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.
Joe Bloggs may be a tidy Kiwi, but ‘tidy’ is not the kind of Kiwi that New Zealand needs right now. It’s fine to keep rubbish off the streets, but the real problem is the amount of plastic being used and thrown away on a daily basis. Let’s have a look then, at some of the very real facts about single use plastics (or SUPs). Joe would be horrified to learn, for example, that of the 322 metric tonnes of plastic produced each year worldwide, only 14 percent are recycled. Or that every year, New Zealanders go through enough plastic bottles to fill 700 jumbo jets.
Do tigers eat plastic? And why does it matter that plastic bags look like Jellyfish in the water? We went out to see our partner charity Sustainable Coastlines in action at South Wairarapa school Kuranui College, as they educate kids about the little things they can do to protect our marine creatures against the dangers of plastic waste.
Sustainable Coastlines exists to show some love to our coasts. Their projects motivate volunteers and communities around Aotearoa and the Pacific to look after the coastlines we all love.
You are fighting the good fight on behalf of our beautiful ocean. What got you involved in this great work?
I love surfing and freediving for kaimoana. When I was doing this in the Galapagos Islands we came across hideous amounts of plastic that had washed up from overseas. It was killing endemic animals and was obviously wrong. So we decided to do something about it and started picking it up.
Tell us about special moment you have had working with Sustainable Coastlines.
There's too many to name really, but receiving a song from Wymondley Road School who came out from Otara to Aotea/Great Barrier Island with us to clean up and knowing that it was the first time most of them had ever been to the beach was pretty cool. Other standouts would include spending an hour up close in the water with a humpback whale mother and calf the same week that we removed 50 tonnes of rubbish from the coast of the Ha'apai Islands in Tonga and getting a big tube at cloud break during a work trip wasn't bad either.
One Percent Collective donors have given over $5,000 since last November to Sustainable Coastlines to help you reach your goals. Tell us about the great work you and the volunteers have been doing.
Since last November we have educated 17,303 people. These people have ranged from 5 year olds, to offenders to people from the United Nations who are developing the Global Partnership for Marine Litter, where our suggestion of using open sourced tools was adopted internationally.
We started measuring behavioural change through surveys with professional psychologists and are proud to confirm what we always suspected - that the educational presentations are having a big impact right where it needs to happen.
We have also motivated 4,201 people to get up off their arse and remove 50,582 litres of rubbish from the coast (nearly five tonnes which is heaps considering that most of it is single-use plastic which is really light).
2013 has also seen us ramp up our work on restoring waterways and we ran an epic event in Raglan, where we have transformed a large peninsula through educating and then managing Community Probation Service workers, then planting it out with the local school and volunteers. The wide-ranging outcomes from this event (among others) has resulted in me making the call to focus largely on working in prisons in 2014 - there are so many people who need to rebuild their pride and we are finding ways to give them that chance while also benefiting our communities, waterways and coastlines.
How can people get involved with Sustainable Coastlines?
The first thing they can do is love their own coastlines. Everything ends up down there, so if we love them, then we shouldn't let anything dirty them. This means not dropping rubbish, or pouring paint down the drain, or dirty water from the car wash - these are easy things. Otherwise, people should come along to one of our events, or the workshops where we teach people how they can get up and make a difference effectively, all of which they can find on www.sustainablecoastlines.org.