Friday, 27 April 2018

The 7 Rs of Recycling

I read with horror recently that we Kiwis dump 734kgs of plastic, per head of population, per annum (Morton, 14 April 2018).  And, of course, China is no longer taking the plastic crap we antipodeans race through. This single use plastic equates to the weight of a family sedan, each year, for each family member. Madness.

Yep, I am not perfect, but I am trying to be more thoughtful. I already take mesh bags for veges to the supermarket, and have my own cloth shopping bags for well over ten years. I leave a full set in the car and have a couple of spares folded up in my bag to ensure I rarely take a plastic bag home with me. 

Yet it is at the fruit and vege or meat departments that I get stuck with plastic most often. I try to shop at the greengrocer, but even they have packaged tomatoes in plastic punnets. I use mesh, draw-string bags for vege or ingredient shopping and put them through the washing machine between shops. It is also easy to wash vege purchases when I get home instead of stressing about dirt on the supermarket belts. 

Germans do returnable glass bottles for fizzy water, which cost about 17 cents per bottle: just as we Kiwis used to do thirty or forty years ago. I very rarely buy bottled anything. I have a soda stream to create sparkling mineral water, and we juice our own surplus apples which we bottle each year in Agee jars (though I have heard that Perfit seals are about to disappear from Supermarket shelves <sigh>). Bonus: our juice is spray- and additive-free. 

German manufacturers also have to take back - I think - 60% of their packaging and the good itself once it is past its use-by date. We don't have that infrastructure here, and may never be able to have it due to our low population and remoteness, but we can take action in some other ways.

Following reading the Morton and Barton articles (14 April 2018; 17 April 2018), I have decided to take action in a small way by refusing. What I have done in the past is to refuse to purchase plastic packaged veg. However, now if I am unable to buy product without packaging, I am going to buy it, but simply leave the packaging at the checkout. Yes, I know this is pushing disposal back on the retailer, but we pay for the plastic - and theoretically disposal - in our purchase price. If enough of us did this, I think this might have an effect via the retailers, by them asking wholesalers/growers to reduce plastic packaging (or options without plastic).

As I have mentioned in previous posts (here and here), NZ the only things that are consistently recycled are about half our glass and steel and some of our paper. We have one steel resmelter for the whole country, which is in the North Island (the Cook and Foveaux Straits prevent steel from the South or Stewart Islands being recycled through the cost of shipping). There is no aluminium resmelter in NZ, so, when combined with shipping cost, the price of aluminium has to be very high for recycling to be worthwhile. We used to ship our plastics to China, which is no longer possible as the Chinese don't want the pollutants (Australia is in the same boat). While there is a small plant which recycles PET in Wellington (Flight Plastics) this is small as yet - and no material from the South Island gets recycled. As a consequence we landfill pretty much everything that is collected as recycling. All of that 734kg of plastic/person/year goes to landfill (including the 'soft' plastics collection initiative being run by Countdown). 

I troubles me that we are only now starting to talk about banning plastic grocery bags, despite the 734kgs each we accumulate. We are not yet considering the wasteful fruit and vege packaging, meat trays, cheese packets, yoghurt pots, sandwich triangles, styrofoam, melamine, polystyrene, plastic lids, bottles, takeaway containers, cling-film or non-consumable goods packaging. And bottles, bottles, bottles, bottles. Milk, cream, fizzy, water, sauces, juice...

There is a list containing in-built priorities about the order in which we can consider each item that we use. There are seven priorities are: (1) Refuse, (2) Repair, (3) Reduce, (4) Reuse, (5) Repurpose, (6) Rot/compost, ... and very last, (7) Recycle. We continuously talk about recycling like it is the most important point, instead of the last stop on the road to the tip. 

If we are going to change our habits, we need to start with refuse (to rhyme with fuse), not refuse (to rhyme with puce). Nice pun... let’s keep it a clean one from now on.



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