Issues New Zealanders care most about – sustainability poll

In Better Futures Colmar Brunton is  “Celebrating a decade of tracking New Zealanders’ attitudes & behaviours around sustainability”.

Trends show an increase in people concerned about the effects of climate change, and a commitment to live a sustainable lifestyle.

In a poll run between 4 and 11 December 2018 asked what issues people care most about.

  • Build up of plastic in the environment 72% – up 9
  • The cost of living 68% – no change
  • The protection of New Zealand children 67% – down 1
  • Suicide rates 67% – up 3
  • Violence in society 65% – down 4
  • Pollution of lakes, rivers and seas 64% – up 4
  • Caring for the ageing population 63% – new
  • The protection of my personal data online 62% – new
  • Availability of affordable housing 61% – up 2
  • Not having access to good affordable healthcare 60% – up 2

Trend of New Zealanders who express high level of concern around the impact of climate change on New Zealand

  • 2009 – 36%
  • 2010 – 31%
  • 2011 – 29%
  • 2012 – 33%
  • 2013 – 34%
  • 2014 – 41%
  • 2015 – 40%
  • 2016 – 45%
  • 2017 – 48%
  • 2018 – 55%

Commitment to living a sustainable lifestyle:

  • 2015 – low 17%, medium 59%, high 24%
  • 2016 – low 10%, medium 65%, high 25%
  • 2017 – low 10%, medium 60%, high 30%
  • 2018 – low 5%, medium 53%, high 42%

Who will always/mostly go meat free:

  • 2014 – 4%
  • 2015 – 5%
  • 2016 – 6%
  • 2017 – 7%
  • 2018 – 10%

Switching to an electric car or hybrid:

  • 34% thinking about switching
  • 22% thought about it but probably won’t
  • 27% don’t want to switch
  • 14% haven’t thought about it or don’t know

‘Sustainable’ travel practices:

  • 71% shop locally
  • 67% walk for short journeys
  • 57% drive in a more fuel-efficient way
  • 20% take public transport
  • 20% cycle for short journeys
  • 19% carpool for work
  • 9% pay to offset carbon on flights
  • 6% scooter for short journeys

Impact of plastic:

  • 85% say reducing disposable packaging is the right thing to do
  • 77% say they can make a difference by reducing use of disposable packaging
  • Only 1% who buy lunch use reusable containers all the time.

‘Kinder’ businesses:

  • 86% “It is important for me to work for a company that is socially and environmentally responsible”
  • 90% “If I heard about a company being irresponsible or unethical, I’d stop buying their products or using their services”

On employers caring about society:

  • 67% agree their employer has values they believe in
  • 65% agree their employer actively supports society
  • 66% agree they would recommend their workplace to others


Sensible use of plastic has environmental benefits

Plastic is getting thrashed as an ecological disaster. Supermarkets no longer pack groceries into ‘single use’ plastic bags, even though they were frequently used for multiple purposes.

But we have to be careful that the alternatives to plastic are not worse.

We now buy plastic rubbish bags to replace the ‘free’ supermarket bags we re-used.

Listener editorial:  Why anti-plastic zealotry could be harmful to the environment

Yes, single-use plastic bags have become an environmental menace, plastic packaging is often gratuitous and the reuse of plastic items is urgently to be championed.

But it’s essential to consider the counterfactuals, and to understand the ways in which some usage of plastic has helped and can increasingly help preserve the environment.

Before we ordain the wholesale elimination of plastic food packaging, for example, we need to assess the alternative carbon footprint of producing food that cannot be preserved and therefore gets wasted, or becomes uneconomic to produce.

We also need to remember that plastic components can make vehicles, including aircraft, lighter and more fuel efficient. And we should compare the environmental effects of producing such materials as steel and aluminium. In some places, plastic may be the new environmental hero.

Even the detested flimsy supermarket bag may do less overall environmental damage than a seemingly virtuous cotton tote bag. Britain’s Environment Agency has calculated that a cotton bag would have to be used between 131 and 173 times before its contribution to global warming fell below that of a single supermarket plastic bag. Even a paper bag would have to be reused three to four times before being greener than a plastic one. The figures were based on the agency’s finding that about 40% of the plastic bags were reused at least once.

