Plasticized – from sushi fish to fish sushi

001.jpgI have often found myself wondering lately why and how my obsession with plastics, rubbish, recycling and the environment has grown since I have been in Fiji from a shaking of my head whilst on the bus, to a commitment to go alone collecting plastic bottles in the rain on Sunday afternoons at home to organising community clean ups to starting to write about it constantly, starting a facebook page CleanupFiji dedicated to it, thinking about it, dreaming about it.  Even my concept of what is plastic, what is rubbish, what is recycling, or recylable has changed.

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My husband on the beach at Namoimada, near Rakiraki, Fiji

Every day as the concept becomes clearer in my mind, it also becomes clear to me that the more I find out the less I really know.  My concept of how multinationals, plus individuals such as you and I not just contribute but CREATE the problem is morphing.  I used to think, what harm can it really do if I get my soy sauce in the little plastic sushi fish container that they give with every pack of sushi lunch?  I know that most people don’t recycle them, but maybe someday things will change.  I once asked last year at my local work place cafe how many sushi fish plastic soy sauce bottles they might use in a day.  The lady quickly told me that in one day, that small cafe would use about 8 big bags, which would be about 8,000 of them.  I started seeing them everywhere I looked.  Tip: with solid waste, the tip is to look DOWN a lot of the time.  Still, I didn’t do anything.  I started joking with my teenage and adult sons about making a little comic cartoon for youtube with the sushi fish that found its way to the plastic garbage island – maybe that would raise awareness.  I never did anything.  I always talked to my friends about how great it would be to go back to the days we remembered as kids where there were no supermarkets, and every corner had a local shop, a local butcher.  No need for mum to have a car, as we all walked to the shops on errands and brought our stuff back in paper bags or cold things wrapped in newspaper.  I never did anything.  I still used to 95% of the time drive my car to the local supermarket which was less than 500 meters away from my house.

I now live that kind of life here in Fiji in a way, where I have no car, I have to walk to the local shop, butter is still wrapped in paper, and on every corner there is someone selling fruit, vegetables or eggs, what went wrong?  Why is the picture I had in my mind about going back to community style life, and the real picture so jarringly wrong.  What has made me unsettled?  I have come to the conclusion that is is the plastic, plastic everywhere.  It doesn’t fit with the naive picture I had in my mind’s eye.

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One of my favourite photos, backflip, Levuka, Fiji

Not that I came to Fiji for a sea change.  I married a Fijian so this is where we moved to.  But, I have realised that the picture I had in my head of the type of life where people still know each other’s names and life is less focused on consumerism is a memory – a real memory – of what life was like when I was growing up in Brisbane.  There was very little plastic then.  The chemist still mixed the medicine in the apothecary, and put it into glass bottles and jars, the jams, drinks and all manner of other preserved foods still were in jars that you could re-use or return for a coin.  The cheeses, meats and small goods were still sold out of a display fridge at the local grocer, and wrapped in paper for you to take home.  Instead of everyone needing a car, if you had a big shop, the local grocer (who happened to be my dad) would deliver it to your house.  He was the only one who needed a car or van in the neighbourhood!  In fact, I went with dad as his “off-sider” so often and heard him call out “Rocer” as he approached the front door of our customers’ homes with a cardboard box with the order in it balanced on his shoulder that I thought his name was Rocer.  Actually, he was calling out “Grocer”, but never mind.  I can still see him in my mind’s eye as he did the rounds, me in tow.  He is even now a small but very strong man, with always a twinkle in his eye and a little joke for the ladies.  Life then was geared around walking.  The school rule was that if it was pouring with rain in the wet season, children were not to wear their shoes or sandals whilst walking to school as they would be ruined and would not last.  I remember feeling a real sense of sadness when my own kids were growing up and were in grade 1 and 2, that their school announced that all children must wear shoes at all times at school, even in the playground as otherwise they might get cut with broken glass.  A loss of innocence.

