Plastic pollution a huge problem, and growing

There is a sudden escalation in concern over plastic pollution. This is overdue, because a lot of damage has already been done. As a big part of the problem is floating around out oceans it is not an easy problem to resolve.

Stuff:  Urgent calls for plastics ban, as recycling and composting plants run out of space

Kiwis are conscientiously sending their shopping bags off to be recycled or composted, unaware most are being thrown in landfills.

The crisis in composting and plastic recycling capacity has prompted calls for councils and the Government to step up and do their bit.

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage has promised a decision on banning plastic bags in the coming month. Industry insiders predicted any ban would be phased in over several years.

This weekend Dr Trisia Farrelly, co-director of Massey University’s Political Ecology Research Centre, called for the government to take the lead and ban harmful plastics. “We have got ourselves into this situation we shouldn’t have got into. There needs to be an international legally binding directive. We have reached a plastics crisis,” she said.

I think that there is no doubt that far too much plastic is used and discarded.

Plastics have been piling up around New Zealand ever since China slapped restrictions on imports of waste products, at the start of the year. The sight of massive stacks has caused alarm around New Zealand: a Huntly resident compared the piles at his local waste station to “the slums of Mumbai”. On the West Coast, Smart Environmental operations supervisor Allan Corbett told the Westport News that “nobody has the answer” to piles building up at sites like the town’s transfer station.

We use far too much plastic and don’t know how to dispose of it safely.

RNZ: Plastic waste major threat to NZ seabirds

Forest and Bird is demanding the government end the production of single-use plastic – pointing to research showing the Tasman Sea is the riskiest place in the world for seabirds for ingesting pieces of plastic.

On current trends it is predicted that by 2050 there will be more pieces of plastic in the oceans than fish.

An international research paper shows a dangerous overlap between this tidal wave of plastic and the abundance of seabirds in the Tasman Sea which is populated by a staggering one third of the world’s seabird species.

Forest and Bird seabird advocate Karen Baird said even a small amount of plastic in the Tasman had been found to have a disproportionate impact compared to other parts of the world where there was nowhere near the same number of birds.

“There are increasing problems with seabirds such as the flesh-footed shearwater in Australia that breeds on Lord Howe Island.

“We know that a third of the turtles found in New Zealand waters have plastics inside them. They’re a bit like seabirds, they have different mechanisms for selecting plastics in that they probably think that it looks like their food.”

This is a pollution problem that we can’t pass off as something the rest of the world has, but we can’t do much about and it won’t affect us much.

We all should drastically rethink our use of plastic. It can be very useful, but far too much of it is used.

Discussion on it at Reddit: Urgent calls for plastics ban, as recycling and composting plants run out of space

45 Comments

  1. Grimm

     /  July 2, 2018

    Plastic hysteria has been around for decades. If we ban all plastic in NZ, it will have zero effect on plastic in the oceans. It appears most of it is coming out of rivers in in Asia and Africa. So let’s punish Western consumers (by taking away supermarket bags) who have largely got pollution under control and are making continuing efforts to do so.

    Who knows, landfill sites might become very valuable in the future. As technology improves, we may be harvesting them for resources.

    • I don’t think anyone is suggesting that all plastic be banned. But addressing gross overuse of plastic is overdue and urgent.

      • Grimm

         /  July 2, 2018

        “gross overuse of plastic is overdue and urgent”

        I guess we’ll just have to wait for the convincing argument to replace this kind of hysteria. It’s just like the AGW hysteria. No country is actually doing anything meaningful about it. Why not? Everyone is either exceedingly stupid, or maybe not?

    • Gezza

       /  July 2, 2018

      Who knows, landfill sites might become very valuable in the future. As technology improves, we may be harvesting them for resources.

      Fair point. Poor people already do that now in some countries, without any technology. Some of them even get food from them. What sort of resources were you thinking of.

      • PartisanZ

         /  July 2, 2018

        Gezza … the possibilities are endless … aside from leftover or discarded processed food …

        There’s fresh food scraps, although they’ll often be too old.

