Remember the days when the things we bought weren’t packaged in plastic, were built to last, and were repaired when broken? To solve our future waste problems, we need to take a look back at those days.
I read a sign recently that said: “If it can’t be reduced, reused, repaired, rebuilt, refurbished, refinished, resold, recovered, recycled or composted, then it should be restricted, redesigned or removed from production.” That pretty much sums it up. We live in a throw-away society, and that’s got to change. We have to rethink waste, starting with not creating it in the first place.
Waste is a human invention. No ecological system knows waste; everything that is higher up in the food chain breaks down and is eaten by something lower down, with the micro-organisms and decomposers in the soil doing the ultimate recycling job.
I moved to Matakana over 30 years ago with my late husband, Joe Polaischer. A few years later, we started running environmental education courses on our property, Rainbow Valley Farm. One of the very first courses we ran, way back in 1991, was on Waste Reduction.
Sadly, the situation has got much worse since then. New Zealand is among the highest producers of urban waste in the developed world. And one of the worst offenders is single-use plastic. It’s insidious and has crept into every part of our lives.
But there is hope. Over the last few years there’s been a huge rise in awareness, and action is happening; we’re seeing plastic bags disappear from our supermarkets, for example. That’s a start. Perhaps it’s because we’ve all seen those horrendous pictures of plastic waste covering beaches in the Philippines, Indonesia and India. And the seals, dolphins and other sea creatures caught up in plastic. Plastic fragments have been found in the most remote oceans; even Antarctica. We’ve been made aware of the serious greenhouse gas emissions from plastic packaging production and the recent Climate Change Report warning of the dire consequences of not reducing emissions.
It may also have something to do with China’s decision in 2018 to stop importing other countries’ rubbish for recycling. And closer to home, we don’t like the prospect of a new super-sized landfill in the pristine Dome Valley.
So what can we do as individuals, right now, to cut waste? The best place to start is to focus on what we buy and bring into our homes. How much plastic can we avoid? Before buying anything new, stop and think: “What will happen to this item and its packaging once I’ve finished with it?” If the answer is “landfill”, consider whether there is another option.
By Trish Allen,