The invention of plastic served a pressing environmental problem. Before plastic, ivory, tortoiseshell and other animal products, along with various woods, were used to make everyday products and this was not sustainable.
In 1909 Belgium chemist Leo Baekeland created the first entirely synthetic plastic—Bakelite. Lightweight, durable, resistant to heat and non-conductive, it could be moulded into nearly any shape. So it was no surprise manufacturers realised its potential and it began being used for everything from jewellery to kitchenware, clocks to electrical fittings.
Bakelite ushered in an era of attractive, affordable and convenient consumable goods. By the 1960s plastic had gone beyond being a product used to make durable goods to being used for packaging. Now plastic is so pervasive in our world it is hard to escape!
Every piece of plastic ever made still remains somewhere, in some form, in the environment. Scientific America states that in the last half of the twentieth century over one billion tonnes of plastic was produced. Double this again was produced in just the first decade of this century. It is clear plastic has its place and can be very useful, but our excessive use needs to stop and the first place to start is with unnecessary single-use plastic.
The top four single-use plastics—plastic bags, water bottles, takeaway coffee cups and straws—are also possibly the easiest to stop using. Plastic Free July is an initiative that began in Perth in 2011 and challenges you to refuse single-use plastic in July.
While recycling is important, Plastic Free July focuses on refusing, reducing and reusing.
Plastic bags are the second most common type of ocean refuse, after cigarette butts.
It’s estimated up to 1 trillion plastic bags are used worldwide, that’s two million a minute! Add to this the average plastic carry bag is only used for 12 minutes. Plastic bags are not only a huge waste of precious resources they are also a major cause of pollution, which is why there is a groundswell against their use.
Reusing your plastic shopping bag to line your rubbish bin or as a doggy do bag only extends the use of the bag ever so slightly but does little to mitigate the damage plastic bags do. In fact, these bags will now never be recycled, instead they will clog our landfill.
Plastic Bag Free Raglan is spearheaded by Whaingaroa Environment Centre, the Raglan Chamber of Commerce and Xtreme Zero Waste. The group officially launched last July with the goal of making Raglan plastic bag free by 2019. At the time it was estimated 80,000 single use plastic bags were being used in Raglan each year. XX says the group targeted single use plastic bags “because this is low hanging fruit of our consumerism behaviour change—there are alternatives readily available and it is a simple, achievable goal”.
The group have achieved a lot in just one year from distributing 2500 jute bags to creating education modules for local schools, which includes getting the students to make a reusable bag from an old T-shirt as well as ongoing publicity on the subject.
Supporting the work Plastic Bag Free Raglan are doing, Bag It Raglan also launched in July last year. Meeting once a month the group makes reusable cloth bags for the community to use.
Herbal Dispensary in Raglan have led the charge for a Plastic Free Raglan and no longer offer plastic bags to customers. Instead they offer several alternatives from boxes to reusable bags.
Plastic Bag Free Hamilton East
The concept of creating free reusable bags for all to use and encouraging both consumers and retailers to stop using plastic bags is something Sarah McCullagh from Plastic Bag Free Hamilton East is working on. “The goal is to rid the village of plastic bags.”
Sarah says they had made many changes at home to cut down their plastic from being conscious about where they shop and what they bought but wanted to find a way to encourage others, both businesses and consumers, to change some bad habits. Believing she would never be completely ready Sarah dove in and has been pounding the pavement talking to local businesses trying to get them on board.
Material is donated and then a team of volunteers get together for a sewing bee. Sarah is quick to point out you don’t have to be seamstress to volunteer. If taking command of a sewing machine is too daunting, cutting out the pattern or adding the Plastic Bag Free Hamilton East screen print are also important jobs.
Look out for the first bags at great Hamilton East shops like Hearth Juice Bar and Grocer, who have been among the first to embrace the concept. Or follow Plastic Bag Free Hamilton East on Facebook to keep up to date on how you can help.
Boomerang Bags Tauranga
Boomerang Bags in Tauranga is a community driven initiative tackling plastic pollution at a grassroots level. Originating in Australia, Boomerang Bags began in 2013 when co-founders Tania Potts and Jordyn de Boer came together with the dream of reducing plastic bags within their community of Burleigh Heads.
With the help of a growing number of supporters and hundreds of dedicated volunteers, the concept has spread across Oz and now New Zealand. Charlotte Manville is behind the Tauranga chapter, which has made over 500 reusable bags since its launch in October 2016.
Charlotte says, ”The availability of free, reusable bags reduces the need for single-use plastic bags, and the encouragement to ‘borrow and bring back’ works to foster the sustainable mentality of re-use in the long term.”
You’ll find a box with Boomerang Bags along with information on the concept by Bravo in Red Square, Tauranga. The team at Bravo put it out each day enabling central city shoppers who have forgotten their own bags to borrow one to either keep and continue to use, or to return on their next visit.
