As I continue to generate my brief and studio work with a focus on plastic as an invasive material in the ocean, I have continued to research and gather more knowledge through a more localised perspective. In this part of my research, I am examining how New Zealand is contributing to this current, global issue.
A very recent article published on February 27 of this year states that in Taiwan, the Environmental Protection Administration, have announced their plans to implement a ban on all common single-use plastics by the year 2030. This will involve irradiating the production and use of plastic shopping bags, straws, take away containers and bottles (Martinko, 2018). “Free plastic shopping bags, disposable food containers and disposable utensils will also be banned in 2020 from all retail stores that issue uniform invoices – widely used in Taiwan. Additional fees will also be imposed in 2025.”
This article led me to wonder, what is New Zealand doing to decrease the issue of plastic in the ocean? And, how do we currently contribute to the problem?
I came across a shocking article through Radio New Zealand which claims this statistic: New Zealander’s are currently generating around 734kgs of waste each per year (Blake-Person, 2018)! A part of our increasing waste is that of soft plastics, with a rise in the recycling of such plastic from 100 tonnes in 2016 to 350 tonnes in 2017. Soft Plastics Recycling scheme manager Lyn Mayes states “We are now collecting around 9 to 10 tonnes every week. That’s around 2.25 million single bags” (Blake-Person, 2018).
I found these stats to be highly disturbing and a clear contrast to our nations ‘clean and green’ idealisations. Disappointingly, New Zealand has been listed by the World Bank as ‘one of the most wasteful nations in the developed world’ (Newshub, 2018). Our country ranks tenth here in correlation to waste produced per capita – with kiwis seen to produce over 3.6kgs of waste per person each day, adding up to the sum of 734kgs of annual waste (Newshub, 2018). These statistics coincide with my other source from Radio NZ.
A video post from Greenpeace New Zealand depicts a twisted take upon our relationship with single use plastic and its effects on our marine life/environments. The video demonstrates, through black humour, how the positive attributes of a plastic bag create many negative effects upon our marine environment. Plastic bags are lightweight; however, this means it can be carried by the wind out to sea. A plastic bag can mimic the look of a jellyfish and therefore be consumed by animals mistakenly. They can ensnare and suffocate and once broken down into micro-plastic, they will only continue to kill smaller forms of sea life. Soft plastics are playing a large role in the contribution to the large ‘islands’ of rubbish littering our oceanic gyres. It is a terrible cycle of consumerism and environmental destruction.
According to RNZ, Ms Sage says it’s up to Kiwis to change their wasteful ways: “[We] need to change our throw-away culture and we need to do more reuse and recovery and we need to think about what we’re buying in terms of reducing what we’re actually using. (Newshub, 2018)”
So, what is New Zealand trying to do to raise awareness for an change our contribution to the plastic waste issue?
With China having recently banned an importation on particular types of plastic, we need to come up with more local solutions as well as to consciously consume less single use plastic (Newshub, 2018). We need to implement other types of biodegradable or sustainable materials into our daily lives. We should seriously be considering the use of stainless steel reusable bottles and straws, biodegradable packaging and containers and reusable shopping bags.
Supermarket shopping chain Countdown is in the motion of phasing out all single use plastic bags by the end of this year. Managing director Dave Chambers says that around 350 million plastic bags will therefore no longer have the potential to litter our environment. The phase is set to 184 of their stores nationwide. SuperValue and FreshChoice are said to hop on the band-waggon, although a clear date as to when has not been claimed (Clayton, 2017). Reusable bags supplied by Countdown have reduced their price to $1 each as an encouragement to buy bags that will last more than one shop. Some other stores are trailing a paper bag alternative, however, a report released from the Scottish government depicts that the process to make paper bags uses more water and releases more greenhouse gas emissions (Clayton, 2017).
In more recent news, the government are considering to phase out single-use plastic bags from all businesses after a 65,000-signed signature was handed over to parliament. Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage responded: “This Government cares about the environment and knows how much New Zealanders understand that single-use plastic bags are produced using oil, create waste, and can end up in the ocean, choking marine life.”
