For ever-ever? This bottle always remains the property of John Walker & Sons Ltd

Johnnie Walker Scotch Whiskey bottle with
the words embossed on the side –
“This bottle ALWAYS remains the property of John Walker & Sons Ltd”

As I have been redefining in my mind what rubbish really is, what is the point of all the plastics in the world and why are individuals taking on the huge responsibility of creating awareness in so many ways, I started to think that maybe the shift has occurred due to many large producers almost shoving ownership rights from themselves to the individual consumer.  Individuals like the researchers who made the documentary film Plasticized.  Individuals who take a science/art spin and try and re-jig human awareness such as Natalie Jeremijenko (click here to watch her presentation on “The Art of the eco-mindshift”).  Individuals who have founded organizations or just have countless blogs and twitter accounts.

How and why has the responsibility to clean up from a commercial venture devolved to the individual?

My thoughts were taken back to a few years ago when we lived in a house adjacent to a forest park in Queensland, Australia.  If you went through a gate in the back fence, you were in the forest.  After heavy rains, the dry watercourse turned into a torrential creek, or small river.  After one such downpour, a few days after the roar of the water subsided, we ventured down to the creek to investigate.  The flood had uncovered the spot where the residents from 50 years ago had disposed of their rubbish.  We found shards of old plates with designs from around the Post War period, parts from old automobiles, old enamel basins, and many glass bottles: medicine bottles, face cream jars, soft drink bottles, and whiskey bottles.  Some old depression glass also.

Some of the bottles were intact, but most were somehow broken with the sturdier portions weathered by the creek, and of great interest to us as a family for some reason.  We collected them all and went on little picnics with our friends to collect them in buckets, wash them nicely and arrange them.  We talked about them.

One ongoing family joke was that on so many of the old bottles, still clearly visible were the signs of everlasting stewardship and ownership.  So much of the glass fragments we found said things such as “THIS BOTTLE ALWAYS REMAINS THE PROPERTY OF JOHN WALKER & SONS LTD”.   We used to joke about it: “Always? Really? You still want it back? Even this piece?” and so on depending on the lightness of our mood.  It was a great way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon.  I did some research today and it appears that those kind of bottles were produced in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  Is it really true that Johnnie Walker still wants them back?

I looked today out of curiosity on a rum bottle from Bundaberg Rum that I found in a rubbish dump in Fiji that we use as a candle holder for any similar signs of ownership.  None.  Just “Established 1888”.  Obviously, the producers do not want it back.  Ownership of the bottle has passed to the consumer.

I checked on a sample of the hundreds of PET plastic bottles that I have amassed in our garage over the past two weeks from an area less than a city block.  No signs of ownership at all – blank.  The debate is raging in various parts of the world as to whether container deposit legislation is good for the environment.  In the Northern Territory in Australia, Coca Cola Amatil was originally successful in blocking the legislation, but the decision has since been overruled.  For updates on the subject see http://www.cleanup.org.au/au/Whatelsewesupport/why-do-we-need-a-container-deposit-legislation-.html

Fiji is also considering container deposit legislation.  This possibility is the reason Coca Cola Amatil Fiji gave me for not being able to provide any public place recycling bins (at all, anywhere).

Property of Coca Cola Bottling Company

Even Coca Cola has shrugged away from declaring ownership.  Coca Cola bottles used to be embossed with the words “Property of Coca Cola Bottling Company”, but no longer.  Therefore, cleaning up the bottles they produce now and that choke the environment is also a problem that they no longer wish to, or can be made to, take ownership of.  As the individual consumer is now understood (both implicitly and explicitly) to be the owner of the bottle, the individual is now shouldering responsibility of cleaning up the millions of bottles produced each year.  Individuals are normally powerless unless they are in a sphere of influence.  This seems to suit the manufacturers very well, as it is also relatively easy to stamp out fires of discontent regarding the environment that are individualized.  Thus the wish of individuals to motivate others towards collective activity.

Is this the reason why it is so difficult to motivate towards true Corporate Social Responsibility, and how the concept is now really just “Social Responsibility” that must be taken on by individuals who have formed social groups defined by interests and motivations?

