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All fired up for 2011!

When I was a kid, one of my favourite books, (and probably a strong influence on my adult worldview), was The Sneetches by Dr Seuss. The book covers issues such as consumerism, prejudice, and discrimination, but the reason I mention it here is for the purposes of a simple analogy. In the book, there is a machine into which the Sneetches enter without a star on their bellies, and emerge with a star…all that to say; ‘that’s how holiday’s feel for me!’

By the time holidays role round, my thoughts on the state of our world are often heavy with cynism, despondency, and fatalism. However, by the end of a break, these have magically been replaced with optimism, excitement, determination and a belief that things can be different. The amazing thing this year is that I haven’t even had a proper break yet from my day job as a social worker. Still, other people’s holidays must have rubbed off because Waveney and I are all fired up for 2011!

On the surface of it, the newspaper stories that were the turning point for me are really negative! On the 10th and 11th of January the NZ ran two stories highlighting the issue of waste in the waterways. The first article opens with the assertion that, “Some of Auckland’s most popular coastal spots are becoming rubbish dumps as floating piles of garbage wash up on them.” It goes on to point out that there are a number of sources for the rubbish including boaties throwing waste overboard, rain causing street litter to be washed into storm water drains, (which flow directly into the sea), and strong winds causing this waste to be washed on to beaches. In one day, four to five volunteers can gather between 3000 – 3500 litres of rubbish including plastic bottles, polystyrene, tampons, sanitary pads, condoms, nappies, car tyres, and yep, one day even a kitchen sink! The next day, a second article highlighted the estimated 35,000 cigarette butts that are washed into the Hauraki Gulf every day, making them one of the worst polluters of swimming spots in the region.

So, how did this lead us from despondency to optimism? Well, I was particularly struck by the number of people volunteering and working towards improving this situation. On the 6th of December ‘Love Your Coast‘ coordinated 1000 volunteers who collected 200,000 pieces of rubbish from Rangitoto Island in the Hauraki Gulf. Folk connected to the Waitemata Harbour Clean-Up Trust were available on their boat that day and many other organisations were present as well including; Sustainable Coastlines, The Sir Peter Blake Trust, Keep NZ Beautiful, Motutapu Restoration Trust and Forest and Bird. WIth so much education, action and general good will I’m sure the situation of waste in our waterways will be improved – how can it not?

I’m sure that by the time the next holiday roles around I’ll have plenty of answers to that question! But in the meantime this is what we’re up to here at Rubbish Free. On Waitangi Day Waveney and I volunteered at the Okahu Bay Waitangi Day Festival which is hosted by the local tangata whenua, Ngati Whatua o Orakei, in collaboration with the Auckland City Council. The aim is to avoid any landfill waste being created from the day and so we were stationed at a waste station giving the public guidance as to which waste goes where. We stayed over at the marae on Saturday night and got to know how hosts a little better which was awesome. The hospitality and grace with which we were welcomed and looked after was incredible.

On the 12th of February we’ll be at the street market in Milford on Auckland’s North Shore, promoting the Rubbish Free message and then on the 6th of March we have a stand at Ecoday in New Lynn. So, if you’re in the area on any of these days, and you see us, please come by and say hello! Happy belated New Year!

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