Monday, 1 April 2013

Skip the Fantastic Plastic!

When pigs fly..... there will be no plastic pollution!
We can't get away from it - plastic!  Everywhere you look : Plastic!  This morning I tidied up some summer growth veg beds - sifting through the weeds and leftover spent plant skeletons, I found plastic!  A couple of big bits, probably blown in by the wind.  And quite a few smaller pieces - little bits of packaging tape, perhaps from me overlooking little bits when I add cardboard to the compost pile.  Then, once the bed was cleared, I shoveled a few loads of newly-made beautiful compost from our compost bin to cover the bed with - and sifting through the compost, I found: Plastic!  Some tiny bits of bio-degradable stuff from our toilet paper wrappings that we use to line our compost bin in the kitchen - still bio-degrading, and that's okay.   But there were heaps of little plastic stickers - from avocados and kiwifruit, apples and other "labelled" fruit!  Bizarre!  I always try to remove them before chucking them into the kitchen waste bin - obviously I must miss quite a few (or other family members miss them).

This made me think of what a scourge this Fantastic Plastic is!  At kindergarten, we try to promote "litter-less lunchboxes" but of course, we still get muesli bar wrappers, glad-wrapped sandwiches, pre-packaged snacks and plastic yogurt containers (which, by the way, may be convenient when mothers are stocking lunchboxes, but are NOT recyclable or even faintly bio-degradable!!  (No.5 - we only recycle 1's and 2's in NZ).  Well, we have one little "eco-police" guy, who always dobbs his mate in for having glad-wrap on his sandwiches.  "Hey, Jake's (not his real name) got plastic!"   You can see Jake visibilly shrinking and muttering: "I always tell my dad but he doesn't listen!"  So we suggested to the dad to switch to paper wrapping for his son's sandwiches but that fell on deaf ears, so too did the plea from his son to buy a fabric "sandwich wrap" which another 11yr old girl makes for us and we sell on her behalf.  

This little guy knows that I am the teacher that usually sews things with a sewing machine, so after thinking about his predicament, he came to me one day last year and asked if I could sew him a sandwich wrap.  At the time, I flippantly replied "Sure, remind me tomorrow."  2 weeks went by and he reminded me yet again.  This time, it was a couple of days before the end of the term and so I had to disappoint him yet again, and tell him that there was not enough time to get to sew a sandwich wrap amidst all the pre-Christmas and end of year activities.

Skip to Term 1 2013 and a couple of weeks ago, I happened to watch a doco on what is happening in the ocean with the tonnes of plastic ending up there and killing heaps of sea life, amongst them, the magestic sea turtle.  One dead turtle was given an autopsy which revealed it had ingested 167 pieces of soft and hard plastic pieces, resulting in it's ultimate demise.  It saddened me and I felt a renewed sense of purpose to go out there and pick up plastic litter lining the streets.  These culprits ultimately end up in stormwater drains, which end up in the sea!!  In fact, the stats are so scarey, in the area dubbed The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, for every 1kg of plankton, there is 6 kg of plastic!  Shocking!

The contents of a juvenile green turtle's plastic consumption :
I went to kindergarten and my colleague mentioned having watched the same doco over lunchtime, some children overheard and we had several of them telling us that they too had watched this.  We asked what we could do to help solve the problem.  They answered that they should reduce the amount of plastic we throw away from our lunchboxes!  And so, Jake's request came back to me and we set about making and creating fabric lunch-wraps.  We have made 17 so far , with another 17 or so to make.  It is a slow process, with the children choosing their fabric (all scraps donated to us), then cutting them out and they get to "drive" the sewing machine while I guide the fabric through the process.  Tricky business, as the children have to concentrate and listen to the commands to go and stop on cue.  And yes, I have had my finger punctured by the sewing machine needle before, when the command to stop was not observed! 
Sorting street junk
The children show great pride in showing their parents what they have made and even having conversations with them about the turtles.  While being mindful that some research has shown if we make children too aware of the problems that face us on planet Earth that they can become stressed and anxious, we still feel we need to share some things with the children and let them come up with the solutions.  We haven't said, there is too much plastic in the ocean and it is killing the sea birds and turtles and dolphins and there is NOTHING we can do about it.  We have simply had discussions where the children voice their opinions, concerns and come up with their own solutions.  It is wonderfully empowering for children to feel that they can be part of the solution to a problem facing us all.  We have to start  young, it is during the first 5 years that we set the tone for children, teaching them to be caring citizens of the world, to care for Mother Earth/ Papatuanuku: (Kaitiaki O Te Whenua or Caretakers of the Land).  Of course, we take our inspiration from Dr. Seuss's The Lorax.  If you haven't read this book yet, do so!  It never fails to impart a strong conservation message for young and old.  Don't watch the Hollywood movie - it is a weak dilution of the story.
Teach your children to eat healthy nature-wrapped snacks
(photo courtesy Shayni Green)
So what can you do?  Say no to plastic bags.  Limit your purchases of plastic.  Tell the store you don't want plastic packaging when you buy something and return it to them so it becomes their problem.  Eventually, they will tell the manufacturer and they will be forced to use bio-degradable packaging.  C'mon people, singularly and collectively, we CAN make a difference.  Buy yogurt in bulk and decant it into little reusable containers for your children's lunchboxes,or better yet, make your own.  Bake cookies instead of pre-packaged muesli bars and cookies.  Use waxed paper to wrap sandwiches rather than plastic wrap.  There is a new plastic food wrap that is on the market called BioBag cling film, made from GE free plant and natural materials and biodegradable polymer.  Put it into the compost bin to decompose.  

If you are going to eat out, take a reusable container for your "doggie bag", which often, more than not, is a plastic container and not a bag at all.  If you are going to buy takeaways, take your own container, instead of ending up with endless piles of useless plastic throwaway containers.  There are things that you can do......or in the words of The Lorax: "UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better.  It's not."
Litter collected from our small neighbourhood block, includes aluminium cans, 
yogurt pots, plastic spoon, cigarette buts, plastic drink bottles, glad-wrap, a plastic mat,
lolly wrappers and tiny little bits of plastic ripped off of lollies and ice-blocks.
My daughter and I went on a mini litter pick-up spree - we were appalled by the volume of throw-away plastic.  We filled first one bag (see above) and then had to fill a bigger, second bag.  And that is just one little block per bag of fall out.  Think of how many blocks there are all around the world, with their plastic all blowing into stormwater drains.  We consoled ourselves and said we will measure our success by counting one bag = one turtle saved.  That should spur us on to keep on picking up the litter.  One young girl called out to us, "I'd help you but I have to get home."..  Yeah, right!  She was licking an ice block with a wrapper which my skeptical side says I am sure she was aiming at throwing onto the sidewalk even before she got home!  But hopefully, just hopefully, she would have kept it in her hand and thrown it away in the bin at home.  We got a few curious glances from passers by.  Maybe we could start an epidemic - people filling one bag of litter per day - solving the sea life death-rate dilemma!

Quick!  Grab a bag and go for a walk...........

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