News flash: We have a waste problem, and it’s not going anywhere.
Until last year, all of our plastic recycling was shipped overseas. In March, China declared it would stop recycling the world’s plastic, saying the country’s environment had reached its limit of leached chemicals. This policy triggered a ‘moment of reckoning’ for the world’s recycling industry, New Zealand included.
So, where has all the plastic been going since then? It seems we’ve been shipping it to Malaysia and Australia instead.
Most councils say the problem is New Zealand’s size – we’re producing far more waste than our infrastructure can process. We’re guessing you, like most Kiwis, probably weren’t aware our plastic was being sent abroad. We throw milk bottles and yoghurt pots into the recycling and pat ourselves on the back, but that’s not exactly ‘job done.’
The good news?
Fortunately, it’s not all doom and gloom. Here’s how you can do your bit for the environment:
The UK is looking at policies to encourage businesses to be responsible for their own recycling, which will hopefully spur plastic producers to take action toward better packaging options. Pressure from the government and consumers can incite real change.
Katie Hine’s wonderful interview in the Autumn Issue helps you suss out just how much waste you produce. For it to be worth it, you have to be honest. Then use the results to motivate you towards change.
Don’t shy away when you see something that should be changed. Write to your local MP, businesses or employer about whatever it is that needs their attention. The more often these issues are raised, the more likely alternative options will be put in place.
Beware of ‘greenwashing’
There’s a flurry of confusing terms out there to describe different packaging options, so the key is understanding those that are actually worth investing in. Greenwashing is when brands market their products as environmentally conscious without any of the credentials to back it up. Unfortunately, companies are taking advantage of the rising interest in green-living to make a profit. So, be on your guard, check the fine print and always ask questions.
What about compostable packaging?
Get to know your terminology to figure out a solution that works for you. Below we outline a few environmental marketing buzzwords to help you steer clear of greenwashing campaigns:
Biodegradable: If something’s biodegradable, microbes are essentially using the product for food and the products leftover are ‘simple chemical elements’. There are two problems to be aware of – firstly, the conditions for the product to break down need to be perfect, and secondly, the leftover elements can be toxic.
Compostable: This usually means an item will break down in certain conditions of heat and nitrogen within 12 weeks. Unfortunately, you can’t just chuck these items in your home composter because they need more intense, consistent conditions to break down (plus there’s no guarantee that nasty toxins won’t leach out).
Certified compostable: This is the same as compostable, but nothing harmful will sneak out in the process. Non-toxic compost? Yes please.
Home compostable: The good stuff. Pretty self-explanatory, right? It means you can compost at home with a natural break-down process and no pesky toxins.
Eco-friendly: Greenwashing alert! Eco-friendly really could mean anything. Even if the packaging is made out of recycled materials or sustainable things like bamboo, it doesn’t always mean it can be disposed of in an eco-friendly way. Be a little sceptical of this one.
While there seems to be a long road ahead in terms of waste management, it’s important to remember that positive changes are happening. At the beginning of last year, all supermarkets offered free plastic bags – now they’re all plastic bag free. There are loads of new affordable zero waste options on the market, too. Jump on Google and have a look.
It’s about making sustainable changes in your routine – these things don’t happen overnight.
We also encourage you to get connected with like-minded people on social media, such as the Zero Waste NZ Facebook page. Blogs, Instagram, Twitter – there are plenty of places to find inspiration and support.
To check out our full-length feature, grab your copy of the Sustainability Issue now.
Photography By Jordan Reid Of J. Photo & Co.