Plas­tic waste is a scourge on NZ

Bay of Plenty Times - - Local Builders Guide - Peter Wil­liams

Plas­tic is one of the world’s great in­ven­tions. Like fire, the wheel, the in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gine and more lat­terly the smart­phone, it has trans­formed the way peo­ple live.

But its time is up. Or rather the time for many un­nec­es­sary uses of the stuff is up. One hun­dred and eleven years af­ter Leo Baeke­land in­tro­duced the world to the con­ve­nience of Bake­lite, the first plas­tic, this om­nipresent com­pound is out of con­trol.

If we’d stuck to what plas­tic ac­tu­ally means — ca­pa­ble of be­ing moulded or shaped — then it would have been all right. There’s noth­ing wrong with a plas­tic box or con­tainer which can be reused over and over. Plas­tic gut­ter­ing and drain­pipes have been a boon for the build­ing in­dus­try. Plas­tic is use­ful in cars, aero­planes, con­tact lenses and in orthopaedic medicine.

But plas­tic has be­come a scourge be­cause some­where along the line some peo­ple took its strong, pli­able and con­ve­nient qual­i­ties and turned them into an en­vi­ron­men­tal night­mare. The world would be a much bet­ter place if we’d never in­vented poly­styrene, plas­tic wrap and plas­tic bot­tles. Plas­tic pack­ag­ing is a dis­grace.

That for years we shipped so much of it off­shore to be dumped some­where in west­ern China is an­other black mark against this coun­try and its en­vi­ron­men­tal

"Why is milk in plas­tic bot­tles? It used to be in glass. Why can’t it be now?"

record. What can pos­si­bly be right about dump­ing our rub­bish in some­one else’s back­yard? No won­der the Chi­nese put a stop to it.

Ap­par­ently we still send a whole lot of the stuff to be dumped in other coun­tries in Asia. That’s not good be­hav­iour.

But we have huge piles of plas­tic rub­bish in our own coun­try and they’re grow­ing big­ger by the day. There is only one way to stop those piles grow­ing. Stop us­ing the stuff.

It’s the pack­ag­ing and the con­ve­nience of plas­tic that has cre­ated this night­mare.

It’s not that cool to re­mem­ber what life used to be like, but surely we can start ad­dress­ing this huge blot on our en­vi­ron­men­tal land­scape with a re­turn to some old fash­ioned non­pol­lut­ing habits?

Why is milk in plas­tic bot­tles? It used to be in glass. Why can’t it be now?

What’s bet­ter for the world — a plas­tic con­tainer used once and thrown in a land­fill or a glass bot­tle sent back to be washed and filled again?

The milk in­dus­try will bleat but too bad. The price of a litre might go up a few cents to pay for wash­ing and ster­il­i­sa­tion but that isn’t the end of the world. Yes, there will be waste­water but isn’t that bet­ter than waste plas­tic, let alone the process needed to make the plas­tic in the first place?

Once we’re buy­ing our milk in glass bot­tles again, let’s ad­dress fruit and veg­etable pack­ag­ing.

Why do we have op­tions to buy car­rots and ap­ples al­ready packed in plas­tic bags? Why not just col­lect them loose in your own shop­ping bag? The plas­tic bags are noth­ing but a mar­ket­ing ploy from the su­per­mar­kets to get you to buy lower qual­ity pro­duce in more bulk. But there’s a plas­tic bag left over at the end which has to be dis­posed of.

It just never stops. What’s with that aw­ful poly­styrene stuff you get in ev­ery pack of meat at the su­per­mar­ket? And the plas­tic wrap that com­pletes the pack­age? To­gether it’s a hideous com­bi­na­tion. Prod­ucts with no fur­ther use headed for the land­fill. Any chance of our meat be­ing wrapped in pa­per? We’re not short of trees and Shane Jones says we’ll be plant­ing a whole lot more.

Don’t get me started on bot­tled wa­ter. Buy­ing that stuff in plas­tic bot­tles is as sen­si­ble as rid­ing a bike on a mo­tor­way.

The great at­tribute of plas­tic is that it can be reused. The prob­lem is that mostly it isn’t.

Plas­tic bags and plas­tic pack­ag­ing are a blight on the coun­try and we don’t know what to do with the ever in­creas­ing piles of the stuff.

Do your bit. Don’t be lazy. Take your own shop­ping bag and pick your fruit and veges loose. Get meat at the butcher’s counter and ask for it to be wrapped in pa­per.

Buy your drinks in glass bot­tles. Have your own box or plate when you buy sushi.

Stop laugh­ing at this. I’m not that much of a gree­nie but I hate the mess plas­tic is caus­ing.

Re­cy­cling isn’t work­ing. Dump­ing over­seas just isn’t right. The only per­son who can stop those plas­tic piles grow­ing is you.

Plas­tic bags and plas­tic pack­ag­ing are a blight on the coun­try, says Peter Wil­lams.

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