A Litteral Problem- The cold, hard truth about our ‘100% Pure’ New Zealand

The United States has a bit of a bad reputation for not only its consumerism but also the byproducts of that consumerism – rubbish. This criticism probably has some substance, given that the average daily waste production per capita globally is 1.2 kilograms, while Americans produce a wasteful 2.68 kilograms of rubbish a day per person. Given our focus on New Zealand’s clean green image, we surely would be at the lower scale of things and nowhere near those up-size-loving Americans?

True, we are nowhere near them. We are a lot worse. In a country where some of the largest contributors to our GDP – dairy, beef and lamb exports and tourism – rely on the perception of our clean greenness, we produce 1 kilogram more trash per person per day than those in the US. That’s 3.68 kilograms a day per New Zealander.

With our growing population, our consumers are buying pre-wrapped, easily accessible goods from shops. Imagine all that rubbish that will have the power to destroy what we love, our homes. The quantifying of this problem is making it more and more urgent that we take more notice. What’s this rubbish crisis doing to our environment? Why is this rubbish finding its way into our oceans and what should we all be doing to fix this problem?

What is ‘rubbish’ really?

Rubbish is defined as unwanted matter that is categorised into several groups; it can be found as solid or liquid, clinical, e-waste, hazardous, recyclable, construction or green waste. Our greater reliance on consumables increases the amount of waste we produce, quite obviously. More plastic bottles, more wrappings, more solid wastes. More unwanted worry for the future.
According to Love Southland statistics, on average, New Zealanders uses 1 billion plastic bags a year. The convenience of plastic bags is very alluring, I agree. At a supermarket, customers are seemingly drawn to the immediacy of the instant solution of how to get groceries home. I would be preaching a very hypocritical message if I said I only use the fabric bags to carry my shopping. But, realistically, this has to change – and soon.

Rubbish in our landfills: What’s the problem?

A landfill is a carefully monitored structure of layers where rubbish is placed on a bottom liner, with a frequent covering of nutrients and soil to help the decontamination process.
The oldest form of waste treatment, landfilling is the disposal of unwanted or discarded plastics, organics, paper and/or timber, among other things. The purpose of such a system is to divide the piles of waste to prevent contamination to the surrounding environments and to recycle its core contributors to reuse as a sustainable energy source. New Zealand has a grand total of 116 operating landfills dotted around the country, with several major fills in Auckland. By using this age-old method, the placing of rubbish atop rubbish may not be as silly as it sounds. Contrary to popular belief, rubbish production via landfilling is an essential part of the process. Although it is harmful to the environment, we don’t have many other ways of disposing of our rubbish.
Most companies that own landfills (Waste Management NZ and the council, for example) are always looking for ways to make them more sustainable, like finding methods or ways to reduce the amount of rubbish going to landfills. According to the Ministry for the Environment, in 2011, 2.5 million tonnes of solid waste were disposed of in NZ, a very similar amount to 2010. In 2017, it’s still the same hard grind unfortunately.

“Waste can represent an inefficient use of resources,” they say, “or a loss of resources. Many potentially reusable and recyclable materials such as paper, plastic, organic waste, glass and metal, are disposed of to landfills… Waste can also pollute our waterways, air and land if it is not adequately managed.”

What’s the solution?

Waste Management NZ captures at least 95 percent of the gases made by their landfills (that would normally be harming the environment) and turns them into renewable energy.
Introducing more affordable ways might help in positive ways could cut down on waste going to landfills. The Ministy for the Environment says there are many more ways to cut down the amount of waste directed to municipal landfills.

Rubbish in our oceans: What’s the problem?

New Zealand prides itself on its beaches. Piha, Ninety Mile Beach… the list of seaside spots for your next holiday seems endless. We have an abundancy of life in our seas, with more than 150,000 species. The ocean is a big place; water makes up 71 percent of the earth’s surface. It remains the most untouched place on earth, with less than 5 percent having been explored. In New Zealand, our waterways (oceans, rivers, or waterways etc.) are clogging up with more and more plastic bags, bottles and wrappings. This is turning unfortunately into a major problem.

According to a 2010 statistic taken by Our Seas, Our Future – a non-profit marine conservation advocacy organisation – an estimated 4.8-12.7 million metric tonnes of plastic entered our oceans in 2010. That number will be more in 2017. Polluting the seas is a growing problem, as we thrive on our fishing, using it as a favoured past-time, as well as a way of sustaining our whanau.
And Kiwi rivers – a main source of freshwater to livestock, irrigation and wildlife sustainability – are not free from danger either.

What’s the solution?