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Rubbish that will find its way to the sea, Fiji

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Old and new co-exist in Suva Harbour

Now, finally, being confronted with a beautiful community life, in a beautiful paradise – Fiji – I am finally motivated to do something.  Why, because the results of my previous life where I thought it didn’t matter if we bought things in plastic bottles and bags as long as we did the “right thing” with them, are here to haunt me.  Doing the “right thing” is relatively easy in a developed nation.  It is not easy or accessible here in a developing nation.  It is hard!  It is made hard!  Big plastic producers do not want to make it easy, why would they?  They have no need to worry as the world is full of picture postcard images of developing nations as beaches, coconut trees and smiling faces.  Yes, there are beaches, coconut trees, smiling faces, communities.  Yes, it is paradise.  Yes, I am very fortunate that I met and married my husband.  But, in this paradise, the excesses of the West, without the inbuilt controls are frighteningly real.  The perceived need for products and in particular products wrapped or bottled in plastic, is rampant.  The mechanism for getting rid of the plastics, close to non-existent, and a secret closely guarded and defended by two of the major players, Coca Cola Amatil Fiji, and Fiji Water.

I just spent a little while watching the feature length documentary called Plasticized.  If you have the time, it is worth a watch.  It is not hard going, but more an independent film about an ocean research journey on a yacht, with a little bag that trawls for nurdles.  One big take away from the film that I got which is timely – even plastic which is touted or promoted as “biodegradable” will only biodegrade in a properly managed land fill (which do not exist much in the developing world).  It will not biodegrade once it

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Lovers watch as a fridge bobs romantically in Suva Harbour

reaches the ocean, it will “photodegrade”.  This means that the sunlight will start to break the plastic down into smaller and smaller pieces until it is the size of plankton (and probably smaller).  From the most minute organism, to the filter feeding whales, this is their diet.  Plastic particles now outstrip plankton in the oceans by 6:1, they say.  Additionally, chemicals from industrial waste, oils and the like actually attach themselves to the plastic nurdles, which act as a sponge.  The jelly fish, crabs, fish and other marine animals ingest the plastic with their food, and with it the chemicals.  The effect of the chemicals and plastics biomagnifies up the food chain, until we eat it.  To view the film click here.

Next, I will announce the cartoon youtube challenge to make a video about a sushi fish who found his way to the plastic islands in the oceans…. stay tuned.  Actually, the sushi fish (soy sauce bottle), once reaching the ocean, will eventually photodegrade and become part of your sushi fish (lunch).

The film maker joined the crew on the small boat and sailed, collecting data all the way to, and into the great pacific garbage patch.  He did not get the chance, as he wished, to swim through bobbing waves of intact plastic bottles and computer screens, even though some of those were still intact. More that the ocean is actually a thick soup of suspended plastic.

In the film, one person commented, “To make something that is meant to be used for a minute, but lasts for a lifetime, is actually evil”.  It made me think about how many times I just used things for a minute, and then had to dispose of them.  Even here, I still do, but a lot less than I used to, as here in Fiji, I have to actually THINK, how I am going to dispose of it.  It doesn’t automatically happen like it seemed to back home.  I have to actually engage in the process.

44 million a year in Fiji – PET bottles are recyclable – but only if people recycle them!

I am doing some research on Fiji Water, and American owned brand, operating in Fiji.

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Fiji Water bottle floats in Suva

A bit of history here.  http://superculturereport.wordpress.com/fiji-water/

Some reports state that more than half of Fijians do not have access to clean drinking water.  There is so much information (not much of it very encouraging).  Fiji Water extracts at least 3.5million liters of water a month from its source in Fiji (only companies that extract that volume are subject to the tax introduced in 2010 which caused Fiji Water to close its plant for a day before reopening the next morning), with over 95% of it apparently being exported to its major markets USA and Australia.   Plastic “blanks” or pellets are imported to Fiji, and then filled at the plant using blow fill technology.  The only commitment that Fiji Water has to recycling here in Fiji that I have found is this:

