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Grenades and Plastic Bags

A few weeks ago near my house there was a grenade found in the gutter on the street. There were a number of conspiracy theories thrown out there, but the one idea that to me seems most likely, and has stood out in my mind is this:

It’s been buried in the ground for over 60 years since World War 2, when New Zealand was trying to be prepared should the need come to defend ourselves. There was a storm, a lot of rain, and a small slip on the embankment and this grenade became dislodged. All the soil trickled away with the water to find a new home… but this grenade stayed in the gutter. If someone hadn’t seen it… who knows maybe it would sit there for another 60 years.

Now what does that have to do with plastic bags and more specifically, Boomerang Bags? That explosive, dangerous weapon was carelessly discarded years ago! How dare they not think about the future and the safety and the children and the kittens! OK… Lets not get hysterical…

But my point is this: Someone back then didn’t think of the future generations and was careless about disposal of something. And now our lives were at risk. How have we changed? Have we changed at all?

We keep carelessly throwing all sorts of things into the trash, to be buried in a landfill… which eventually gets covered over, and built on top of. So really, in 60 years time someone might be living on top of a landfill that I helped create? I would be disgusted if I knew my fresh spinach and strawberries were growing on top of a dump. Who knows what chemicals are in there. And when I dig a new garden bed… how am I to know what nasties or dangerous things I’ll find! “Disposable” razors? I don’t see those sharp blades decomposing any time soon. Plastic bags with dog poo in them… I’d really rather not dig one of those up!

So let me ask the question… how are we any better than someone who maybe accidentally lost that grenade over 60 years ago? We are doing this intentionally! We are actively throwing dangerous goods into the earth and contaminating it for our future generations! How do we expect the human race to survive on a planet made of crap that won’t decompose, won’t nurture anyone, and most certainly won’t help food to grow in the soil.

Petro-chemical Pellet Pollution

Our awareness of plastic pollution from used and discarded products is growing, and images highlighting this pollution as a problem in the ocean are becoming more prominent on social media and news feeds; images of micro beads, patches of circulating trash, turtles with straws lodged in their nostril, floating plastic bags and exposed stomachs of albatrosses. While these images are distressing, they are only a visual representation of a portion of the problem. It is the invisible and the unseen plastic pollution problem in our Pacific and beyond that we struggle to comprehend, such as the nurdle.

In order to get to this current point of pollution from our short-lived, discarded plastic products, we have created an even bigger problem during pre-production. In order to make plastic, oil needs to be extracted from deep in the earth (let’s not dig into that debate right now) and then is cooled in small droplets or pellets.

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These plastic resin pellets are called nurdles and come in a range of colours and shapes, ranging from microscopic to 15mm. You have probably seen them without even realising. Despite their size and whimsical, common name, ‘mermaid tears’, these tiny droplets of petro-chemicals are a major threat.

Nurdles are penetrating our environment, our ecosystems and our food chain without having even fulfilled their destiny of making our lives more convenient and “hygienic”. Because of their size and weight, nurdles are often ‘lost’ during transportation and manufacturing. They are shipped all over the world, escaping one by one carried by wind, floating with run off, falling through cracks or just being irresponsibly handled and spilt. There is no way to track the nurdles back to the companies that may have mishandled them and therefore no accountability for this pervasive problem.

Nurdles do not disappear or biodegrade due to their artificial chemical makeup. Once in the ocean, nurdles like other plastic products are carried by currents and end up circulating in one of the 5 gyres (a rotating current), such as the Great pacific garbage patch, swirling forever. If they do not spend eternity floating they will end up being ingested, either by mistaken identity (egg or large grain of sand) or by lack of visibility to the naked eye. Nurdles end up in the digestive tract of crustaceans, fish, birds, sharks, whales, polar bears and consequently humans. This is not before they have picked up a few things along the way.

While it is obviously not healthy to attempt to digest solid petrochemicals there are even more toxins attached to nurdles. As with mircoplastics and other petro-chemical products, nurdles have been found to be very efficient at absorbing and concentrating chemicals. Chemicals are drawn to the artificial makeup of nurdles and attach to them. Think of all different chemicals that we absentmindedly pour down drains, watch flow down our gutters, let run off into our waterways from domestic, such as bathing products, cleaning products to industrial chemicals or fertilizers. This means that marine life, including some of the lower organisms in the food chain like molluscs and shellfish are ingesting the multitude of toxic substances that are found in the ocean and as they are consumed up the food chain more chemicals are consumed. This build-up of chemicals in an organism faster than can be metabolised or excreted is called bioaccumulation and it does not only affect marine life but it is interfering with human internal systems.

Before we even make that decision on whether we buy the pre-washed spinach in plastic or refuse a plastic straw, these products themselves have been part of a process that have contributed to the now prevalent and inescapable problem of nurdles in our oceans, risking the health of delicate global ecosystems, the health of humans and future generations.

The idea that plastic pollution is doing more harm than we may realise is a concept we should all be aware of. Through acknowledging the problem.we can make better choices in what products we use and what foods we consume, as well as what we are tipping down our sink.

While these changes may be hard to digest, it is a better option than continuing to digest chemicals and plastic.

The Adult Sippy Cup

Growing up I do not remember my parents needing to drink out of a sippy cup, but somehow since becoming an adult the sippy cup aka take away cup craze has taken off. Apparently we have become so busy and clumsy that we need to rush around with our beverages. Now I am not saying I have never used a take away cup or cannot see a purpose for them, but not disposable

Devastatingly, the rate at which humans are consuming beverages in take away disposable cups is becoming so great, the planet cannot sustain it. Many people think that the cups are recyclable, compostable or biodegradable, however this is not the case and the cups and lids end up in land fill, waterways or just scattered through our streets, parks, reserves and natural environment.

2.25 billion takeaway coffee cups are consumed around the world each day and it is estimated that every year 500 billion disposable cups are discarded to landfill whether they say they are recyclable, compostable or biodegradable. These labels are misleading and the reality of the labels is this.

RECYCLABLE: Takeaway cups cannot be recycled, as they are lined with polyethylene, or PE (a plastic material). The lids can be recycled in some places, but NOT everywhere.

COMPOSTABLE: These cups need industrial style composting systems to be compostable, high temperatures or UV light. However, they are often just sent to landfills and if the lids are compostable, they cannot be recycled.

BIODEGRADABLE: There are mixed reviews about ‘biodegradable’. These cups are made from plant based materials, but also need special conditions to break down. They cannot be recycled and so will sit in the environment for a long time.

Not only is the process of disposing a massive strain on the environment, the process of making the cups for single use using resources, such as water, plants, oil and coal, creating carbon emissions.

Ultimately, the best option is to use you own cup or just sit down and savour your hot beverage. Don’t rush around drinking the beverage that was meant to be enjoyed slowly.