Tuesday, August 30, 2016

a story of life

Well after 5 years and almost 4 months the last of my stuff made it's way from Pukepoto to Kaitaia. I now have my captain's chair in my room, and additionally I now have a new (to me) cabinet that has a drop down cupboard door that acts as a desk. So now when I'm working from home I'm no longer either sitting on my bed or the sofa with my laptop on one of those bed trays that one of Phyllis' sons made for a school project around 50 years ago! Not that I have any plans to relinquish the tray, it's still going to be very handy, but ergonomically it isn't a cunning plan for lengthy use.

It was a bit strange really to bring away that last bit of my stuff, I lived there for four years and a month - so less time than I've been here, yet somehow it feels like it was way longer. Probably as so many big changes went on in my life there. I went from being on a visitor visa, to a student one, to a working towards full registration one, to permanent residency. I bumped into someone I used to see quite often in the years I was living at Pukepoto in the Post Office yesterday, he was posting off new passports for visa stickers to be added and we commiserated over the hold and amount of funds the Immigration has (had for me now!) over our lives. Marking the passage of time by what visa I have held seems perfectly normal. Not that the last five years have been 'samey', I got my citizenship and Kiwi passport whilst living here after all!

I put this photo of the chair and 'desk' on Facebook earlier, quickly downloaded off the camera, with no edits. When I came to put it on here I was about to crop it down, then really took note as to what was around the edges; my 'Triennial mug' on the shelf behind the glass door which has been used for pens etc for probably as many years now as it was used as a mug; my rather faded Guatemalan patchwork bedspread bought in Flores the one time I got to go to visit one of our overseas projects when I worked for an international development charity; my old purple dressing gown which apart from being wonderfully warm and snuggley is a reminder of the importance of being able to wear what you choose (long story...); and the first patchwork quilt I ever made... my first ever patchwork project is the photo too - the cushion cover on the chair was made from a Liberty patchwork kit I got when I was about 11 or 12, it got completed about 10yrs later! So a snapshot not only of the present, but of many chunks of my past, and the journey that led to me being here with them, and once I'd thought about them that way I couldn't bring myself to crop them out.

All too often details round the edges get cut off to improve the aesthetics of a picture, but they can provide a supporting narrative which is easily lost. What to cut out and what to keep.... the decluttering dilemma in a nutshell! As a (very part time) genealogist the idea of keeping things for posterity that tells the story of a people has a huge pull, and very much shaped my hoarding years. But I've learned to let go of 'stuff'; photos of everyday life can tell a lot of a story, without having to keep boxes and boxes of stuff to prove it happened, although I'll certainly be hanging on to my multi-stickered passport for a few years yet! So I'm going to try to remember that when editing photos, sometimes historical value is more important than art! Now if only I could manage to combine the two more effectively...

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Plastic Free July and all that

Whoa, where did August get to? I started this at the beginning of the month and figured I'd best get it finished before September got here!

Whilst this is the 3rd year I've done the Plastic Free July challenge, it is the first time I've known others doing it. I put posters up about it at the EcoCentre last year, but whilst various folk commented on it to me and said it was a good idea no-one said they would give it a go. However it turns out that several of them did, and this year they were willing to push it further within our local community.

Three times in July we've had stalls at the market, along with a bottle buy-back scheme with a grant from the Far North District Council where folk could get 10c refund for every clean, lidless, number 1 plastic (PET) bottle they brought along. We had $500 to give away, but it has taken all three market days plus some additional time at the EcoCentre to work through less than half of it. It takes time to bring about a change in people's habits, and whilst every weekend in July would've been better in terms of promoting the scheme it would've been much harder on our volunteers, especially as the first Saturday in July was a very cold and frosty morning! (yes, frosty. In Kaitaia, the so-called 'Winterless North'!). Momentum is building for a national container deposit scheme like they have in South Australia, so there is hope of bringing about change and getting more plastic, glass and aluminium recycled. But it would be better still if we didn't use so much plastic in the first place. We've had another 'buy-back' earlier this month and have got one last push this Saturday where we hope to hand out the rest

I was working at the EcoCentre the other day when a woman came in assuming we were the i-Site (Tourist Information Centre), this is far from unusual as they used to be in the building we use, but shifted almost 4yrs ago into Te Ahu when it was opened. But rather than head straight back out when I pointed her in the right direction to find them (all of 100m away, if that) she asked So what is this place then? I saw your 'say no to single use plastic' sign, it's something I know I need to do more about, but don't know where to start. Well about half an hour later she headed off with lots to think about and some ideas to bring about change in the flat she shares in Auckland. Like many people she knows the theory of what to do, but gets stuck on the practice. Habits, as I said, take time to change. I have always found it easiest to change one thing at a time, and once it becomes normal practice and you don't have to think about it any more then add in something new.

