I noticed recently that a lot of people come to my blog searching for Tide Times and have probably been sorely disappointed. Here they are for any sailors around the place. I also sometimes need them, as now I am an island dweller, it is handy to know if I am traveling between islands as often the fibreglass speedboats only go from certain places at high tide!
I know that so many people are so weary of posts on the big nasties: Climate change, plastic in the ocean, single use plastics, dumping on the reef, turtles wrapped in beer holders and other depressing topics. I know that I used to be. Now I feel obsessed.
I used to not take much more than a cursory glance at these things thinking often that I just didn’t understand it enough, or alternately, that the headline and picture spoke a thousand words, and that was about 999 words too much to take in after a busy day at work before having a glass of wine and watching re-runs of “Friends” or perpetually planning to go to the gym, rarely making it past my runners with the socks hopefully stashed inside.
Today on Facebook I came across a new video called “Plastic Seas”. To watch the film see http://vimeo.com/69689785
Over the last twelve months, I have had a change in lifestyle, having moved to Fiji. So many changes have happened even here in the year since I started this blog. Many of them positive: I have been contacted by people all around the world who want my insights on social problems in Fiji. I have been contacted by people wanting information about where to buy shipping containers to make school classrooms and kindergartens. I have been contacted by people who want to know how and where to recycle in Fiji. Now, maybe due to the little bits of information I have posted, perhaps I have been an unwitting catalyst in the advent of the shipping container classrooms such as at Basden College, Newtown in Suva. I would like to think so in my own small way, that I have made some difference. I have led a local clean up in my old street that resulted in 10 tonnes of trash (mainly plastic) being picked up out of the drains and waterways in one morning.
I have had a lot of time to research as a “citizen scientist” and have learned so much. As the old saying goes, the more you know, the more you realize how little you know.
If you only watch one video on the plastic problem, and possible solution this is a good one. It seems to encapsulate the main points. It is always useful in any academic or commercial exercise to think about what you would say about your topic or business in two short minutes if asked by a lay person, stranger, or client. If you can encapsulate your main points in a two minute “nutshell” then that means that you really understand what you are on about.
So, here goes: my two minute nutshell on single use plastics……
For me, I can type about as fast as I can talk as I am old enough to have learned shorthand and typing at school when only the girls who went to secretarial college did so, on an old fashioned typewriter. How I conned my parents into that I still don’t know, but I digress!
Two minutes starts now: Since having moved to Fiji and seeing the enormous amount of plastic waste in the environment, I have started to question why it is there. It is everywhere in the world, not just here. It is a plain truth that most of the plastics I see here are single use PET plastic drink bottles, and plastic shopping bags. People of our generation and the next have been somehow hoodwinked into thinking that everything that comes in plastic is somehow more worthwhile, more necessary than the things we used to make do with (such as water from the tap, a paper straw, a shopping bag you had to take with you, or a drink that is not carbonated, and maybe came in glass). Also, we somehow now NEED chicken and meat that is wrapped in plastic, ice cream in a plastic tub or wrapper, and our children NEED an enormous amount of single serve snacks.
Most of these packages are recyclable in some way, but only about 10% of them get recycled, and about 10% of them end up in the oceans. Some of them are biodegradable and marketed thus, but are only biodegradable if sent to a “properly managed landfill” of which there are next to none in third world or developing nations. Herein lies the real issue.
If the plastics reach the dump site that is not a modern “properly managed” site, most of the dumps are near the mangroves. Leechates infiltrate the water, and are toxic, highly so (especially with the introduction of e-waste into developing countries). Once plastics reach the ocean, even if intact with the caps screwed on, they do not biodegrade, they PHOTODEGRADE. This means that the sun breaks down the plastics into smaller and smaller pieces until they are called “nurdles”.
These nurdles are chemical attractants. That means that they attract any chemical that is in our ocean, from agricultural chemicals, fuels, and pesticides, just like if you have a take away container with your curry lunch, and want to re-use it, it is very difficult to get the curry out without an enormous amount of dishwashing liquid (so you throw it away anyway, a bit hurt that it seems so unfair). The plastics in all sizes accumulate and spiral in the ocean in five enormous gyres. The five gyres are sometimes described as “garbage patches”, most famously the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The edges of the gyres are close to land in some areas, and the plastics spiral out of them and make landfall at odd places, like Hawaii and Alaska, just like if you wet a towel and spin it around, water droplets start radiating out annoyingly.
