GUEST BLOG: Wade Bishop – why bamboo toothbrushes, tote-bags, cups-for-life & living “woke” isn’t enough

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So let me start you off with a graph, because we ALL love graphs don’t we?

*Sourced from www.ieg.org/petrochemicals

The left side is how plastic production has been tracking over the past 40 years and the right is where the oil industry is aiming to go. Now let me just lay out a few numbers – because it’s inferred that we ALL love numbers if we enjoy a finely formed graph. (I’ve found a new relief in them to help me understand my angst, which turns out NOT to just be “all in my head”).

  • 348 million tonnes: that’s annual virgin plastic production in 2017 (up from around 110 million tonnes in 1990…so a little more than treble)
  • US$180 billion: that’s the 10 year investment plan currently rolling out from the global oil industry into new plastic production plants and existing plant upgrades
  • 40%: this is the INCREASE in virgin plastic production the global oil industry is aiming for within this next 10 years….so up to around 500 million tonnes 
  • 20%: this is the percentage of total oil production the oil industry is aiming to divert into plastics (up from the current 6% of all oil produced)
  • US$4.74 trillion (yes…trillion): that’s the amount the global oil industry is also investing over this coming 10 years into new oil and gas explorations…bless their cotton socks for the jobs
    • Just so you don’t miss it: that is BOTH pumping out much more oil AND also increasing the proportion of oil diverted to plastic production exponentially…
  • 36%: this is the proportion of virgin plastics that goes into packaging globally
  • 60%: this is the proportion of virgin plastics imported into New Zealand that goes into packaging (I can’t actually find a number for how much plastic packaging is imported into New Zealand each year)
  • 9%: that’s the total amount of all plastics ever created that have been recycled so far and I believe global averages are now in the 20-26% range per annum…better, but…really?
  • 1 truckload per minute: is the amount of plastics entering the oceans currently – though no one is certain what the real figure is
  • F*** all: that’s the amount of effect you can have on the volume of plastic coming into the system and our environment by getting your toilet paper delivered in a cardboard carton, switching to a bamboo toothbrush, taking hemp tote-bags to the supermarket and getting all retro with glass milk bottles

I know that’s pretty harsh, so don’t get me wrong. Doing all of those things: making more conscious consumer choices, supporting businesses with environmental impact statements that are more than green-wash and aiming for personal zero waste are all the ‘right things’ to do. We do indeed need this attitudinal change in order to create a more sane and more healthy society.

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But we also have to get real. The very “inconvenient truth” is that – without some serious pushback – this tsunami of plastic is coming into the system and our environment whether you personally use it or not. One thing is certain – you can bet the oil industry will be spending many millions in finding and creating new markets for this stuff just as they have over these past few decades – successfully.

So what’s the point of me filling you with all this positivity? Well, if you’re positively pissed off and if you’re starting to think that maybe, just maybe, this plastic thing isn’t really a consumer choice/consumer recycle issue like we’ve been trained to think – then writing this has been worth the hour or so. Because it’s not. It’s largely a political issue.

Government has the power to ban, to intervene, to regulate, to incentivise, to tax, apply tariffs, to act swiftly and – if they choose – put very serious environmental issues ahead of economics (please oh please!!). 

Our part is to accept what we already know: our lifestyles need to change – radically.  The problem is we are trapped in a system that makes hypocrites out of all of us just by virtue of being in it, like a climate activist taking a car to a protest because there’s no decent public transport available. So essentially, large-scale change in the system around us is required, which we would then adjust to, just as we changed our behaviour easily when single-use plastic bags were banned simply because they just weren’t there, right? Look around your supermarket next time with fresh eyes and you will notice many of the products there wouldn’t even be possible without plastics. Make a note of them – they’re what you might have to do without in order to get single-use plastics out of the system…Things like vacuum packed individual corn cobs and premixed salads with that convenient sachet of dressing (but they make BBQs soooo easy!).

Right now the current Government is doing more than many before them – currently looking to enact the product stewardship powers in the Waste Minimisation Act including across many categories of packaging. It’s a very, very positive move – but, unfortunately we need even more, and quickly. Things like bans across wide categories of single-use plastics, a plastic tax (on virgin plastic and imported packaging), massive investment in nationwide recycling plants and financial incentives/disincentives to business to change what they use and how they design their products. 

So if you feel motivated, feel free to join me at a little campaign I’ve started called “plastic2parliament” where myself and other annoyed people are trying to shift the conversation off of consumer choice and onto the producers by mailing the plastic problem directly to MPs via Freepost every Monday from now till….I don’t know when…We’re asking for those changes and some urgency because we are already drowning. 

It’s a simple idea and more fun than a petition. With enough people onboard, I’m pretty sure it could be very effective indeed (and besides – what else are you going to do with that sh*t? Throw it in the red bin?).

 

Wade Bishop is a white, middle-aged, middle-class ‘western’, male system-hypocrite who has reaped the benefits of an economic model designed to reward excess and greed at the expense of the planet and people. He believes we need fundamental system change and is ok about losing some of those benefits.

