Zero Waste Update 3- Collecting Rubbish

Sometimes I feel like I’ve become that annoying, preachy, eco-warrior from hell… Some days I feel like it’s all completely futile. But most days I feel like I’m actually on a meaningful venture that might, just maybe, make a difference. If not to the world then at least to me, my family and even my neighbourhood. There’s been enough interest on my Facebook Zero Waste posts – several likes, a couple of (positive) questions or comments- that suggest to me that a) there are more people who are interested in changing their own habits than I thought there were and that b) there are more people who hadn’t thought about a lot of the issues but are open to hearing new ideas. If there are a lot of people who are cynical about the whole thing and sick of me banging on about it, then at least they’ve had the good cyber-manners to keep quiet.

So, what’s new in the Life household, zero waste wise?? Lots but I think this one deserves a post of its own…

I’ve been on a couple of walks with the dog which have doubled as rubbish-collecting expeditions. One day last week, after a lot of wind and rain (and as it happened the day after the weekly council rubbish collection) I walked down to our local water-front park. The walk itself pretty much demonstrated the journey of a piece of rubbish (plastic and otherwise) that gets dropped in the street. There was so much of it around, undoubtedly much of it dropped and/or blown from household bins as the garbage truck picked them up. From the footpath, rubbish had blown into the gutters. It had then washed along the gutter to the drain, where surprisingly large pieces (and of course small ones) are able to enter. I picked up a shopping bag full of rubbish up off the street and out of the gutter on my way down to the park (about 1km away).

The park is on the water’s edge- there is a narrow harbour beach with a small retaining wall and with the recent wind and high tides the water level had evidently risen high enough to overflow and rise up onto the grass. Once it had subsided, the tide had left a high water line of sticks, plants, shells and RUBBISH. It was incredible. Much of it was plastic. Light enough to float and be washed up, I guess. Top mentions go to the round plastic peelable seals that most milk cartons come with these days. Second was probably those plastic ring seals that the milk cartons without the peelable ones have. There were the ubiquitous bottle tops from sports drinks and bottled water, particularly those small round clear plastic caps they put over the plastic pop-up spout. Plus the inside of pens, miniature plastic soy sauce bottles, many unidentifiable small plastic bits and bobs and of course, a couple of drinking straws. Beer bottle tops and cigarette butts topped the non-plastic offenders and just to mix it up there was also a piece of polystyrene which had broken up into a million billion pieces and I probably picked up about fifty of them.

The park has a dog poo bag dispenser, which I usually shun in favour of my own dog poo bags (we are currently using up our bought stock, after which we’ll start repurposing the other plastic bags that still, somehow, make their way into our home from time to time.) However, on this occasion I was quite glad of the bags, they are the size of a medium freezer bag and I filled 2 of them with small bits of litter from the park.

I set off back up the hill, feeling very virtuous although bothered slightly that if that rubbish hadn’t made it to landfill the first time, perhaps it wouldn’t the second, either. Or the third, or the fourth. Another thing I’ve noticed is how old and tatty a lot of the plastic is and I wonder how long it’s taken to look like that- are these bits of rubbish that have been in the water a month? A year? A decade?

This morning’s walk was more focused on the macro. I took a big department store bag with me (it was the first to hand) which proved lucky as, today being Monday, there seemed to be a lot of weekend rubbish around- not just bottle tops but bottles!! I walked down to a local beach this time. In total, 3 beer bottles, a vodka bottle and a bourbon and coke can plus several cigarette packets and soft drink bottle labels. Plus an equal number of milk bottle seals. At least my neighbours aren’t just drinking booze! The beach itself had the usual little plastic bits and bobs, I didn’t have the time (or, to be honest, the inclination) to pick every single one of them up. After all, I’m meant to be enjoying the walk too, not just staring down at my feet looking for bits of rubbish.

So on my way home I was thinking, I probably need a set of guidelines for when it all seems too much, a futile exercise, or one that becomes a chore rather than a good deed.

Perhaps I should focus on plastic, or big things, or just get a bag-full then stop. I’ve already decided that tiny things in the gutter (in fact most things in the gutter) can just stay there- there’s not much point trying to make the world a better place for myself, my children and the dog to live in if any of us gets taken out by a car whilst scrabbling around in the gutter for rubbish. I’m also really careful with tins and broken glass, my tetanus immunisations are up to date but similarly getting a festering infected wound is probably counter-productive to my zero waste endeavours.

So if you see a strange woman and a bored-looking dog wandering around the beaches and parks of Auckland, it’s probably me!

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