Calling Fiji – Environment wake up call on the radio

Update: for all who missed it, here is the link to the radio interview of 19th July on 4BC Brisbane Radio.  mp3 https://alicevstokes.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/alice-tamani.mp3

I have plans, grand plans!  I am doing a slow reveal of the wonderful things happening here in Fiji and abroad in the movement to restore Fiji to a pristine paradise, as while I am working, the support from others is taking shape, and ideas are being added and refined in this new grouping.

IMGP5651People from island communities in Fiji have started to contact me regarding organising recycling on the islands.  I was contacted for local insights by a BBC TV producer, and tomorrow I have the wonderful opportunity to be interviewed on Australian Radio 4BC Brisbane by Catherine McGeorge.  Catherine spent time yachting around the Pacific, and witnessed some of the pollution and changes to this wonderful place that I am now seeing.  The live feed is available at http://www.4bc.com.au/afternoons the Moyd and Loretta Show.  The interview is scheduled for 2.05pm Brisbane time, and 4.05pm Fiji Time.

Background: Since I came to Fiji for the first time in February last year, I was struck by how little it resembles the travel brochures, and the ads on TV.  In fact, it is nothing like that.  The resorts are an anomaly, a little microcosm of their own, cloistered away, and often on islands of their own, or walled completely.  On the island of Viti Levu, the main island of Fiji, which has the international airport at Nadi, and the present day capital, Suva, the resorts are enclosed by high walls and lush gardens, and just outside, or across the road is the “village”.  The village is often no longer the quaint romantic picture postcard we have in our minds while sipping Fiji Water, or trawling through the internet looking for the best flight deals.

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My husband and I in Brisbane

Very few Fijian villages still have the traditional bures (huts with thatched roofs).  The bures have been replaced by concrete block or corrugated iron houses, with corrugated iron roofs.  Perhaps they are judged more cyclone proof.  Perhaps a lot of the old skills are dying out.  Perhaps, as one Fijian man suggested to me, the missionary culture that helped to shape the modern Fiji imposed the idea that God’s house is made of concrete with an iron roof – to be closer to God, the idea that one’s own home should be modelled on the European style “church” building took hold.

Perhaps it is just a sign of modernization or becoming “developed” as Fiji identifies itself as a Developing Nation and one of the SIDS (Small Island Developing States).

Another by-product of “developing” is apparent in the enormous amount of plastic and other rubbish, including recyclables that are thrown anyhow, anywhere, everywhere.  I started thinking about the cause.  At first I was angry, and then disappointed, then disbelief set in, then denial, sadness, anger again, and so on.  It occurred to me that my emotions resembled the famed “7 stages of grief” and I realised that most of all it saddened me.

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Roni getting his shoes shined in Suva

I am married to a Fijian national, and love my life here, with all its ups and downs.  Life is physical, I feel younger, and even though I miss my friends from home, I have come to think of Fiji as Home now.  Home is where the heart is I guess.

I started to think of a solution.  It is mind boggling as the problem is endemic, and systemic.  The system just can’t cope with the amount of rubbish there is (44 million PET bottles in Fiji in the year 2003 – the mind boggles!), and there is no plan.  There are initiatives such as the 3R’s (reduce, reuse, recyle), but no community education or strategy to actually implement any of the initiatives.

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Roni on our honeymoon in Savusavu, Vanua Levu, Fiji

So, first I just started cleaning up my own street.  I went out in the afternoons, rain, pouring rain, torrential rain or blistering heat (the only weather there seems to be) and started picking up rubbish out of the 2 feet wide, 2 feet deep open drains that run on both sides of the street.  These drains take all waste water from the homes, except for sewage which goes into septic tanks.  All of the drains were full of plastic bottles, broken thongs (flip-flops) and coconuts.  Regularly I would pick up so much rubbish in 50kg bags that I couldn’t drag it home, and had to get a taxi home with it.  Once I got it home, there was nothing to do with it.  That is why most Fijians either throw it in the drain, or burn it, or bury it.

