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.

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