        Fresh vermin … rats and mice … probably cats and dogs at some landfills too …

        Components for favella-style slum dwellings …

        Rare re-cycle-able and even up-cycle-able stuff that hasn’t already been gleaned-out …

        Ticket to the Emergency Room diseases …

        And I guess maybe the remote possibility of a tourism industry once the slums are well established, like they have in Rio …

    • NOEL

       /  July 2, 2018

      Anyone know how my two use supermarket bags get from the landfill to the ocean?

      • PartisanZ

         /  July 2, 2018

        … Ummm … I’m willing to speculate … Not everyone is as personally aware and responsible as you are Noel …?

        There are people for whom the natural place for litter is the natural environment …

        • Kitty Catkin

           /  July 2, 2018

          Studies have shown that the great majority of plastic bags are reused before being discarded. I see no point in not reusing a bag that comes free with bread or the Listener (the latter are a very useful size) Like most people, I line the kitchen bin with a supermarket bag and even tip the contents into the big black one so that the other is used again. When they split, I wash them and put them in the recycle bin for soft plastics. As this is often overflowing, it seems that many people do this. It makes no sense to pay the council to remove these when a shop will take them and recycle them.

          Plastic bags are a soft target, of course, and as they still can be recycled, I see no reason to ban them altogether. They are reused to keep things dry, they are handy to put fruit in to give away, they keep wet things away from dry ones….then they end up as garden furniture.

          What do people think that polypropolene is ?

          Countdown (who dished out far too many plastic bags, unlike Pak & Save where people have to buy them) are not giving plastic bags away any more….they are selling a different kind of plastic bag. Why give it away when you can sell it ?

          Good luck with recycling a polyprop bag.

  2. Alan Wilkinson

     /  July 2, 2018

    Why not ask the blindingly obvious question: where and how is plastic getting into the ocean? It obviously doesn’t get there from landfills.

    • Gezza

       /  July 2, 2018

      I see plenty of it blowing & floating down my stream.

      • Kitty Catkin

         /  July 2, 2018

        I don’t know if the recycle bins are the cause, but I seldom see one now. I had to let one go when a strong wind pulled it out of my hand and I wasn’t going to run through a downpour in the futile hope of catching it.

        I also wonder if paying for rubbish (which actually costs less than when it was a blanket rate) has made people not want to pay to dispose of something that can be dropped off.

        I have a bag on the back of the laundry door for plastic bags. As it happens, it’s made of recycled material….a piece of sheet with an owl appliqued onto it 🙂

  3. Alan Wilkinson

     /  July 2, 2018

    As for the claim “we use far too much plastic”, no, the problem is that plastic bags contain so little plastic they are not worth recycling at present.

    • Kitty Catkin

       /  July 2, 2018

      They are. All soft plastic bags are recyclable/

      I was unimpressed when I bought some foldback clips last week. They came in a shaped plastic box with another one round it. They were backed by cardboard….with a shiny metallic coating. I cut the boxes up, as I always do, to make them flat and take no space in the bin, and used the cards for a list…but really, how stupid to use such an unnecessary amount of plastic.

    • Kitty Catkin

       /  July 2, 2018

      I use tote bags because I have to walk everywhere. but don’t delude myself that these are as environmentally friendly as they are made out to be. They need more raw materials, they are dyed, they cost more to transport….

      Surely the Pak & Save model of selling them so that people make a decision (not because of the cost, which is minimal, but because it involves conscious thought) about whether they need them is the ideal ? I would willingly pay more than 10c if it meant that I could have them when I needed them. I always have one or two in my tote bags in case of need.

      My plastic bags earn their keep !

  4. Zedd

     /  July 2, 2018

    There are other options; ie biodegradable plastics.. but the industrialists in the 1940s went with their ‘quick & cheaper’ option.. but as per usual; it turned out to be the worst possible (short-sighted.. quick bucks) option.