I started to become a bit of an oddity in the neighbourhood.  Then I organised a clean up day on the street – 300 volunteers collected 10 tonnes of rubbish on a 5km stretch of dirt road!

I also started a blog for the sake of my friends and family as I can’t often send photos by email.  The blog started to get a readership of like minded folks from most places in the world.  I started a facebook page www.facebook.com/cleanupfijiprotectingparadise at the suggestion of a reader, then a twitter account @cleanupfiji.

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Roni at the hot springs, Savusavu, Vanua Levu, Fiji

You have borne witness to my private thoughts, blasted out over the internet, and if you want, you can also hear my views on radio tomorrow.  I would love your support.  Fiji has a way of life and an abundance of natural beauty and resources that can’t be matched.  If we all do the little bit that we can, we can achieve great things I am sure!  Someone once said, “Boldness has a genius to it.”  Another person said, “If I can so something and I do nothing, I have failed”.  Personally, I know that what I am doing may amount to not much, but if I do nothing, I will certainly die with regret.  If I do what I can do, I have the opportunity to make a difference in developing island nation that I now call “Home”.  If you do whatever you can do to help, you also have that opportunity, no matter where you are.

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Saris on the washing line, Savusavu

It could be volunteering to do a few days’ repainting a village school, or a day replanting coral or mangroves, or just picking up some garbage around the hotel or on the resort beach while you are here.  It could be helping to fund what we need to do, or helping with research and contacts at your home location for where Fiji can send their recyclables for the highest price.  Now, we need a way to fund this project.  Even sending clothes and unwanted things from home with the next visitor can help.  These items can be either donated to those in need, or sold to raise funds.

I look forward to working with you all, and to your input and ideas.  Thank you for your support so far, and thank you in advance for what you are going to do.

Clean Up Fiji – Protecting Paradise

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Fishing for bottles in the drain, Koronivia

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Rubbish at Koronivia Road and Kings Road

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Morning on Koronivia Road. No need to stop drinking just because it’s time to move to pasture.

Fiji is literally a paradise.  It is easy to believe in a higher power or God when you come to this vast group of islands in the middle of the Pacific.  Fiji is not like in the tourist brochures at all.  There are resorts, yes, and beaches, but most of Fiji is rural in every sense of the word.  We live in Koronivia, Fiji, on Koronivia Road near the Fiji College of Agriculture.

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Koronivia Road during the clean up

It is a dirt road that goes from the Kings Road Junction of the Nausori to Suva road, all the way down to Lokia Landing.  If you click on the map you will get the picture.  It really is just a dirt road, on an island, in the middle of the Pacific!

 

My husband and I took a day off from our normal activities on the Thursday before the clean up and went door knocking with a little brochure.  The next morning, on the bus to Suva, I met a lady (Liti) and we got chatting, she also was keen to be involved.  We estimated that we would have 300 volunteers, and hoped and prayed that we would.  We had three committed groups in place and hoped for fine weather and success.

The night before the clean up was due to start, with a commitment from the Ministry of Environment that they would collect the rubbish on the same day it was collected, it rained, and then it rained some more, all night long.

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Kids from Lokia Village after the clean up

In the morning, Roni, Dom and I went out a bit heavy hearted with out Tshirts, gloves, and bags, and started cleaning.  The Ministry had helped out with 600 pairs of gloves, and 1,200 feed bags (50kg bags) plus water and hot dogs.  One by one neighbours started coming out of their homes.  After a while, we saw large groups heading towards us, thinking they were on their way to the football.  They were there for us!  Even the local Police rugby team turned up before their game!

What a relief – a godsend – and it really made us proud to be part of this community! We saw what they were made of.  Indo-Fijians, and iTaukei alike joined in (plus me and Dom!).

IMGP4212Rubbish Suva foreshore – day after day after day

 

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This is Fiji! Even the garbage men called to work after their shift finished are cheerful!

