Resolutions are at least a sporting attempt at generating new and hopefully more useful personal behaviours and the week after the solstice – corresponding as it does to the midwinter New Year in our parent European culture – felt as if it needed a sturdy one this year.
Dry July was to hand but aiming for a Plastic Free July – like eating on a poverty-line budget – was always going to take a lot more preparation.
Compelling, though. I’ve been frustrated at humanity’s general lack of progress on the issue. The Volvo round the world yacht race espoused the cause but, as a call to action, barely went past keep-cups and reusable shopping bags. On the island, we have (mostly) mastered the art of the whipping a sturdy shopping bag out for groceries, eschewed takeaway coffee cups and got the environmental horror of discarded water bottles some years ago. We’re primed and ready for action.
However, by comparison, India has announced that their 1.3 billion population will eliminate single-use plastic by 2022. No huffing about. Beach audits and trash-free public monuments started on the spot.
It’s the most ambitious national commitment so far. “The choices we make today will define our collective future,” said Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who presides over what is the world’s fastest-growing economy. “The choices may not be easy but through awareness, technology and a genuine global partnership, I am sure we can join together to beat plastic pollution and make this planet a better place to live.”
Kenya has banned plastic bags and Sri Lanka styrofoam. China is in action on biodegradable bags and Britain’s tax on single-use bags has slashed their use, though their prime minister’s uninspiring pledge to end “avoidable plastic waste” by the end of 2042 is getting flack.
For 70 years, the world’s plastic usage has grown inexorably, humanity now producing roughly its own weight in plastic every year.
I found inventorying my own plastic use interesting. The world since sliced bread has a lot to answer for. Having indulged in in the usual pedantic stuff about grocery pre-packaging and those disgusting meat trays, I found the most effective easy-do was to plan and cook more (with leftovers getting a plate over them instead of the so-shiny gladwrap that anyone who has done a stint in hospitality uses so liberally).
I’ve a splendid collection of eco janitorial bottles for refilling, a stash of bags in the car for unexpected purchases and am stuffing any otherwise-unrecyclable bread bags together to take to the collection point at the island’s supermarket, an initiative for which I give them full marks.
I’ve noticed that friends who are young mothers – however busy – still bake bread routinely and if I have time left over from preparing work lunches that don’t involve store-bought plastic pottles or sneak packaging, I’ll make bread once a week.
A muslin cloth, cut up and washable, can do duty instead of makeup removal wipes and there’s an option out there for knitting our own from cotton yarn. We can also buy or make our own washable, bees-waxed cloth food coverings from op shop fabrics.
If I found a need for business packaging, I’ve stored away the knowledge that some clever kiwi has worked out how to remodel polystyrene into any shape I want.
And while I can buy a bamboo toothbrush and source a toothpaste that comes in glass, I still miss that composite board to use in the garden that Waiheke’s Clean Stream waste initiative developed as a product to use old toothpaste tubes and similar, unrecyclable plastic detritus that we so successfully diverted from the island’s waste stream up until 2009.
From here on in the plastics debate, ‘single-use’ is out. ‘Full recapture’ has to be the name of the game.
This week we welcome cartoonist Isla Treadwell to our pages to capture the anachronistic and quirky side of island life. • Liz Waters