For me a simple step was always carry around with me a cloth shopping bag. I've added to that more recently by also having a wee pouch with some cotton bags that I get flour, grains etc in from the bulk bins at the health food shop, and some net bags for produce, or larger bulk bin items like nuts that are big enough not to work their way out of the mesh. They are always there, like my purse, my keys and (usually!) my phone. That way I don't have to think about it when I go shopping, and if I want to impulse shop after (or even at) work I don't find myself caught short needing to use plastic bags.

One of the questions our visitor asked was about plastic bin liners, how do you manage without them? Well in our kitchen we do use a plastic carrier bag as a bin liner, but we empty that into the rubbish sack in the garage and re-use the bag until it gets too torn. It doesn't get very dirty as we rinse any food containers out before putting them in there, and we compost, and wash then recycle far more than we throw away. We could of course not use a liner and wash the bin out more often, or make newspaper liners, but that is a step yet to be taken in this household. I explained that I stopped having a bin in every room, if you have to walk to a different room to dispose of your rubbish it is mentally easier to ensure you put it in the recycling or compost rather than landfill. I was asked about sanitary towels etc, what did I do about those? Well having used a menstrual cup for years until no longer required that hadn't been problem for me, and I now use homemade washable pantiliners daily as what remains of my menstrual cycle is minimal but highly irregular. But between us we figured out that a pile of paper bags in the bathroom, or even old newspaper, would mean there was something to put sanitary towels in before taking them to a central bin.

Having someone else to problem-solve our dilemmas with is why forums such as the Plastic Free July Facebook page come in to their own, even better are local support groups. That is why we held a 'Plastic Free Lunch' at the end of July at the EcoCentre. Those who could/remembered brought along their 'dilemma bags' the single use plastic they hadn't managed to avoid and it was interesting even with a relatively small sample how much difference there was in content. Having a group together meant we solved a couple of 'where can you buy ...... in a non-plastic container?' queries, and we came up with a way to repurpose something which was actioned as soon as we tidied up. But the discussion, and my reflections on looking at what was in the JYF Camp 'dilemma bag', brought up the question as to when certain packaging had changed. Having swapped countries and moved from cities to a small town it's hard for me to say on some things, especially ones I don't generally shop for. In Wellington you could get loo roll wrapped in paper, but shipped over from Australia, whereas the Kiwi made stuff was in plastic..., up here I've generally not been the one shopping for it so couldn't say when paper wrapped loo roll ceased to be available. Same with cheese, I don't know when it ceased to be available cut off the block and only came shrink wrapped up here as it isn't something I eat let alone buy. I'm guessing thought that such availability locally predates my arrival in the country. Someone is going to ask our local butcher if they'll let them use their own containers for meat, not much help to me, but good for the community in general if they will. The lunch itself was delivered plastic free, the soup arrived in the pan it had been cooked in (and then reheated on our woodstove! Oh how wonderfully warm it gets in there now), the bread bought from the market came in a paper bag, and the home made flapjack arrived in a tin. It's making the small habitual steps like using a tin rather than a plate with clingfilm/glad wrap/saran wrap over it that can build up and shift your use of plastic without it being a major upheaval in life.

When I was at JYF Camp one of the other leaders said how he struggled to understand people getting rid of perfectly good plastic things that still had life in them, and he saw that as creating more waste not less and he couldn't see the point. Well yes if they are throwing those things out it is counterproductive, but mostly they get rehomed/recycled. I've been slowly swapping my assorted plastic kitchen containers for glass or ceramic ones, as I've found the less plastic I have the easier it is to be strong willed not to let new plastic in to the house. In clearing out a neighbour's kitchen recently I had the opportunity to have first pick of the stuff she had, and several things I put to one side only to return them to the 'getting rid of' boxes as they were plastic. They were all 'it would be nice to have...' items rather than essentials, so I could wait until I found a metal/glass/wooden one etc. There was of course also the 'yes it would be nice to have but where the heck would I put it?' factor. Whilst we've cleared a lot of stuff out over the years I've been living here there is still a distinct lack of spare space in the house, mainly due to having gained two part time residents!

So with July over for this year we're now starting to plan ahead at the EcoCentre for next year, where is our 'plastic free' campaign going to take us next? All kinds of ideas are buzzing around, but like with implementing change in our own homes we need to do this at an incremental level that is sustainable, we want to bring people with us on this journey, not scare them off.