Wellington Solutions to Plastic Pollution

 

Plastic. You’ve probably heard it’s a bit of a problem.

But humans are pretty crafty - and there’s some awesome ones in New Zealand (& abroad) that are cooking up some exciting solutions to the plastic problem.

If we’re actually going to find a real solution to this issue, we need to properly understand what the problem is, and why it’s important to solve.

Defining The Challenge:

Plastics break down into microplastics (AKA nurdles), which marine life have a tendency to gobble up. Plastic is toxic when ingested, and this toxicity builds as it moves up the food chain. Luckily for us (unluckily in this case), we’re at the top of that food chain.

If you’re thinking - “that’s okay, I don’t even really like fish that much” I’ve got some bad news for you. We live in one big interconnected ecosystem. When things get out of kilter under there, we’re in for some potentially serious knock-on effects up here.

There’s two key sides to this problem:

  1. Plastic Production: Decreasing demand for & uses of plastic.

  2. Plastic Pollution: Getting plastics & mircoplastics out of the ocean (roll back impact of current pollution).

Today - let’s focus on #1 - the easy(ish) ways consumers & manufacturers can reduce their plastic consumption.

Solving current plastic pollution is important as well, and we need a lot of help in that space - I’ve found a couple of cool stories of people working on this challenge, but not much in NZ. Hit me up if you know of much going on in this space (beyond local beach cleanups - which are awesome).

Firstly, what kind of plastic is the problem?

Almost 50% of all plastic produced is used for packaging materials, which are typically single-use items. The Plastics B.A.N List (Better Alternatives Now), identified the top 20 plastic products found polluting watersheds in the US (which we can use as a benchmark for NZ).

Plastic food wrappers, bottles, bags, straws & takeaway containers are some of the worst offenders.

Luckily, there’s some awesome initiatives brewing that are turning the tide on plastics.

 

1. Food Wrappers & Waste

The largest type of plastic pollution found in oceans are remnants of food wrappers, a shocking 18%. Walk into a supermarket, and it’s everywhere- from candy, breads, chips and snack foods, to fruits & veggies. Why are cucumbers sold in plastic wrap?? Sign this petition to stop that silliness!

Plastic is sanitary, durable, and protects food products from decay - which makes it possible for supermarkets to sell fresh food for longer to customers. So removing it from existence completely (especially right away) may be too big a task for many manufacturers. Maybe there’s a middle ground?

A) Flight Plastics

Flight Plastics is a Wellington-based business that is making a change through manufacturing packaging with recycled plastics. No need for producing more fossil fuel-based plastics - Flight is making it possible to recycle and reuse plastic containers. Supermarkets and food manufacturers can now sell food in safe, sanitary, recycled and recyclable plastic packaging.

What they do:

  • Collect compatible types of plastic products recycled in public and kerbside containers

  • Break down plastics into flakes for washing

  • Manufacture new packaging products from recycled plastic flakes

Why this helps:

  • Reduces the amount of virgin plastic produced from non-renewable resources that harm the environment through air, water, and soil pollution

  • Provides a recycled plastic alternative for supermarkets to supply food products in (Countdown is already on board - which got other companies to make the switch! Nice!)

  • Making packaging from recycled plastics (rather than producing new plastic products) prevents more plastic from heading off to (& sneaking out of) landfills

  • Introduces circular economy principles to our waste production, which is crucial for waste reduction 😊

 
 

B) Honey Wrap

Saving some food for later?  Forget the plastic wrap, try beeswax instead! Honey Wrap is a company I’m buzzing about (heh 😂).  Suitable for use at home & work, this is a great way to reduce your individual plastic consumption. Sizes range from small to extra large wraps, pricing from $12-18 or available in variety packs. Honey Wrap has saved over 11 million metres of plastic from landfills and oceans since 2013 - how fantastic is that!?

What they do:

  • Infuse organic cotton with beeswax, tree resin, and oils to create a natural preservative that can be sealed around food

Why this helps:

  • Beeswax wraps are a natural, reusable alternative to plastic wrapping

  • With proper care, beeswax wraps last up to a year

  • Gladwrap is such a crappy product anyway

 
Honeywrap NZ

Honeywrap NZ

 
 

2. Plastic Bottles

It’s super obvious that it’s a huge problem. Drink bottles, bottle caps, plastic lids, takeaway cups- it all adds up to 33.8% of plastic waste found in marine clean ups. It’s estimated that we throw away 295 million single-use beverage containers a year in New Zealand alone 😱.