    There is reportedly a ‘garbage patch’ floating in the Pacific (off the coast of USA) that is apparently getting as big as western europe ? (mostly made from single-use plastic.. bags, bottles etc.) It will take centuries to break down. Meanwhile the sea creatures are eating it & dying !

    Again; many still take the ‘ostrich approach’ ? I just take a cloth shopping bag to the supermarket each week (its a start).. but many of the items are wrapped in the stuff.. hard to avoid 😦

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  July 2, 2018

      The garbage patch claim has been debunked.

      • Gezza

         /  July 2, 2018

        Which one? I think I’ve seen something saying there were about four of them.

        • Zedd

           /  July 2, 2018

          I watched a doco. recently.. much of it is now washing up on beaches all over the pacific & Sth east Asia 😦

          • Gezza

             /  July 2, 2018

            Al doesn’t watch videos so he doesn’t see stuff.

            • Zedd

               /  July 2, 2018

              again taking the extremist view AW..

              I didnt say it was ‘one massive clump’ BUT look at the top shot in the linked site.. these images are become more noticeable; as recycling is only resolving some of it & the rest is dumped in landfill or the oceans

              btw; I may used a ‘pseudonym’ (zedd) but its not ‘muggins’.. so Im guessing your addressing others ? :/

            • Gezza

               /  July 2, 2018

              1. There’s no videos, so I can’t verify what they’re saying with my own eyes.
              2. It says the nonsense claim by some idiots that you can walk on the garbage patches is a myth.
              3. The rest of it says plastics in these patches moves around, is spread throughout the water column in several forms including microplastics & is a major problem.
              So, you’re right about that particular myth Zedd refers to being debunked.

            • Gezza

               /  July 2, 2018

              btw; I may used a ‘pseudonym’ (zedd) but its not ‘muggins’.. so Im guessing your addressing others ?

              Well he better not be referring to me or he’ll be getting a really bloody rude email ! 😠

            • Zedd

               /  July 2, 2018

              @gezza

              Its better to try & address it than ignore it hoping it will just magically disappear. The science says ‘plastic made from fossil fuel (which most of it is) takes 100s years to breakdown’.. this is not a myth, even if some choose to believe it.
              Those who perhaps live in the ‘MrT world where everything is just “Wonderful, Fantastic, Tremendous & the BEST EVER” & where every FANTASY comes true !’ :/ 😦

            • Zedd

               /  July 2, 2018

              btw; I try to keep my head in the REAL world.. not Fantasy Island

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  July 2, 2018

              It doesn’t take 100’s of years to break down. That’s why it is already in micro fragments.

      • Zedd

         /  July 2, 2018

        oh really.. AW

      • MaureenW

         /  July 2, 2018

        There is one between NZ and Singapore, off Indonesia.

    • Zedd

       /  July 2, 2018

      I have heard that some innovative folks are looking for other options; microbes that eat it & break it down to biodegradable compounds OR even turning it back into oil/fuel, rather than dig up more.. use the stuff we already have, filling the landfills/oceans !

      • Gezza

         /  July 2, 2018

        Yes there was something on 1ewes about that a few days ago. Some NZ researchers are doing groundbreaking work in this area. I think they might have govt assistance? Still in the research stage though, I think. Not known whether it’s industrially scaleable yet?

        • Kitty Catkin

           /  July 2, 2018

          Anyone who thinks that it takes all that time to break down has never had one disintegrate into shreds.

          Why can’t plastic be ‘minced’ before it goes into landfill ? I reduced the unneccessary packaging on my clips to a flat little pile about the thickness of a piece of cardboard, rather than (because they were shaped) something that took up about the volume of a marge pot. It took a few seconds. If the plastic was shredded, it would take up a fraction of the space, as the landfill wouldn’t be full of air. And the shreds would not be rigid, so would settle.

  5. Biodegradable durable plastics seem to be the more viable solution, plastics that are durable for 5-10 years in storage, but dissolve to nothing rapidly, say 1-2 years max when immersed in water would solve it, imagine if all the plastic in the great pacific garbage patch melted away to nothing annually? wouldn’t be so “great” now, would it?