We have already bought far more re-usable bags than we normally need. Some of them are in each car to avoid forgetting them, and some end up accumulating at home.

These calculations, from 2011, are likely to have changed since British supermarkets started charging five pence a bag in 2017 – but not necessarily for the better. Even as the Government trumpeted a reduction in supermarket bags from 1.3 billion a year to 1 billion in 2017-18, it emerged that the stores had sold an extra billion “bags for life” – sturdier totes that used three times more plastic than the old bags.

Confoundingly, many Britons are consuming the sturdier bags in the same way as the old bags – sometimes reusing them, but then throwing them away.

We may simply have replaced one problem with another.

In his recent series on plastic for BBC Discovery, professor of materials and society at University College London Mark Miodownik gave the example of Hippo Water Rollers: light tanks that are increasingly enabling the 46% of the world’s population without access to clean water to get a safe supply. The plastic tanks can be wheeled great distances by people on foot, and the water is then stored in hygienic – plastic – dispensers. They’re life-savers, he says.

Miodownik says it’s also worth remembering how the advent of plastic curtailed the slaughter of animals for their horns, drastically lowered the price of consumer goods and revolutionised hygiene in medicine.

Plastic has many uses and benefits for both people and the environment.

There’s a maze of hypocrisy to negotiate. Our supermarkets are trumpeting their phase-out of bags, and shoppers are basking in the virtue of jute totes, but the brisk trade in food needlessly cling-wrapped on plastic trays continues.

Providing tray-packed produce boosts supermarkets’ sales because people like the convenience of not waiting for meat or fish to be wrapped. Supermarket research shows people will often grab, say, three packaged courgettes rather than bother to put the two they really need into a bag. Prepackaging also speeds store throughput, reducing daunting congestion, so, again, supermarkets sell more.

And dish out more plastic.

The well-intentioned also champion the reduction of animal-based agriculture, and conversion to vegetarianism and veganism. Yet it’s not wool or leather clothing that sloughs microscopic synthetic pollutants into the oceans. Artificial fibres have become omnipresent and are entering the human food chain. And horticulture is hardly a low-impact activity on the environment.

Perhaps a lot more thought and research is required before jumping on the last environmental fad wagon.

As Miodownik says, our task is to rebalance our use of plastic, through a combination of behaviour change, government action and science. Plastic’s here to stay; it’s up to us to make it green.

Balance and sensible use seem to be lacking from the debates and the agendas of ‘green’ activists.

Reducing supermarket plastic

Eliminating plastic supermarket bags is getting a lot of attention, but that addresses only a part of plastic overload at supermarkets. A lot of foods are individually wrapped in plastic, which at best end up in our landfill.

Here is an interesting idea from Germany, where you take your own plastic containers to the supermarket. For hygiene reasons you place your container on a tray so the staff don’t touch yours (for hygiene reasons), they place the food – meat, cheese, whatever – into the container and hand you back the tray, and then you put the lid on and take your container.

This supermarket is fighting against unnecessary plastic

As you often put foods like this in containers at home anyway this saves the plastic packaging for transit from the supermarket to home.

It means you have to plan ahead, as you do taking your own bags to pack your groceries into, and all you have to do is take the storage containers as well. We should be able to manage that most of the time.

Q+A: piles of recycling problems

On Q+A today:

Coming up at 9am: New Zealanders are rubbish at recycling and now that China is refusing to take the waste we do recycle, piles of plastic are building up all over the country. Corin will ask Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage what the Government will do.

And former Labour MP Georgina Beyer has been invited to speak at the Oxford Union in England later this year – what will she tell the famous debating society?

Plus, last week New Zealand sent a delegation to the UN in Geneva to report on the progress we’ve been making on eliminating discrimination against women. Dr Jackie Blue, NZ’s Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner, explains why NZ still gets low marks for our domestic violence record.

Our panel: Josie Pagani, Kaapua Smith and Ashley Church.

This is the last time Q+A wil pay on a Sunday morning. Next week they shift to 9:30 pm on Sunday – I’m less likely to watch it then.

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