C) KeepCup

KeepCup kicked off in Melbourne in an effort to reduce the number of disposable coffee cups used in cafes. From humble beginnings in an underground market, KeepCups have spread to 65 countries around the world. The cups aren’t all that’s spreading - KeepCup is committed to raising an awareness that small actions have the ability to reduce the consequences of convenience behaviour. We use them here in the office at Aro Digital and our local cafe Beach Babylon even gives us a 50cent discount when we use them - nice! These cups could also make an excellent gift for your eco-loving friends 😄. You can grab a Keep Cup from the Sustainability Trust.

What they do:

  • Produce attractive, high-quality coffee cups from materials considered for purpose and sustainability

  • Ensure the lifetime of this product with detachable and replaceable parts

  • Invest in sustainable practices and local sources throughout every step of production

  • Donate 1% of global revenue to organisations committed to supporting the environment and biodiversity

Why this helps:

  • Reduces the amount of waste generated in the pursuit of caffeinated beverages

  • Encourages a behaviour change among consumers from disposable to reusable

  • Provides an excellent example for businesses to reduce environmental impact

Excelso

Excelso

D) Again Again

Forgot your KeepCup? No worries - Again Again is a cup lending system based in Wellington that uses circular economy principles to eliminate takeaway cup waste. Founders Melissa Firth and Nada Piatek envision a world where reusable cups in convenience coffee culture is the standard. They’re all about changing consumer behaviour from a linear system to a circular system - and they’re making it easier for us.

What they do:

  • Produce recyclable steel coffee cups

  • Partner with cafes to provide a convenient, reusable cup for customers on-the-go

  • Customers simply need to ask for an Again Again cup when ordering from partner cafes- then place a $3 deposit on the cup

  • Customers return cups to cafes within two weeks, and deposit is returned

  • Cafes wash cups & lids, and they’re ready for the next customer. Easy as!

Why this helps:

  • Again Again applies circular economy principles that aim to design out waste and pollution by keeping products and materials in use. No waste, no problem 👌🏽

E) Globelet

Globelet is a cup rental system designed to eliminate single-use waste (and guilt) from festivals and events! Founder Ryan Everton was shocked at the amount of waste generated during a rugby match at Otago Uni, and he came up with an idea to stop to single-use waste at festivals and events. This system has proved successful at some major events- Splore, Rhythm and Vines, Womad, Wanderlust have displaced an estimated 570,000 plastic cups annually through using Globelet.

Event organisers wanting to lower expenses and environmental impact can get in touch with Ryan and the Globelet team here.

What they do:

  • Produce reusable plastic cups from recycled plastic products

  • Deliver reusable plastic cups for event

  • Customers pay a $3 deposit on a cup when ordering a drink- and return it for a refund or keep the cup as a souvenir

  • Globelet removes & washes cups after the event

Why this helps:

  • Circular economy 🙌 Placing an emphasis on reusing materials promotes sustainability practices that make consumers more aware of their environmental impact (while having a great time 😉)

 
Rogue & Vagabond  used Globelet cups at Cuba Dupa Festival 2019

Rogue & Vagabond used Globelet cups at Cuba Dupa Festival 2019

 
 

3. Plastic Bags

We’re so stoked that NZ has passed a plastic bag ban - taking on the third most common item polluting the oceans (9.4%). This government-backed change is a positive move towards a system that encourages consumers and manufacturers to be more conscious of single-use habits in our daily lives. Once we start reducing our use of one item, we begin to notice other ways in which we are wasteful. Introducing this mindset is a great way to instigate true change for a sustainable future 😀.

F) Boomerang Bags

Reusable bags are an obvious solution to plastic bags, but Boomerang Bags takes it one step further. Boomerang Bags empowers communities to create their own alternative to plastic bags with recycled fabrics. Volunteers then leave these bags in stores for others to use for free, and bring back later- circular economy style.

What they do:

  • Create workshops within communities for volunteers to gather and sew reusable bags from recycled fabrics

  • Gather donations of fabrics for Boomerang Bags communities

  • Distribute reusable bags throughout community for all to borrow

Why this helps our world:

  • Providing free bags to consumers relieves them of financial stress of purchasing a bag

  • Using recycled fabrics diverts waste from landfills

  • Volunteers have the opportunity to make a difference in their community - and have fun while doing some good!

  • Volunteer-driven initiatives are sew cool 😂

A bunch of supermarkets around Wellington have Boomerang bins filled with reusable bags for other shoppers to borrow. Just make sure you remember to bring them back!