Coca Cola Amatil Fiji will supply (if asked) large bags that hold approximately 60kg of recyclable plastic bottles.  Once the bags are filled, you can call them and they will collect the bags and pay 75 Fijian Cents per kg for the plastic.  They will take all their own brands (which are numerous) plus Fiji Water bottles.   To get the bags delivered to any rural communities or any of the islands (110 of Fiji’s 332 islands are inhabited), is not easy.  I suggested to Coca Cola Amatil that they could simply drop off the bags with the regular delivery of their product (the Coca Cola trucks also apparently deliver the Fiji Water to the resorts and other outlets), but they do not want to do that as they claim that people put “all kinds of rubbish” in the bags such as “dead dogs”.

There are no public place recycling bins that I have seen, and no regular collection of recycling.  PET bottles are everywhere in open dumps and on the roadside, creeks, rivers and farms.  Many communities do not have any kind of garbage collection at all.

Fiji Water told me that they have a joint initiative with Coca Cola to recycle in Fiji.  If the above is it, then it is not adequate.  As there is no formal recycling program in Fiji, most plastics and PET bottles end up either burned, or in landfill.  The dumps in Fiji are mostly near the mangroves and a cause of great concern to local authorities here.

Pictures and images of part of the problem here.

Hazardous Waste in the Pacific http://www.alphabetics.info/international/2013/03/18/hazardous-waste-in-the-pacific-islands/

The Department of Environment reported:

Fiji like all other Small Island Developing States in the Pacific region recognizes that waste management is the single most pressing issue that needs immediate action. It is recognized as a major concern with the potential to cause negative impacts on our national development activities including public health, the environment, food security, tourism and trade.

Solid Waste at the moment is either being thrown in the open dumpsites, illegally disposed of in the sea or on unused land, in the streets or being burnt in piles in the backyard. Burning of municipal waste is also quite common despite and towns and cities have been continuously exposed to destructive effects such as carcinogenic toxins from burning and impacts of poor waste management.

Plastic Bags

The growing number of plastic bags is one of the major environmental pollutants and of key concern in Fiji, as it takes longer time to degrade. Plastic pollution is quite common in public areas. In 1994 SPREP carried out a waste audit with 5 households in Suva for a week and found 7% of the waste was made up of plastics.

PET Bottles

In the year 2003 from January to December, the total influx of PET bottles in Fiji was recorded around 44 million which includes 1.7 million of imports and 42 million PET bottles being produced locally. (Note that the production 5 (sic) of PET bottles serves to mean the bottles that are blown up locally using imported pellets).

Industrial or Trade Wastes

Considerable amounts of solid wastes are produced by industries and disposed of at municipal dumps.

Source: http://www.uncrd.or.jp/env/3r_02/presentations/BG4/4-1FijiCountryReportKL.pdf

Get our Clean Up published in print – how I did it

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Full page article in the Fiji Sun

I wanted to raise awareness in our small community about the garbage, recycling and environmental issues here in Fiji.  My goal from the start was to get an article in the newspaper.  I didn’t think I’d get a full page with colour photos, but I got lucky.

Here are the steps I took, maybe they will work for you.

First, I looked up the Clean Up the World website just to get some information.  The Clean up the World Weekend this year is in September.  I decided that it was too far away.  As I am originally from Australia, I also knew that Clean Up the World was initiated by Ian Kiernan who started Clean Up Australia so I did some research on that also.   I registered our group for Clean Up the World, and we now have our own member area where we can post information, or people can contact me if they want to be involved.  Member area click here.

In 1989 an ‘average Australian bloke’ had a simple idea to make a difference in his own backyard – Sydney Harbour.

This simple idea has now become the nation’s largest community-based environmental event, Clean Up Australia Day.

It is hard to believe that this campaign began as the inspiration of one man, Australian builder and solo yachtsman, Ian Kiernan.