11 COMMENTS

  1. Freepost to Parly mint, whereupon the concerned MPs might return the sort of shit I receive back to the likes of Progressive Enterprises, or gift it to Paula Bennett as CRT (Collagen Replacement Therapy), or Soimun as a replacement for a brain, or even Anne or Maggie for a bit of titbit bling (going forward)

  2. Nitrium – oddly I entirely agree with you…the same goes with emissions targets related to climate change…It’s the same for not allowing nuclear powered ships, weapons or power plants in New Zealand, which also had little effect on what other countries did, still has been a net-positive result for New Zealand (some people would disagree with that of course). But my focus here isn’t on plastic going into the oceans – it’s on the issue of why that massive amount of plastic is there in the first place and addressing that effectively here will be good for our country…By being bold, honest and courageous about it, New Zealand could actually lead a change of thinking about it globally….That would be the aspirational thing – but I’ll settle for New Zealand just not continuing to let this massive waste issue get exponentially worse. I’ll add (and it’s a topic for some other article I guess) that we can’t forget the toxic load plastic waste will put into our freshwater systems, our air and our soil through the continuing build up of micro-plastics…And the fact that micro-plastics are excellent for other toxic chemicals and bacteria to stick to – and these then enter our water and food supply. So there’s also the specter of a very significant health issue downstream as well. 🙂

    • For the record I despise plastic (despite being a chemist – I even did a research project on developing a better catalyst for poly-carbonate). But it’s very obvious I’m in a minority since every year without fail I see ever pointless plastic packaging for literally everything. Given that it must have a cost above zero to include it, clearly consumers must love it or they wouldn’t do it. I don’t know if humans will ever give up their love affair with plastic, but what I do know is that what we do in the West likely won’t have much of an impact on the massive amount of pollution it’s clearly causing (since we’re not the one’s causing it).

      • So New Zealand exports ALL its not easily recyclable plastic to the third world as does Europe and all of the west. And then all this exported trash plastic ends up either incinerated or dumped in said countries and you some how are able to say the problem is theirs and we are squeaky clean? You may profess concern but your intent as with many of your ilk is to make sure that the have nots just keep on getting blame heaped on them along with all the plastic that we are too cheap and careless to process ourselves. You are like those tourists who come to Nz and shit all over the place and then go home!!

  3. It is not correct – and misleading – to relay responsibility for the global (plastic) waste ‘management’, generation or deposition to so-called third world countries only. Such position is confusing cause and effects.

    Let’s have a closer look on some selected global waste management practice driven by industrialized production and consumption

    Just some short glimpses:

    1.
    https://time.com/5629076/cambodia-plastic-waste/
    2.
    https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/burning-truth-behind-e-waste-dump-africa-180957597/
    3.
    https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2014/11/the-ship-breakers/100859/

  4. I am old enough to remember when plastic started to become important. It has taken over – and the environmental implications are huge. As with other degrowth – it must happen if we are to survive. Question is how. It is literally everywhere. Support your actions 100%.

  5. The commentary on Third World pollution is – again – another distraction from the root problem… Firstly the ‘well organised West’ ships a large proportion of their waste to the ‘Second’ and ‘Third World’ – so we just look better (kind of). Secondly – ALL that plastic has to come from somewhere doesn’t it? And who is increasing the volumes coming into the system….? Read my article again. Think. Read it again. Get mad. Read it again. Join my campaign. Act.

  6. I read what David Attenborough told an audience in response to a question asked by a wee kid.
    The little boy asked, via his dad; “what can we do to stop the planet going tits up? ” Not his actual words.
    DA’s answer was ” Waste less.”
    Waste less?
    Westpac alone sucked $550 million of OUR dollars in profit away in six months. In. Six. Months. Surely then, the three other mafioso-esque banksters must be doing the same?
    Meanwhile grant robertson hoards our $7.5 billion while WE rack up some of the highest personal debt ratios per head of cap’ in the world while people who do actual work to make our actual foreign exchange are left to die unnecessarily from preventable diseases like cancer! What! The ! Fuck!?
    https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/checkpoint/audio/2018718668/life-expectancy-cut-in-unacceptable-southern-dhb-urology-treatment
    Who insists we must work harder?
    The banks do.
    Who insists we must consume ever more despite the good advice coming from David Attenborough?
    The banks do.
    Who takes our funds once plundered to be sequestered away to off shore ‘investment’ holdings?
    The banks do.
    Who uses that money to deliberately impoverish our foreign brothers and sisters to keep THEM as equally impoverished as us while we Westerners via the debt banksters sell us out to consume the goods their kids make in sweatshops and polluting factories? Yep. You got it.
    The banksters do.
    If you need to put a face on the enemy of our planet?
    Then it’s the face of the foreign bankster. Ask Jonk ‘The Beak’ key? I’m sure he’ll be forthcoming.
    The foreign Banks are the enemy and it is they who should be targeted.
    ( If, by criticising the bankster it turns out to be sedition then we’re more fucked than we think we are. )
    If AO/NZ doesn’t get bold and innovative leadership which unifies us and focuses on repairing our most vulnerable people as a social priority then forges proper agrarian export customer relationships while we criminalise the foreign banking industry then asset strips them to return our revenues back to us where it belongs? Then we are fucked and not in a good way.
    Hey? I’m a big sentence guy. Get over it.

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