Oliver Vetter knows his trash. Seriously. He’s seen it all and isn’t afraid to tell you the hard truths. The Wellington programme manager for our partner charity Sustainable Coastlines sits down to separate fact from fallacy and let us know what we really need to do to keep our coastlines clean and beautiful.
I recently read an article in The Guardian entitled ‘We won’t save the Earth with a better kind of disposable coffee cup’. I’m not sure if the author thinks his readers have their heads in the sand but I’ve not met anyone who thought that their coffee cup consumption would save the earth; and I meet some weirdos, I can tell you.
The author, George Monbiot, goes on to make some good points about cultural changes and some strange, out-of-context digs at David Attenborough for not doing enough to tackle overfishing (Note: No one wins by taking digs at David Attenborough) but the question remains: How do we see, and therefore tackle, the issue of single use plastics on a daily basis?
We at Sustainable Coastlines pick up a lot of rubbish, mostly from beaches, and we count almost all of it. I reckon this gives us as good idea as anyone about what sort of stuff ends up in the places it shouldn’t. The numbers are mind-numbingly predictable: Almost 80% of what we find on the beach are single use plastics. The most common ones include food wrappers, bottle caps and lids, plastic bags and polystyrene foam.
Running through this list, it’s easy rattle off the same tips: “Don’t litter! Use a reusable bag! Take a reusable cup with you! Refuse straws: Reuse! Reduce Recycle!” It’s an old tune.
Our beaches aren’t covered in rubbish because of naughty kids throwing cans out of the window (although that doesn’t help). Our beaches are covered in rubbish because we are separated from our food and our environment. It’s important for us to focus on eating healthier foods as this immediately reduces our packaging consumption and litter. We are all responsible for the litter we find on the beaches. It spills from our bins and overflows from our landfills. Given that, here are my five tips for reducing our beach litter.
PLANT A GARDEN: Watching something grow – nurturing it, feeding it, watering it and then ravenously devouring it – is one of the most satisfying things any human can do. There’s no waste, no gas used to ship it to the store, no gas to get it from the store, no packaging, no worker exploitation, no chemicals. Be warned: gardening is highly addictive and can be contagious. In the words of the amazing Gangster Gardener in L.A (Ron Findlay): “Kids that grow tomatoes eat tomatoes; kids that grow kale eat kale.” If you really can’t plant a garden then try and learn where your food comes from. Check out the ingredients and get to know them. If you can’t pronounce the name of an ingredient it’s probably not great for you. If you can’t recognise the name as food, chances are your body won’t either.
STOP SMOKING: Seriously, why does anyone still smoke? Everyone’s got a mate or two who does. Tell your mates that smoking hasn’t been cool since the 1950’s and those cool guys and are all now dead, mostly of smoking-related diseases. Remember the Marlboro Man? Yeah, he’s dead. But other than the obvious health implications, cigarette butts are not biodegradable and literally poison the water they end up in. There are more chemicals in a cigarette butt than in the tobacco. I see perfectly reasonable people who would never otherwise litter throw their cigarette butts into the drain. There are a ridiculous amount on beaches. Tell your mates to stop it, the scumbags.
DON’T DRINK BOTTLED WATER: New Zealand is lucky enough to have some of the best tap water in the world. Soda companies know this. Because they aren’t selling as much of their nasty high-fructose corn syrup, they’re bottling a free product and selling it back to us at twice the price of gasoline. Then they package it and market it in a sporty-looking bottle that basically lasts forever. It’s brilliant really; a triumph of marketing over sanity and they’re laughing all the way to the bank. Don’t fall for it.
EAT A BIT LESS MEAT: This is a tough one for Kiwis – it’s hard to find a cupcake without bacon on it – but the meat industry is responsible for massive amounts of packaging, water use and atmospheric carbon pesticide. In New Zealand 1kg of beef requires a mammoth 16,000 litres of water – so that Quarter Pounder you’re craving used around 1,600 litres of water. By not eating that burger, you save the equivalent of 220 toilet flushes of water, let alone the nasty polystyrene tray they put it on. And finally…
GO FOR A NICE LONG HIKE: Nothing opens your eyes to single use packaging like a three-day hike into the native bush. If you pack it in, you pack it out and you will really notice and learn to hate the packaging. Enjoy the amazing natural beauty we all have at our fingertips, get to know and love the places we’re trying to protect and drag your mates with you, halfway up the Tararuas, or paddling in a headwind around the Abel Tasman. That way, they will quit smoking.