As an avid sailor, Ian had always dreamed about sailing around the world.

In 1987 his dream came true when he competed in the BOC Challenge solo around-the-world yacht race.

As he sailed through the oceans of the world in his yacht ‘Spirit of Sydney’ he was shocked and disgusted by the pollution and rubbish that he continually encountered in areas such as the Sargasso Sea in the Caribbean.

Having waited years to see the Sargasso’s legendary long golden weeds, Ian’s excited anticipation turned to anger and disappointment when he found them polluted and tangled with rubbish.

The polluted state of the world’s oceans motivated Ian to act.

Once back in Sydney Ian organised a community event with the support of a committee of friends, including Clean Up co founder Kim McKay AO – Clean Up Sydney Harbour.What happened after this is now well documented.

Clean Up Sydney Harbour Day in 1989 received an enormous public response with more than 40,000 Sydneysiders donating their time and energy to clean up the harbour.

Rusted car bodies, plastics of all kinds, glass bottles and cigarette butts were removed by the tonne.

The idea of a clean up day had ignited an enthusiasm and desire among the community to get involved and make a difference to their local environment themselves.

The next year Clean Up Australia Day was born. Ian and his committee believed that if a capital city could be mobilised into action, then so could the whole nation.

Almost 300,000 volunteers turned out on the first Clean Up Australia Day in 1990 and that involvement has steadily increased ever since.

In the past 20 years, Australians have devoted more than 24 million hours towards the environment through Clean Up Australia Day and collected over 200,000 tonnes of rubbish.

The next step for Ian and Kim was to take the concept of Clean Up Australia Day to the rest of the world.

After gaining the support of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Clean Up the World was launched in 1993. Source http://www.cleanupaustraliaday.org.au/about/about-the-event/history

IMGP5651I looked up the Department of Environment website here in Fiji.  Their calendar had no items, but I heard on the radio that as part of World Biodiversity Day, that the Department was coordinating a clean up.  I contacted IMGP5654them by phone, and they let me know that there was no clean up being organised but that groups were free to celebrate biodiversity in any way they pleased, and that if I needed gloves and garbage bags, they could assist.  The did let me know that there was a clean up being organised from June 5 – June 8, and that they could send me the registration form by email.

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I completed the registration form for our area, and sent it in, nominating that I would have 100 volunteers.  From there, as there was no publicity of note, no TV advertisements, nothing in print that I could find, and nothing on their website, I made a flyer.  I decided that we would clean up on Saturday 8th June in Koronivia, near Nausori (home of Suva airport), Fiji.  If you haven’t already read other posts, I live in a rural area, on a long gravel road, with approximately 18,000 residents, and no garbage collection.

I knew that the amount of garbage we would collect would be massive, as I have been in the habit on a Sunday afternoon of doing an informal pick up, and each time, I collect about 75kg at a time.  Because I knew that there would be a lot of garbage, including a lot of recyclables IMGP5755such as plastic drink bottles and aluminium cans, I put in writing and confirmed on the phone to the Department of Environment that I needed a commitment from them that the garbage would be collected on the same day as the clean up, and not be left overnight.

The commitment was given.

With flyer in hand, my husband and I took a day out from work, and went door knocking.  We went to the local Police Post also and asked them to assist with traffic control. The response from the community was so positive that I knew we would make the 100 volunteers.

The next day, on the bus, I started talking to the lady I was sitting next to, and asked her if she was interested in being involved.  She was very enthusiastic, and we exchanged numbers.  Within an hour she phoned me and told me that she would have about 100 volunteers.

IMGP5627My husband contacted his friends at Fiji National University, and told me that they had organised a group of about 40 students.

I knew then that we might get about 250 people turn up, so decided to increase the number to 300 volunteers .