 
Sustainability Trust

Sustainability Trust

 
 

4. Plastic Straws

Single-use straws are 7.5% of plastic waste! These tiny utensils have a huge impact - because of their small size, they easily break down into microplastics that can be ingested by marine life 😢

G) Purely Natural NZ

Purely Natural NZ is a company that promotes the use of eco-friendly & reusable materials. Founder Carlie Kennedy shares her passion for environmental sustainability and healthy living through the range of products available. Reusable straws have been a focus for the company, and they’re adding reusable produce bags, clothes pegs, water bottles, and lunch boxes to the eco-friendly collection!

What they do:

  • Produce a range of stainless steel straws (with lots of fun colours to choose from 🤗), as well as produce bags and stainless steel clothes pegs

  • Limit plastic use within their own company- online orders are fulfilled using only paper and cardboard packaging

Why this helps:

  • No need for plastic straws- these reusable straws come in a handy little cotton bag that you can take on-the-go

  • Stainless steel is easy to clean and dishwasher safe

  • Save the turtles!

 
 
 

5. Takeaway Containers & Plastic Utensils

Plastic takeaway containers and utensils make up a combined 11.1% of plastic waste, and consumers are demanding a change. Restaurants are looking to consider more sustainable takeaway containers- but the problem also lies in options for disposal. Biodegradable and compostable containers are great solutions, but only if they are disposed of properly!

These materials require favourable conditions (water, carbon dioxide, microbial activity, etc) in order to fully break down. These conditions are maintained in commercial compost operations, and not everyone has access to this type of waste management system.

The big changes here need to come from the big fast-food joints, McDonalds & KFCs recent attempts to reduce plastic straw usage seem like a PR opportunity more than any kind of real change.

H) Ecoware

Ecoware provides packaging made from plants. Plant-based materials are renewable and sustainable, giving it an upper hand over plastics. Ecoware provides biodegradable and compostable options for food packaging, which is the most sustainable solution for single-use containers- and they’re addressing the disposal issue. Ecoware works with businesses to equip them with proper disposal systems so they can achieve their dream of a waste free world 🌍

What they do:

  • Provide businesses with a range of compostable or biodegradable packaging materials produced from renewable resources

  • Work directly with businesses to identify their needs in order to cut out waste

  • Implement a waste management system to ensure that products can be commercially composted

  • Connect businesses with partners to collect organic waste and ensure that it is fully composted

Why this helps:

  • Plant-based packaging is carbon neutral- whereas conventional plastics are fossil fuel based

  • Provides a great, sanitary alternative to plastic packaging products

  • Ecoware products are commercially compostable, and suitable for home composting

 
Ecoware

Ecoware

 

Any other suggestions?

Total elimination of takeaway containers would be ideal, but this doesn’t seem possible - yet! Bringing your own takeaway containers would be a great solution, but many restaurants and cafes cannot accept other food containers because of health codes. Looking for input on how to tackle this one - feel free to comment an idea so we can solve this problem together!

 

6. Other Awesome Waste Reducers:

I) The Free Store

The Free Store is a brilliant movement to demolish food waste and hunger. The Free Store accepts leftover food from over 50 local Wellington cafes and eateries to redistribute to those in need of a yummy meal. Located on Willis Street, TFS relies on volunteer support to provide food for the hungry between 6-7 each weekday.

The Free Store

The Free Store

The Free Store

The Free Store

J) The Wā Collective

Olie Body set off to end the waste, poverty, and taboos surrounding periods- and she’s slaying the game. NZ sends 357 million disposable tampons and pads to landfills annually. The EU concluded that sanitary applicators are the fifth most common plastic item found in clean ups around Europe - which is a larger proportion than the B.A.N. List.

One-third of surveyed students have skipped classes due to a lack of menstrual products. The Wā Collective saves the day! Lasting up to 10 years, saving thousands of dollars and millions of tampons from the land fill. And for each Wā cup sold, one is subsidised for students 🙌

The Wā Collective is more than just a reusable revolution. Olie’s committed to normalising period talk to end the negativity. The Wā Collective is located in Wellington, and visits universities to spread the menstrual message and notify the student population of their subsidised cups. Periods occur for more than 50% of the human population, so let’s go with the flow. #StandingOvulation from us!

 
Sustainability Trust

Sustainability Trust

 

K) Organic Dynamic

Surfers can rejoice! Their boards no longer need to contribute to harming their precious oceans. Organic Dynamic makes custom surfboards for Wellington surfers in Lyall Bay. They use only local, environmentally-friendly materials to create a board that leaves the ocean and those who use it satisfied 👌🏽

 

Thanks to ALL of these businesses that are taking action and initiative to end our plastic waste. They’re just a few of many businesses who are showcasing NZ’s capability to lead the world in ending plastic pollution.

Let me know if there are any other notable businesses on the same mission that deserve a shout out- I want to share the appreciation 😊

 
Tim Dorrian