“Significantly reducing waste going to landfill by 2020 is a key goal of the Green Party’s confidence and supply agreement with Labour and is a priority for me as Associate Environment Minister.” With our current use of 1.6 billion single-use plastic bags a year (Newshub, 2018), it seems a good place to start in terms of banishing an item that is easily replaced with reusable material bags.
On a lighter note, New Zealand has recently joined the United nations-led “CleanSeas Campaign” which aims to create cleaner oceans by minimising and eliminating ocean plastic and plastic waste. A ban on plastic microbeads often found in face scrubs is due to be banned in our country by mid-June this year. The government is acting to significantly reduce waste by the year 2020 (Van Velthooven, 2018).
A reference to plastic consumption
For my campaign, I have chosen to create characters that visualise a dystopic version of sea creatures that are part animal, part plastic. Their bodies are a result of having consumed plastic waste in their watery environments. I decided to do some quick research on ocean plastic consumption.
“Every piece of plastic ever produced still exists in some form. Single-use items that are functional for minutes are made from a material that lasts for lifetime upon lifetime without biodegrading. The things we discard without thought can go on polluting the planet for thousands of years (Parley, n.d.).”
As plastic waste circulates the oceans, it is broken down and transformed into tiny microplastics. These are eaten by fish and smaller animals such as krill, therefore entering into the food chain as larger animals consume the smaller. Plastic consumption has been proven occur in humans too; with a study from the University of Exeter showing that 86% of teenagers have BPA in their bodies (Parley, n.d.). BPA was placed into plastics to keep them durable and flexible at the same time but evidence is showing that this harmful chemical leaks from plastic into our water and food.
Blake-Persen, N. (2017, November 3). Waste import ban could send plastic to landfills. Radio New Zealand. Retrieved from: https://www.radionz.co.nz/news/national/342976/waste-import-ban-could-send-plastic-to-landfills
Blake-Persen, N. (2018, January 17). Revealed: Kiwis generate 734kgs of waste each per year. Radio New Zealand. Retrieved from: https://www.radionz.co.nz/news/national/348261/revealed-kiwis-generate-734kg-of-waste-each-per-year
Clayton, R. (2017, October 4). Countdown to ban all Single use plastic bags by 2018. Stuff. Retrieved from: https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/97528655/countdown-to-ban-all-single-use-platic-bags-by-2018
Cook, F. (2018, February 27). Government considering ban on plastic bags. NZ Herald. Retrieved from: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12002941
Greenpeace New Zealand. (2018). In Facebook. Sam Neil: Ban the plastic bag. [Video file]. Retrieved from: https://www.facebook.com/greenpeace.nz/videos/10156110898505775/
Martinko, K. (2018, February 27). Taiwan promises to ban all single-use plastics by 2030. Treehugger. Retrieved from: https://www.treehugger.com/plastic/taiwan-promises-ban-all-single-use-plastics-2030.html
Newshub. (2018, March 26). New Zealand among most wasteful countries in developed world – World Bank. Newshub. Retrieved from: http://www.newshub.co.nz/home/new-zealand/2018/01/new-zealand-among-most-wasteful-countries-in-developed-world-world-bank.html
Newshub. (2018, March 10). New push for plastic bag ban. Newshub. Retrieved from: http://www.newshub.co.nz/home/new-zealand/2018/03/new-push-for-plastic-bag-ban.html
Parley for the Oceans. (n.d.). UK Students: Straw Suck. Retrieved from: http://www.parley.tv/updates/2018/2/13/straws-suck
Parley for the Oceans. (n.d.). 86% of Teens Have BPA in Their Bodies. Retrieved from: http://www.parley.tv/updates/2018/2/12/study-finds-86-of-teens-have-bpa-in-their-body
Van Velthooven, E. (2018, March 12). New Zealand joins international CleanSeas campaign to rid oceans of plastic waste. One News Now. Retrieved from: https://www.tvnz.co.nz/one-news/new-zealand/new-zealand-joins-international-cleanseas-campaign-rid-oceans-plastic-waste