With public awareness and perseverance, we can put our heads together and start creating and following solutions that will make a difference. It may be a long process, but it starts with each one of us. The saying: ‘all rivers lead to the sea’ is appropriate to use here; as is the analogy that creating a healthy environment begins at home. We are not only the problem, but we are the solution.
Sea Cleaners, a Kiwi not-for-profit organisation, uses the determination of hard-working New Zealanders to clean up the waterways around the country. “Sea Cleaners has removed more than 4.5 million litres of plastic rubbish and debris from New Zealand’s seas, oceans and waterways since work began,” reads its website.

What do we do with all this rubbish?

To put it simply: waste isn’t going anywhere any time soon. There are several ways, however, to reduce our compiling of it. By working together, we can greatly reduce the extent of the problem with solutions that will benefit the country, in the ways we can reduce and reuse products, like recycling. For example, a water bottle does not need to be used only one time.

Auckland Council is trying its hardest to combat this issue. At the start of this year, it put in place a new initiative of zero waste by 2040, to make Auckland a better place to live. Recycling is of key importance to this process, which the council is trying to work through. It has introduced new initiatives and ways to combat the load of waste going to landfills by colour-coding its bins. By doing this, the rubbish can be placed in separate piles, and distributed to the right landfills. Other parts of the country are standing beside Auckland Council to create a better, 100 percent cleaner New Zealand.

Another way of trying to fix the waste problem in New Zealand is to donate unwanted goods to charities or op-shops. Not-for-profit organisations like Freecycle and DonateNZ take unwanted rubbish or goods, recycle them or sell them on. There are also, dotted around the country, transfer stations in which you can put bags of clothing to go to charities or homes of lesser fortunate people. Auckland Council has recently started up a Seatsmart Scheme, where people are encouraged to donate old children’s car seats. By using this simple method of recycling, New Zealanders can save money, time and energy. The donated seats are “dismantled by prisoners, under the auspices of the Department of Corrections as part of its community work program,” according to the Scheme’s press release.

Giving back to the earth via composting can produce better soil for a cleaner New Zealand. By composting, unwanted biodegradable goods are decomposed to offer richer nutrients back to the soil. Thankfully, there seem to be numerous ways in which New Zealanders can use recycling as a way to reduce their waste, and composting is one of them. It might seem like the easiest thing in the world: to unwrap food from its packaging, and then just chuck wrapping, leftovers and scraps in the bin with no regards as to where it will then go. You think that it’s out of your hands, but think about it: if every person in this tiny little country at the bottom of the world is not separating rubbish and reusing, recycling reducing, every single day, we’ll have an even bigger problem on our hands than we already do.

There have also been recent advancements of new, economically friendly ways to package consumables; these can cut the amount of solid waste going into our landfills and oceans. For example, there is new biodegradable packaging; Ecoware and Rockstocks – both NZ-owned businesses – use natural materials to create biodegradable product. If every food-based organisation eventually joins this band-wagon, the recyclability of food packaging in New Zealand will hopefully cut down on rubbish heading straight for the landfill. Countdown supermarkets have recently put out an initiative to stop using plastic bags by 2018, and New World quickly followed suit. In addition, Countdown has contributed $8 million to community and environmental initiatives.

“Now is the right time to take the lead,” Countdown’s managing director, Dave Chambers says, “[to] phase out single-use plastic carrier bags and introduce better options for customers. This move will result in the removal of 350 million plastic bags from our waste stream and environment. We have been tracking customer sentiment for two years and our most recent research, concluded in August, indicates that 83 percent of our customers support phasing out single-use plastic carrier bags… We’re confident Kiwis will get in behind this change across the country, and we’re committed to making the move away from check-out bags as simple for customers as we can.”

I can only see positives coming out of this.

Around 40 countries have banned plastic bags in their attempts at trying to literally clean up their acts, but NZ doesn’t seem to be budging. We should though. We have tried using the deterrent factor, by charging a 10¢ fee, but people still pay for the convenience. Taxpayers fork out about $4 million a year for the pleasure and convenience of plastic bags. What we need to do to solve this problem is advertise and push the importance of fabric bags, the use of which will definitely help the environment. This could stop millions of bags entering the New Zealand environment, detrimentally harming wildlife or contaminating our waterways.

New Zealanders need to be more educated on rubbish. Yeah, New Zealand’s clean, green image thrives globally. Yeah, whenever you hear of New Zealand, you think of luscious green fields and snow-topped mountains. You think of Hobbiton, or the rugged mountains of Middle-Earth. You think of fishing for trout in Ashburton or going down to Queenstown and experiencing all that is on offer there. The “100% Pure New Zealand” is an important part of strengthening and prioritising the New Zealand brand and international belief that New Zealand is, in fact, clean and green. To keep this world-renowned tagline, we need not only to be educated on the risks of what rubbish might do to us in the future and how it can change our way of living but do something about it too.

We need to be hopeful and active in our country’s fight to try and stay as ‘clean’ and as ‘green’ as possible.