The bags are hand made by community groups, schools and volunteers using donated second-hand materials keeping the initiative local and sustainable. Charlotte says, “Regular Boomerang Bag sewing bees provide a platform to engage and connect the community with a positive environmental initiative.”
Want to get involved?
Email Charlotte on firstname.lastname@example.org or follow Boomerang Bags NZ on Facebook
With our growing appetite for coffee we have been forced to consider the impact of our daily habit.
New Zealand’s obsession with coffee has us ranked as the 13th highest consumers of coffee in the world, surpassing the US and Australia.
Many of us insist on drinking Fairtrade sustainably grown coffee with organic milk yet the Achilles heel for sustainable coffee is the takeaway cup it is more likely to come in.
In New Zealand we use more than 200 million disposable cups every year, according to foodservice packaging company Huhtamaki. Environmentalist Tim Silverwood says disposable cups will probably outlast the drinker’s time on Earth.
This is why an international coalition of NGOs says, “The billions of disposable coffee cups thrown away each year globally should be replaced with reusable ones because they are a waste of resources and harm forests.”
The problem with takeaway coffee cups is that many people believe, because they are often made from paper, they are compostable, but as they are lined with polyethylene plastic this is not the case. This plastic layer stops the cup leaking or going soggy but also means they can’t be recycled in New Zealand. Nearly all, therefore, end up in landfill.
Someone who consumes five takeaway coffees a week produces 14kg of waste a year.
Even cups marketed as compostable pose issues. For a cup to be genuinely compostable it has to get to a composting facility. Paul Evans from waste industry body WasteMINZ explains the challenges. “Most things can be recycled in theory,” he says. “But ultimately it comes down to whether they are economically viable to recycle and if infrastructure is available in the specific region.”
The award winning IdealCup is New Zealand’s first reusable, ‘barista grade’ takeaway cup, better still it is designed and manufactured in New Zealand. When it finally comes to the end of its useful life it can be put out with your household recycling.
Nick Fry developed the reusable cup after giving his coffee roastery and cafe business an environmental audit. Some serious persistence and a lot of tinkering to get the cups just right resulted in an award-winning product manufactured here in New Zealand.
With not only an understanding of the coffee business and cafes as well as the issues around takeaway cups, the team at IdealCup are keen to encourage cafes to develop programmes around rewarding customers for using reusable cups, or better still charging more for those using takeaway cups. The theory of disincentivising consumers is backed up by a study from Cardiff University that points out “the plastic bag charge in England had been so successful that it showed a charge on coffee cups could work too”.
It’s true, IdealCups are made from plastic, but if, like me, you have dropped and smashed three glass reusable cups in as many months, the fact IdealCups bounce is an added bonus! The BPA free, microwave and dishwasher safe cups are also loved by baristas as they fit perfectly under their coffee machine. They don’t develop a smell, stain or taint!
Stephanie Fry from IdealCups also points out that “by keeping our production local and using sustainable products for manufacturing, we minimise our carbon footprint, offer opportunities for local businesses and keep skills on shore”.
Nourish and Idealcup have joined forces and created our own fabulous Idealcup you’ll want to have everywhere you go.
When it comes to disposable containers, no product gets as much flak as the plastic water bottle. Criticised for its contents (which is usually freely available from a tap) as well as for its packaging, these portable bottles can cause quite a stir! Plastic bottles are an environmental nightmare at every point of their existence, from the amount of crude oil they require to make through to the litter they create.
For every six plastic bottles bought, it is estimated only one is recycled so five are thrown away to eventually end up in landfills, or the ocean.
According to National Geographic, if we take into consideration the energy required to manufacture, transport and dispose of plastic water bottles in the United States, between 15–17 million barrels of oil (enough to fuel more than 100,000 cars for an entire year) are used each year in order to meet consumer demands. To put this into perspective, the Pacific Institute in California says that producing bottled water (including all stages from manufacturing the plastic to chilling the bottles for use) takes approximately 2000 times the energy required to produce tap water.
In New Zealand, where the water from our taps is some of the best in the world, we have no excuse to say no to bottled water! The options for usable water bottles are vast and readily available.
Megan from Red Kitchen says she loves the 24 Bottles which have a carbon zero footprint. “You can also use the calculator on their website to work out the carbon emissions you save by not using plastic bottles for hydration.”
Could straws be the last straw?
These seemingly innocuous objects contribute a huge amount of plastic pollution while providing a completely unnecessary job.
In the U.S. they use 500 million straws a day! That is enough straw waste to wrap the circumference of the earth 2.5 times or to fill Yankee Stadium over nine times in a year! Now imagine that magnified by global consumption!
If you can make one change, refuse the straw.