Meet the Plas­ti­car­i­ans

More peo­ple in Raglan are going one step fur­ther than plas­tic bags.

North & South - - Environment -


Mer­ren Tait is a Raglan li­brar­ian. Sin­gle, qui­etly spo­ken and fond of all man­ner of books, she’s a per­son you might imag­ine going home at night to make herbal tea in a china pot and curl up with Jane Austen. Ex­cept you would be wrong.

Tait is a spir­ited eco- war­rior. At week­ends, she checks traps for rats, weasels and stoats; on her daily run or cy­cle, she stops to pick up rub­bish; at night, she writes to pro­duc­ers of plas­tic prod­ucts, ask­ing them to con­sider sus­tain­able al­ter­na­tives. “One firm thanked me for my let­ter and sent me three plas­tic gift cards.”

It be­gan, like many rev­o­lu­tions, with an epiphany.

Tait, 39, ar­rived in Raglan more than seven years ago. She liked the town but couldn’t find a job, so she com­muted daily 40km across the Ka­pamahunga Range to teach in Hamil­ton. When a po­si­tion at Raglan’s pub­lic li­brary came up, she ap­plied and got the job.

The li­brary is housed in the mu­nic­i­pal cen­tre – the hub of lo­cal body pol­i­tics. Tait be­came fa­mil­iar with is­sues that were top of mind for lo­cals. At the same time, she watched a trailer for Mid­way: A Mes­sage from the Gyre (https://vimeo. com/25563376), a doc­u­men­tary about a re­mote Pa­cific Is­land lit­tered with plas­tic rub­bish and the car­casses of thou­sands of al­ba­trosses that have eaten it. She wells up even talk­ing about it.

Overnight, she went from arm­chair en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist – “happy to do­nate money, sign pe­ti­tions” – to plas­tic-free cru­sader. When Raglan cel­e­brated Plas­tic- Free July – a world­wide cam­paign en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple to refuse to use sin­gle-use plas­tic for a month – she went fur­ther, an­nounc­ing she would live with­out any plas­tic at all for a year. It was a public­ity stunt, she says, to raise at­ten­tion and aware­ness.

She be­gan by purg­ing her home of all sin­gle-use plas­tic prod­ucts. Pantry items were re-housed in glass jars, tins or card­board boxes. Bath­room items were re­placed with bulk prod­ucts de­canted into re­us­able con­tain­ers. She bought toi­let pa­per in com­postable bam­boo wrap­ping, bam­boo tooth­brushes and sham­poo bars from Lush. She made her own tooth­paste and de­odor­ant, and tried flax for den­tal floss (“didn’t work”). If she couldn’t find a non-plas­tic op­tion, she bought sec­ond­hand prod­ucts; she even dug out her grand­fa­ther’s ra­zor that he took to the war.

Other eth­i­cal con­cerns oc­ca­sion­ally over­rode the use of plas­tic. “I buy but­ter in plas­tic, but only from farms where bobby calves are re­homed.” Some­times, she’d leave plas­tic wrap­ping at the shop to raise aware­ness, and she asked for take­away food in a pa­per nap­kin rather than a Sty­ro­foam con­tainer. She wrote let­ters to man­u­fac­tur­ers. Other shop­pers got to know her. “In a su­per­mar­ket queue, peo­ple stand­ing next to me would refuse a plas­tic bag.”

Her en­tire plas­tic waste for a year – made up of blis­ter packs for pre­scrip­tion med­i­ca­tion and pet-food con­tain­ers for a cat with al­ler­gies – filled one small, non-plas­tic shop­ping bag.

A year on, her habits have barely changed. Tak­ing a road less con­sump­tive, she says, be­comes eas­ier as time passes – and peo­ple need only ref­er­ence their par­ents’ prac­tices for guid­ance. “Sand­wiches were wrapped in grease­proof pa­per, not cling wrap; food was cov­ered with muslin cloths and stored in re­us­able tins, jars and bot­tles. If you want to know how to do it, just go ask your mother or your nana.”


Raglan is a mag­net for surfers. On a warm autumn day, with a slight off­shore breeze, they line up be­yond the break­ers at Manu Bay, wait­ing for the fat-bel­lied swell that could give them the best ride of their life. Which is prob­a­bly why, on the day be­fore her sched­uled in­ter­view, Elena Pulido Hi­dalgo texts to ask if she could post­pone un­til the af­ter­noon.

“Surf con­di­tions are just epic for Mon­day morn­ing and I’ve been al­most a

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