Our obsession with a group of rowdy tourists in January not only captured our attention but hit world headlines, as we followed the path of minor destruction that a British family wreaked through Auckland, Hamilton and Levin. It was the rubbish these yobs spread at Takapuna that really raised our ire. People of my generation have been raised to “be a tidy Kiwi” and pick up litter.
According to the Keep New Zealand Beautiful National Litter Behaviour Research, 93 per cent of New Zealanders believe that it is very important not to litter and 99 per cent of New Zealanders believe that it is very important for New Zealand to maintain its clean and green image.
There is currently a bill before Parliament to strengthen the laws around littering with large fines being proposed. NZ First will support reasonable legislation against littering and dumping, but I think the “educating” we received when we were young actually shows that finding a way to insert it into our collective consciousness is more powerful than carrots or sticks.
The Government has agreed to put $8.5 million into fixing freedom camping problems that have plagued popular scenic spots over recent summers. The money allocated to 28 local authorities will largely be spent on toilet and camping facilities, education and signage, and employing more staff to enforce camping rules.
Litter leads, of course, to wider questions about waste – from fly tipping to plastic disposal and what to do with the mountains of rubbish we produce. Two phrases stick in my mind, “planned obsolescence” and “single use”. Those words describe what drives the ever-increasing accumulation of waste that never goes away. Waste that poisons the land and chokes the sea. And we know that a huge proportion of this vast pile serves to give us just the merest improvement to our material lives.
Instead of focusing on supermarket bags or any other single-use plastic item, we should reject the use of all single-use plastic products and encourage manufacturers to rethink the lifespan of their products and how they are disposed of. I cheered the woman on Takapuna Beach who fearlessly held the “best of British” to account. I do not think it takes much of a leap to take that visceral dislike of slobbish littering to thinking about the trade-offs between convenience and environment. How did we get to a situation where our life source, water, freely available to everyone, became a commodity wrapped in plastic to be chucked away after a single drink? We hope we can find ways of recycling all this junk.
But changing the way we think about useless packaging and pointless upgrades can also show how much goes into the great big garbage machine in the first place.
Laws and regulation play a large part, but it is collective consciousness and general consensus that will save our environment from the tide of human waste.
Jenny Marcroft, Matakana-based MP