  6. Zedd

     /  July 2, 2018

    The reason why ‘It has suddenly become as issue’ is that China & India etc. are now refusing to take ‘our recycling mountains’ & we (in the Western countries) are now having to face up to it & deal with it.

    As an former Green MP recently said (paraphrased) ‘There is no magical place called ‘AWAY’ where all the garbage goes to, after the council take it from the road sides’

  7. PartisanZ

     /  July 2, 2018

    Like Alan, I think that something blindingly obvious is being missed here: Most people re-use plastic shopping bags as kitchen-tidy liners before they’re sent to the landfill …

    This is actually a form of (possibly almost universal) ‘market demand’ currently being supplied free or at minimal cost (5 – 10c) at the supermarket checkout. (It’s very market-socialist!)

    I can remember protesting when paper bags were replaced with plastic at 3 Guys in Auckland for exactly the same reason … (I was also working on a marketable wire-frame kitchen-tidy to contain these bags … Damnit … Free enterprise foiled again …)

    Although paper bags won’t contain anything wet they made great kitchen-tidy liners if you were composting food scraps elsewhere …

    This is what the substitute for one-use plastic shopping bags needs to replace … the ubiquitous kitchen-tidy liner …

    Hurts to admit it … but the market can actually solve this one …

    • NOEL

       /  July 2, 2018

      Went to the supermarket in Honolulu recently and they had dual paper bags.
      First thought was how will they go on the journey to the condo. Held up well.

      • PartisanZ

         /  July 2, 2018

        Well … we’re gonna have to do something with a billion trees, aren’t we?

        I’m having terrible “socialist” fantasies of a revived ‘NZ Made’ pulp & paper industry …

        But no …. If it’s almost entirely mechanized so it doesn’t need to employ people, we might produce paper bags ‘cost-effectively’ enough to export all over the world …?

        Dangerously “capitalist” … I shall seek therapy …

    • Gezza

       /  July 2, 2018

      How does paper production stack up environmentally. I recall a debate on another forum some years back where it was being argued (with links) that paper mills were incredibly environmentally unfriendly.

      • PartisanZ

         /  July 2, 2018

        I think they’re incredibly environmentally unfriendly if they produce White paper … and not so much at all if they produce Brown …

        The allusion here is entirely intentional …

        • Kitty Catkin

           /  July 2, 2018

          Paper is worse. It is much heavier to transport, uses more energy and water. It isn’t k waterproof, and anyone who can remember the nightmare of trying to carry one when the bottom was falling out would not want paper supermarket bags back. They’re horrible to carry, as they don’t have handles (help ! it’s slipping !) They can’t be used as bin liners.They are much more likely to be ‘single use’ than plastic bags.

          • Kitty Catkin

             /  July 2, 2018

            People reuse plastic bags for other things. I was given mandarins in one, and gave a friend something in one that had been used before, and was well and truly second hand.

            The things like fans in my shed go out in plastic bags. The dog’s blanket and toys in the laundry where he stays when I’m out are in one. My dryer’s in the shed, so I use plastic bags to keep the washing dry when it’s coming inside on wet days.

            It’s not hard to take the thin fruit ones back and use them again rather than take new ones.

            Someone was boasting that they take fruit and other produce up to the check out unwrapped, which annoys the people there. Why wouldn’t they just reuse bags and save someone unneccessary annoyance as they have to deal with all that loose produce ?

      • Kitty Catkin

         /  July 2, 2018

        My reply has vanished, Google it, (paper vs. plastic) Gezza, you will be surprised – I was.

  8. Patzcuaro

     /  July 2, 2018
  9. In retail, supply meets demand, so if we start declining single use plastic bags and refusing to purchase other goods consumed in plastic, then the supply will decrease to meet the demand. It is up to everyone of us to make a difference. Choose wisely and if you cant reuse then refuse. 🙂