Waste disposal everyone’s problem

Thursday March 08, 2018 Published in Letters to the Editor
Waste piled high at Rarotonga’s landfill last year, when loads of plastic and tin cans were shipped off the island. 18030703 Waste piled high at Rarotonga’s landfill last year, when loads of plastic and tin cans were shipped off the island. 18030703

Dear Editor,


February was plastic-free month and now that it is March, we should not forget the importance of focusing on the disposal of plastic.

Instead, we need to up the ante and call for stronger and stricter measures to reduce and prevent plastic pollution here in our Pacific paradise.

The aerial shots of our landfill taken by a drone show it overflowing with large, tightly-packed plastic blocks.

So even our attempt to recycle is not ultimately reducing our plastic problem. It is instead a convenient way for us to "think" we are doing our bit to save the country when the reality is all we are doing is moving it “out of sight out of mind”.

The likes of Jaime Short and Jessie Sword are making marvellous headway in having our plastic and tin cans removed from the island, but it is a monumental task because we are feeding the landfill faster than they can dispose of it. The only way we can win is if we stop bringing in plastic and stop using it.

I realise all our letters and appeals for recycling and changing attitudes fail to reach the majority of the populace. Instead, we end up preaching to the converted. But even we the aware and enthusiastic can make choices that can have larger impacts on the problem.

For instance, many people I talk to like to recycle all their rubbish and they feel good about it. Even our tourists like to know they are recycling. However, we only go the first step, which involves sorting our rubbish into a recycling bin. We are still putting it into the hands of the landfill workers to store it somewhere, if they can't dump it. Now they are thinking of expanding Rarotonga’s landfill back further into the beautiful bush-clad valley so more land will be poisoned and laid to waste.

Former US president the late JF Kennedy once said in a rousing speech, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country". 

This is the area we should look at first. Instead of putting our rubbish on the roadside in neat piles sorted and then switch off to what happens to it next, why don't we look at reducing our rubbish and keeping it at home? This sounds awful and no-one wants their house and land to be a tip. But let's look at how we can make large contributions to reducing the rubbish volume in at the landfill.

Have you noticed the butter in the plastic containers is cheaper than the foil-wrapped butter?  So you can choose to have only pure butter and reduce the plastic or if you buy the containers once you finish wash them and keep them. 

Stack them inside each other they don't take up much room and you can put them into the back of a cupboard or in the laundry.

You can do this with ice cream containers as well.  I use mine as dog bowls and as one gets broken or old I slip a new one inside it. Now the dog bowl is 11 containers high!

As an exercise we should save all our personal used containers for a year and see how much rubbish we accumulate. We will then realise just how much we personally are adding to the land fill. I re-use plastic to freeze portions of food or store food in the fridge instead of using plastic film wrap.

I have jars of lids etc and it drives my family nuts, but I know plastic doesn't disintegrate for a thousand years or so, and the lids don't attract rats if they are clean. Recently, I have come to see that under the house, where it is dry no one goes and no-one can see it, is a large cavernous space where these materials which are harmless to store, but very harmful to our environment, can be stored. A large glass pickles container can hold old batteries from remotes and every other gadget in the house. The eco-friendly spiral light bulbs which are not eco-friendly in the landfill, can be stored in an old plastic paint bucket under the house.

The plastic lid from the milk packs can be collected into a bucket, along with plastic straws, toothbrushes andwater bottles. I have a bag full of old jandals. My neighbour nails them to a tree as a signpost. These waste products are clean, stackable and under the house are out of sight, and mind and doing this will save room in our landfill. 

I know of one woman who had 10 television sets under her house waiting collection during the e-waste disposal programme organised by General Transport. It didn't bother her or her neighbours because it wasn't littering the roadside or leaching toxins into the lagoon.

Imagine if we all did this.

I especially appeal to those who bought a plastic swimming pool before Christmas last year.

I saw them starting to hit the roadside around the end of the year.

No doubt they had been damaged because they had been put on stony ground or the dog or cat got their claws into them and the wonderful feeling of taking a cool dip at home became short lived. But why should these items be dumped on it is not going to last.

Why shouldn't the owners be responsible for keeping it themselves under their house? Some would say responsibility lies in the retailers who bring in these goods, and yes, there is lots of room for improvement there, but this is looking at things at we as individuals can do.

Glass can be crushed and used for landfill and paving if the government would buy three decent-sized industrial crushers.  Jessie Sword of General Transport has been collecting and shipping off tin cans to save our island – we just have to take the time to sort and clean them first. 

Food waste shouldn't even be in our rubbish bins. This is something we can keep at home in a compost heap or feed it to the neighbour’s pigs.  Paper and cardboard can be burnt without poisoning the community. Plastic, however is the burden and the killer in our midst that is clogging our waterways and endangering our sealife.

So why not try it for a year? Keep your plastics see how much rubbish you are contributing to the landfill. Then take the focus of reducing plastic back to the shops and refuse to buy food in plastic containers or fresh food wrapped up in plastic bags. Instead buy food that isn’t wrapped. Don't pay 20c for a plastic bag - take your own or use the boxes some shops keep out the back. 

Refuse to drink with a plastic straw because you are no longer three years old and can handle drinking from a glass. In the long run, every little bit helps.

To save our environment we have to take Mahatma Ghandi’s advice and "be the change we want to see in the world"

Urth Healing

(Name and address supplied)

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