TIS project officer Liam Kokaua spent just 15 minutes gathering up rubbish at the Ngati Arera burial grounds in Takamoa this week, and quickly accumulated a large pile of litter.
“At least half of the rubbish collected consisted of plastic flowers which had been blown off graves,” says Kokaua.
“They were sun-damaged and dirtied by being outdoors for too long.
“The second most common type of litter was flaking degradable (not bio-degradable) plastic bags. These will continue breaking apart into smaller and smaller pieces and result in problems for our environment.”
Kokaua says the green floral foam which people commonly push flowers into creates not only an environmental issue, but also a health one.
“It contains many hazardous substances including formaldehyde smoke, oxides of carbon, phenol, cresols, xylenols and sulphur dioxide.
“The reality is that plastic flowers and floral foam do not last long on graves before they are blown off by the wind and become rubbish.
“Because they are made of plastic these objects will last hundreds of years in the environment or in the landfill.
Discussing possible alternatives, Kokaua says if you want to leave a tribute on the grave of a loved it’s best to make a fresh flower ei or flower bouquet.
“They will not last as long as plastic but because of the thought and effort put into making them, they will be much more meaningful. Also, ei with fresh flowers are organic and will eventually decompose naturally.”
Kokaua says another option is instead of leaving an object on the grave, spend some time cleaning the gravestone and weeding around the grave.
“This is a gesture which would surely be appreciated by your loved one.”
Events like the Turama or “All Saints Day” are great ways to remember those who have passed on, Kakaua adds.
“But remember to collect your plastic lights and plastic flowers afterwards, this will keep your family’s burial area tidy and save you money as they can be re-used each year.
“Remember your loved one or ancestors would surely prefer a clean tidy space around them just as we do in life. “And by considering going back to natural tributes, you will be doing your part to keep our island’s environment clean and beautiful.”