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Navigating a sea of plastic

THE pollution of our planet really hit home for Darnelle Timbs about seven years ago during a trip to France.

She was swimming in the sea and realised she was swimming though rubbish — plastic bags, fishing rope and more.

“And at the low tide mark, I noticed rubbish on the tide line.”

“It was a game changer for me.

“That was the moment that eventually led to me taking on this role because I’m from Gisborne and grew up on the beaches here.”

The role Ms Timbs, 36, is talking about is her job at Gisborne District Council as the waste minimisation facilitator. It is a position she has held for a year and comes during one of the biggest turning points for recycling in the Gisborne district.

From June 1, only plastic items marked 1 or 2 can be recycled in our kerbside recycling and at transfer stations.

Ms Timbs recommends people start looking at the bottom of plastics before they buy them to see what number is in the triangle.

She says her focus is to minimise waste and promote GDC supported initiatives like Plastic-Free July and encourage more people to be aware about what they are buying.She is a passionate advocate about minimising waste and reducing the impact we have on the environment.

“There is no throwing anything away any more — it stays.”

But there is still hope, and everybody can make a difference, she said.

“Ask yourself — do I really need it?”

Items like water bottles, coffee cups and straws all have reusable alternatives now, she said.

But probably the most powerful tool we all have to reduce waste — don’t buy non-recyclable items.

Companies will continue to make plastic items if people still buy them. Not buying them stops the demand.

Ms Timbs said making small changes in the home — like buying in bulk — reduces the waste we create.

“Every little action helps and we can actually reduce items that will become waste.

“Other recycling categories including glass, tins, aluminium cans, paper and cardboard are not affected by the changes and continued recycling of these products is very important.”

Any plastics marked with a 3 to a 7 will now go straight to landfill — in other words — it’s going to stay on this planet.

“China has closed its doors on accepting those plastics so there’s no other markets.

“The positive of China no longer taking our plastics is that it has forced the rest of the world to take responsibility for the plastics they are consuming, rather than turning a blind eye by sending it somewhere out of sight. We all need to face the reality of what plastic is doing to our planet and make changes — immediately.”

Ms Timbs said part of her role is education, and she will visit schools to continue the conversation about waste minimisation.

Lead by example

Recycling at home is the first step, says Mayor Meng Foon.

But the second step as consumers, was that we could influence companies by what packaged food, goods and services we buy, he said.

“When I go shopping, I take my own bag (and) buy as much (in) recyclable packaging as possible.”

Mr Foon said he reuses packaging he does buy, repurposes it for other uses, and takes any large packing back to the store, as they have their own recycling processes.

“Let’s hope we can all help to be more responsible for the future of our place and environment,” said Mr Foon.

He supported the initiative from Associate Minister for the Environment, Eugenie Sage, announced on Friday to improve kerbside and commericial recycling.

A National Resource Recovery Project Situational report outlined the recommendations of a taskforce set up last year to respond to the Chinese Government’s ban on the import of many recycling materials.

“The taskforce looked at how our resource recovery system is functioning, how we can support more onshore processing of recyclables, and help New Zealand shift to a circular economy approach where products are better designed so that more materials can be recovered and re-used,” Ms Sage said.

“Recycling needs to be clean and the right materials put out for collection if the recycling industry is to be able to reprocess and find markets for these materials.”

She said that developing model contracts for use by councils, kerbside recycling operators will improve the quality and volume of materials collected for reprocessing.

The Associate Minister also revealed a series of taskforce recommendations which will be included as part of the Ministry for the Environment’s work programme:

— Identifying the gaps in materials recovery and waste infrastructure where investment is needed.

— Reviewing kerbside collection and processing systems to identify how to increase the quality of recyclables and to ensure more materials can be recovered and recycled instead of going to landfill.

— Undertaking feasibility studies around how to increase New Zealand’s fibre (paper and cardboard) processing and plastic reprocessing capacity.

— Examining how product stewardship for packaging can be used to ensure manufacturers consider what happens to packaging once a product is used by the consumer.

— Assessing the options for shifting away from low value and difficult-to- recycle plastics, such as single-use plastic bags and other low volume and/or mixed materials. This could include regulations around ensuring plastic packaging is able to be recycled and/or to require a portion of recycled content in packaging.

— Running an education campaign to help New Zealanders ‘recycle right’.

— Developing a sustainable procurement plan and guidelines to encourage purchase of products made of recovered and recycled materials.

The National Resource Recovery Project Situational report has been released on the Ministry for the Environment’s website. For more details visit http://www.mfe.govt.nz

WASH, SQUASH, LIDS OFF: It’s a handy phrase to remember — wash, squash, lids off applies to plastics that can still be recycled — that is anything with a 1 or 2 in the triangle at the bottom. GDC waste minimisation facilitator Darnelle Timbs is pictured with alternatives to single-use plastics. Picture by Liam Clayton