Okay so why the obsession with rubbish?
The waste we produce has a vast number of knock-on effects and hidden costs that people normally don’t even consider. For example, food. When people throw away food they will sometimes think about how much that particular item cost them, but they don’t think about the overall cost throughout the year. A recent survey released by the Ministry for the Environment showed that the average NZ household throws away over $500 of food a year, which adds up to $872 million across NZ, every year. On top of that, disposing of the waste is producing a 325,975 tonne carbon footprint – which is the same as that of 118, 107 cars in a year, and would require 130, 390 trees to remove that much CO2 from our atmosphere.
And that is just food, which makes up about 40% of what households throw away.
So obviously there’s not just a monetary cost associated with the production of literally everything, but also an energy cost. Every single thing we produce costs us in energy and it costs us again when we recycle it (if it’s recyclable), plus there is the waste energy that is given off as heat, contributing to our weird weather and global warming. A good example is plastic water bottles, or the plastic bags you get from the supermarket. There are wars going on around the world, and have been for decades, people fighting for oil because it is so valuable. The more of it we use and the less we have left the more valuable it becomes, and yet we’re using it for single-use items like bottles and plastic bags. It just doesn’t make sense, financially or environmentally.
Another aspect there’s rarely considered is the impact that landfills have on the environment and even the economy. In New Zealand we send about 3 million tonnes of rubbish to the landfill each year. That’s staggering. I can’t even begin to picture what that looks like. What I do know is that the rubbish sits in a big pit and it festers, not for a few years.. longer. Decades. Hundreds of years. And while it sits there it releases chemicals into the soil, the ground water, and the air. Among these chemicals are methane, CO2, ammonia, and nitrogen. These gases can be toxic and make people very sick, but there they are leaching into our environment. So of course this renders the land not just useless for any other purpose.
This is just touching on the ginormous issue that is waste and rubbish, but it’s also only about rubbish that has been disposed of correctly. What about the rubbish that gets dumped on the footpath, out of car windows, left on the beach, escapes from your rubbish bag before the rubbish man can get it. There’s a number of reasons why rubbish comes to be at large in our environment, and a number of reasons why Starting the Change is not just trying to encourage waste reduction, but also why we go out once a month and pick up as much rubbish as we can find.
Firstly, rubbish is ugly and smelly. Who wants to go for a walk in a park and have to look at other people’s rubbish?
When rubbish is left out on the streets or beaches and stuff, it still releases all those chemicals we talked about earlier, so it can still make people sick. Although it smells bad to us, it can smell really good to pests like rats and possums, and we don’t really want those hanging around.
Rubbish can also be dangerous to you, your pests, and wildlife.
Marine litter is a big concern in NZ because of our beautiful beaches and oceans full of creatures.
The Maui dolphin is only found in NZ and there are about 55 left. The Hectors dolphin, also found only in NZ has only about 7,200 left. We need to protect these dolphins from our rubbish because around 100,000 sea mammals, like our Maui and Hector’s dolphins, are killed every year after becoming tangled up in rubbish. Between 700,000 and 1 million sea birds die every day because of rubbish floating around in the sea. Often they mistake it for food, like these poor guys here. There are hundreds of photos like these on the internet. This turtle was found dead, with 224 pieces of plastic in its stomach. Plastic bags floating around in the ocean look just like jellyfish, so birds and mammals eat them and then get sick and die.
Starting the Change currently focuses on beaches, but I’m looking at doing some street clean ups this year because a recent study found that approximately 28,000 pieces of litter find their way into our harbour from storm water drains in Auckland suburbs. What we do is not scientific, we’ve tried keeping records of what we collect in terms of plastic, metal, wire etc. but with our resources we were just wasting too much time trying to collect data and we felt we could spend that time better by just collecting as much as we can as quickly as we can. Each beach does have differences in what we find so we do collect anecdotal information, but I hope that eventually we will have enough people coming along that we can effectively collect rubbish and data. At the moment Auckland Council supply us with rubbish bags and disposable gloves, but we encourage people to bring their gardening gloves from home, they offer more protection and they are more environmentally friendly. Starting the Change has a bunch of buckets and rubbish grabbers and we’re slowly building up our assets over time. We pick up everything and anything that we can, but it’s it is too bulky for us to get then we just let the Council know and they see to it for us. They also pick up our rubbish at the end of our clean-ups. So far we’ve done about 20 clean-ups since March 2014.
At this point some pictures were shown, we had questions from the audience, and guessed how long it takes certain items to decompose.
Please feel free to contact me for information about the “How long till it’s gone” game.