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Our local shopkeeper and friend, Shanila, who coordinated the supplies for the clean up

Between 7am and 12pm we collected more than 1,200 fifty kilogram bags of rubbish, plus eight big 1,000 kg bags, plus metal, tyres, etc.  All of this rubbish had been either dumped in the open irrigation drains, thrown as litter from cars, buses or foot traffic (again, view the map and imagine how little traffic there might be), or was on people’s compounds.

The truck did not arrive on time, so after phoning the staff from Department of Environment and learning of their unfortunate miscalculation in hiring a Seventh Day Adventist truck driver to work on a Saturday, I was asked to phone the Minister’s personal staff.  I did, and that person was a real pragmatist.  He arranged for two off duty garbage trucks to be sent to collect the rubbish.  The amount was astonishing – but not if you consider that like many parts of Fiji and other developing nations, there is no regular garbage collection, even though the population of our Road is approximately 18,000 souls. 

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Loading one of the trucks in Koronivia

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The group from Lokia Village

There are also no rubbish bins  – at all!  and no way to dispose of rubbish but Burn or Bury.  The problem with that approach is that like many developing nations, a lot of the rubbish is NOT ACTUALLY RUBBISH, but recyclables.  A very large proportion of what was collected consisted of packaging that could be recycled.  Coca Cola Amatil Fiji provided us with 10 cartons of drinks, and eight recycling bags which I collected from their Laucala Beach facility.  The recycling was collected by the garbage trucks, and the drivers would have taken it back to Coke.

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Roni with some of our friends on Koronivia Road

Large companies that trade in developing nations do not seem to have many regulatory requirements to meet with regards to corporate responsibilty for recycling or community engagement. 

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Cheryl and the girls at the shop

 

Every beach, every road, every waterway – plastic!

 

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Rubbish in Suva

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Man on the street at Samabula, Suva

In Fiji,it seems that on every road, in every waterway, on every beach, it is hard to take one step without stepping over a Coca Cola Amatil package.  Coca Cola Amatil owns Fiji Bitter, Bounty Rum, Coke, and many still and carbonated beverages (see fact book for product lines).

 

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Rubbish at Natovi Landing

CCA’s Fiji market is stated as representing less than 1% of the group’s total earnings.  The total profit for 2012 was $558.4million AUD.  That would put the Fijian market at somewhere less than 1% of that figure, which is somewhere less than $5,558,400 AUD for the year (CCA Fact Book)

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Rubbish, Suva

In 2011, the company’s Sustainability Report (Corporate Responsibility Section) puts their total spending in Fiji on Corporate Responsibility at $178,967 AUD.  I was told that the $123,623 for Community Investment is for buy back of recyclables.  Charitable gifts and foundations represented $12,949 AUD for the year, and products and merchandising $42,404 AUD.  With net profit in 2011 at $532million AUD, one can only wonder at the current recycling problem in Fiji, and why charitable donations to Fiji represent approximately .002% of the net profit for the year as stated in the 2011 Fact Book.

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Rubbish dumped in Koronivia Creek

Currently in Fiji, there seems to be no real strategy for recycling.  Consumers have to go to the Coca Cola Amatil facility near Suva to collect a bag.  Once the bag is filled with recyclable plastic bottles from any CCA product, or any aluminum can (no matter the brand), CCA will collect the bag, and provide a replacement.  They will pay $1FJD per kilogram if you drop it off to them, or 75cents FJD if they collect it. 

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Rubbish Samabula, Suva

I was told today however, that it may be possible for CCA to drop off the bags to communities and islands on a monthly basis with the delivery truck that delivers the products, and collect the bags the next month.  This is a step forward.  CCA stated that they are in a holding pattern in Fiji currently with respect to recycling, due to discussions regarding upcoming plans by government to introduce Container Deposit Legislation. In Australia, CCA challenged a move by the Northern Territory to introduce the LegislationClean Up Australia has more information and updates on the container deposit issue.

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Getting ready for the big clean up day at the shop

Our little community has shown that people here want to do the right thing, they just need to find the tools to do it with!  A bin at every bus stop sponsored by and manufactured from recyclable plastics makers might be a step in the right direction!