I contacted Department of Environment with our new numbers, and requested 300 pairs of gloves and 600 bags.  I phoned Coca Cola Amatil in Fiji and asked them about recycling.  They have big bags (1,000 kg rice bags) which you can collect from their facility in Suva to fill.  If you bring the recyclables back to them, they pay $1FJD per kg, or 75c per kg if you call and ask them to collect.  I organized that I would collect eight bags from them.  I also IMGP5628spoke to their marketing manager and asked them for some Tshirts or similar as we would be picking up a lot of packaging from Coca Cola and their owned brands.  They said that they have no Tshirts, but they could provide 10 cartons of Coke Zero for the volunteers.  They take all their own brands of plastics, plus Fiji Water, plus all aluminium cans.  I mentioned to them that I would be contacting the two big newspapers here, and would like to mention their support in the media release.

I phoned BSP which is a local Bank here, that promotes themselves as “Go Green”.  I explained what we were doing and they agreed to support us with some wristbands for the kids, stickers, and hundreds of biodegradable shopping bags.  These bags I gave to Shanila, our local shop keeper.  I also told BSP about the proposed contact with the media.

IMGP5624On Friday afternoon before the clean up, I hired a taxi, and went to pick up the gloves and bags from the Department of Environment, plus some Tshirts (only 100 were available), and some bottled water.  As I had to stop by the Coca Cola factory to get the recycling bags, I had to leave some stuff behind, and the Department staff were to drop it off that night.  I arranged with Liti to meet me and she would collect her supplies.  We ended up with double the bags and gloves, making it 1,200 bags due to a mix up, but we used them all!

I emailed the newspapers alerting them to our activity and the number of volunteers, and some background information about our area.

I knew that to get into the paper, we would have to have a massive turn out, and collect a mountain of rubbish.

On the day of the clean up, we went out very early, with me coordinating at one point, my husband at another, and Liti down her end of the street at the Village.  We also had another great coordinator mid way near the Police Post, called Tema.

We had great support also from the local Police football team and the students from Fiji National University Campus that is on our road.

All the volunteers were so positive that during the morning, so many other people came out onto the streets to help.  They helped also by going into feeder roads and yards and assisting others to clean up whatever was there: tin, metal, glass, coconut husks by the sackful, you name it.

During the clean up, I took lots of photographs.IMGP5755

Once the rubbish had been collected, and the truck was due at the pre-arranged time of 11.30am, I phoned my contact from Environment.  I also wanted to let her know about the volume of garbage, as a small truck would have to do many trips. She told me that ‘the truck driver was a Seventh Day Adventist, and would not be coming today’.

Knowing that the community would feel a huge let down at that news, I decided to press on, reminding her that she had given a commitment.  She asked me to call the Minister’s personal staff.  I did just that, and informed him of our problem.  Being a pragmatic person, he quickly organised a solution: two trucks from the nearest Town Council.

The trucks came, me taking photos all the time, the street was clean. The Department of Environment dropped off hot dogs for everyone, and the atmosphere was one of jubilation and pride.

I compiled an email and sent it in to the newspapers after the event, with photos included.

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Capt Niumataiwalu from the Office of the Minister (far left) organised the Town Council trucks to collect the rubbish

One of the editors from the Fiji Sun picked it up and contacted me for some more information.  I sent him a blurb, and it was published the following Thursday.

The community has really come together through this activity, and rubbish and what we are going to do is a hot topic on the street whenever neighbours meet.  There will be another clean up in the next month, leading up to the Clean Up the World Weekend in September.

In the meantime, we have now got recycling bags at every shop along the road, and soon to have recycling at the FNU campus.  I am in touch with other communities about how to get their recycling started, and have been contacting some of the major makers of plastics asking them what other measures they might take to reduce the amount of recyclables that go into the ocean or are IMGP5662burned or buried here in Fiji.  So far, the response from them is less than adequate, but I will continue working on it.  If you have the time to like the facebook page, it really does help spread the message and help this issue gather momentum.  http://www.facebook.com/CleanUpFijiProtectingParadise