in Yemen, resulting in medics struggling to deal with the number of people needing treatment. The outbreak has resulted more than 2.2 million cases and 3,895 related deaths since October 2016. Yemeni civilians are also at risk of infection due to the coronavirus pandemic, which could potentially cause high levels of fatalities due to the lack of functioning medical facilities and PPE in those that are functioning.

In total, the war has displaced more than 3.65 million people from their homes.

How to help:

The following links will lead you to information on ways in which you can help those suffering in Yemen:

https://donate.unhcr.org/int/yemen/~my-donation (UNHCR)

https://www.unicef.org/emergencies/yemen-crisis (UNICEF)

Sources:

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-29319423

https://www.unicef.org/appeals/yemen_sitreps.html