Plastic, it’s literally everywhere! It’s wrapped around our food, it’s in our clothing, our carpets, and now it’s on our oceans and our food chain.
The invention of plastic in the early 1900s was an environmental breakthrough, replacing the unstainable use of animal and wood products like ivory and tortoiseshell. By the 1960s plastic had gone beyond being a product used to make durable goods to its now pervasive form as packaging. And it is this single use plastic that has turned the tide.
Scientific America states that in the last half of the twentieth century over a billion tonnes of plastic was produced. This amount was doubled again in just the first decade of this century, proving that despite our knowledge of the problem it causes, our consumption of plastic is not slowing.
It is estimated that every New Zealander uses 31kgs of plastic packaging a year, of which only 5.5kg is recycled. Every piece of plastic ever made still remains somewhere, in some form in the environment. It seems ludicrous that a product made to last forever is used as a disposable item, yet that is what we are doing in an ever-increasing way.
So what can we do?
Reduce, reuse, recycle are the three Rs we need to focus on when trying to reduce our waste. The three Rs are helpful for any type of waste, be it food, clothing or, in this case, plastic. Ten years ago it was uncommon to see someone bring their own bag to the supermarket, now this is the norm. Where else in our lives can we eliminate the needless single use plastic?
Many local cafes see first hand the use of single use plastic in the name of convenience with our takeaway coffee obsession. Both the Bikery and The Shack have mug libraries which means you can burrow a cup to take that coffee away, even if you’ve forgotten your keep cup. Hayes Common is going one step further and hoping to stop using takeaway coffee cups altogether by this winter.
Kitchens have long relied on the likes of cling film to safely store food, and this was something Jana Hart noticed when they took over The Bikery Café a few years ago. Since then they have invested in reusable containers food can be stored in.
Justin from The Shack says, “It’s a bit of an investment, but over the years we have collected a good amount of containers that last and we have got rid of plastic wrap all together.” He admits this also means getting a little creative.
Justin also says that “we have been a bit selective about who we purchase from. Some suppliers use less single use plastic and are more in line with our ethos. Xtreme Zero Waste in Raglan are amazing advocates for reducing plastic waste and recently conducted an inspection or our waste, giving feedback on how we could do better, which was super helpful.”
Lisa from Hayes Common has also looked at their supply chain and how that can influence their use of single use plastic and thus get their milk in a keg instead of plastic bottles as well as growing their own microgreens and garnishes, all of which would normally come in plastic containers.
Alex from The Flower Crate has also looked at their supply chain to try and eliminate the plastic packaging coming into their business. They source flowers directly from growers before they are packaged to be sent to market or from growers who don’t use plastic packaging. And this ethos continues when you buy flowers from The Flower Crate, as all their bouquets are plastic free. “Oasis – the mother of all plastics” according to Alex – is used by the majority of florists but is an absolute no-go at The Flower Crate. Their flowers are kept fresh with Good Change bamboo wraps in a compostable dog poo bag and then wrapped in tissue paper.
Reuse is Kristyn from the Sunday Society’s mantra. She even has staff bringing in packaging from things they have had delivered. “I’m a big fan of the meal-box cooler bags and boxes,” says Kristyn, who thinks sometimes she should leave a note with our online orders explaining the mish mash of packaging their goods may arrive in. Funnily enough, Kristyn’s discovered her packaging reusing is part of a chain when she got chatting to a supplier in the Netherlands who reuses the packaging his son’s bicycle company gets when they import bikes from Japan.
Purchasing products like Good Change refillable cleaning bottles, (available from The Flower Crate) or Everydaily, (available from Sunday Society) reduces your single use plastic by using concentrates to refill and thus reuses the bottles over and over again. Plus, these are both local Kiwi companies helping create a solution.
Before you purchase something check its plastic number. Only 1, 2 and 5 plastics can currently be recycled. While washing, sorting and recycling your plastic is an essential step, go one further and look for products made from recycled plastic.
The Flower Crate have Mimmi Terra market totes, made from recycled polyethylene. This, Alex says, “is a tote worthy of a weekend escape and the essential trips to the Farmers Market”.
It is estimated by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish! The problem keeps getting worse. Officials estimate the amount of plastic ending up in landfill will double over the next ten years.
Words Vicki Ravlich-Horan