War on Waste – what can we do?
At the O’Collins assembly two weeks ago, a show of hands indicated that about half our students knew of the great “Pacific Gyre” – the mass of discarded plastic that has been collected by ocean currents and now remains in the centre of the North Pacific. Students know what this means for wildlife – how marine animals and birds can starve after ingesting large items of plastic waste, or be strangled by them.
The real mounting problem with plastic is less obvious, but closer to home. Plastics are worn down in the oceans to tiny particles that are now turning up on our beaches, and are inside animals that we eat, guts and all - think mussels and oysters.
We can’t undo the Gyres. But we can reduce, reuse and recycle the plastic we use at present. Plastic is ubiquitous in the modern world – in your house, your car or the supermarket you’ll see plastic in many everyday objects and their packaging. It’s handy, light and durable. But its durability is the problem. A telling point was made on radio recently about the humble plastic fork, provided with so many takeaway foods. This item, used by us for maybe 20 minutes, is likely to outlast us and our grandchildren if sent to landfill.
Most of you will be using recycling schemes at home. At school, we tried recycling “mixed renewables” four years ago, but without success. It needs an informed and thinking student body to get this happening at school, and that’s where habits and understandings formed at home are crucial.
- If you missed yesterday’s episode of “War on Waste” on the ABC, see if you can catch the rest with your family. Tuesdays, 8.30 pm, or on iView.
- Please purchase robust drink bottles and send them to school – purchasing bottled water is environmentally suspect on a number of grounds.
- You probably already model the reuse of zip-lock bags at home – if you are sending food to school in them, please encourage your children to bring them home for washing and reuse. They will last for ages, and you will need to buy fewer of them!
Thanks to the many parents who took up the option on the booklist to buy and use a lunchbox this year. Yes, they’re plastic, but in the long run, you will use less packaging plastic.
Finally, this discussion continues the theme of 'consumerism' that was a College focus in the Year of Mercy. Consumer power can bring about environmentally-wise change. Just last year, the large supermarkets moved swiftly in the face of consumer pressure to require suppliers of cosmetics to remove ‘nano-particles’ of plastic from their products. Just like that, it was done. But, as described above, those nano-particles form naturally anyway, from the plastics we throw away. Sometimes we can pressure big business in this way to act responsibility, but more often consumer choice is the power we can wield for good.
Please support your students in taking up the challenge to use less plastic. They will soon be the stewards of the Earth; let’s do all we can to be exemplary stewards now.
David Neate, Sustainability Co-ordinator