Most people are not overly worried about plastics in the oceans, as they think that it is the actual plastic that kills the wildlife, and they think, “How much plastic could a small fish/bird/turtle actually eat??? Not that much, so the risk is small. I will continue to get a lid on my takeaway coffee and always act confused when I am not sure which bin to put it in.”
They are right, the plastic would take a long time to dissolve in the stomach of an animal, so it is unlikely that the animal would actually get “poisoned” by the plastic.
The animals actually get poisoned very quickly by the cocktail of chemicals that is stuck to the plastic pieces (nurdles) which quickly are released during digestion.
Other animals consume so many nurdles that are the same colour and size as their natural food source, that they die from bowel obstruction. These animals include whales (they can consume up to 37 kg of plastic before they die), sea birds on Lord Howe Island and over 40% of a species of albatross.
I wonder what the Ancient Mariner would say about the death of so many ominous birds?
So, what to do? Who is responsible?
There are so many reports from various government and non-government organizations naming particular departments or bodies, but it occurs to me that all of the plastics we use are marketed to us as necessary for our convenience or safety, or “freshness”. Recently I was shocked when in Australia at a hospital to find a banana vending machine, with every hand of bananas wrapped safely in plastic in the glass case.
Actually, it seems to me that the majority of products that we have been marketed to believe we NEED are profit driven, and we are simply consumers. Stupid ones. How many bottles of carbonated beverages do we need? Do we actually need to drink sparkling this, or cola that? Not really. Do we really NEED the convenience of having our sushi soy sauce come in a little plastic fish container with a little plastic red lid so that our soy sauce will stay “safe” on the way back to the office? Not really. We used to pour the soy sauce and get the ginger from receptacles on the counter at the cafe, and we were ok with it, until we were told not to be.
Some people think that the drink manufacturers should show that they are corporately socially responsible and instigate community awareness programs encouraging consumers to recycle, and provide recycling bins. This is flawed logic.
Remember the days when every bottle proclaimed the owner? Property of Tristrams, property of Coca Cola bottling, property of John Walker and Sons FOREVER and EVER. Some time in the late 1960’s or early 1970’s the manufacturers came up with an idea (probably a very smart corporate lawyer) that if you stopped claiming ownership of the bottle, then the onus of responsible disposal shifted from the producer to the consumer.
So why is it now the problem of the producer to clean up the mess that each consumer chooses to make when they toss a bottle or other plastic item in the wrong place? It isn’t – legally you bought the bottle, and it contained a drink.
Therefore, the solution can only be one – for consumers to take responsibility. Of course, this can be done by pressuring producers, but not in the manner of asking them to take back their junk. It ceased to be theirs the moment you paid for it. That is why Coca Cola in Sydney called the police when Ian Kiernan of Clean Up Australia fame presented outside their corporate office with bags of bottles he wanted them to take back.
The only way that we can make any kind of dent on the producer is to stop consuming things, or insist through withholding our money that we want more responsible packaging. However, people I know who insist on only “buying things that come in glass” are seen almost as weird as those who “only eat fruit that has dropped from the tree”, or vegans who also happen to be soy intolerant. It is a culture of planned single use, planned obsolescence, and a conspiracy of silence regarding plastic waste. The world is being consumed by consumers, I guess that is why the documentary is called “Consumed” not “Produced” as the producers have shifted responsibility.
There are whole beaches in Ghana that are choked metres high with electronic waste. Developed countries send old and broken computers there by the container load as second hand goods rather than waste, with the euphamism that these broken computers are sent to “bridge the technological divide” between developed and third world nations. Whole communities survive no longer on fishing, but on burning the computers to get rid of the plastic casing, and then extracting the small metal components for sale. There is a lone Ghanian researcher who I think may also be just a “citizen scientist” like myself, who is taking photographs of the asset tags that are still stuck to the computers, keeping a data base, and is thinking that he will eventually mount a class action against the previous owners who might be such as ABC Council, or University of XYZ in the developed nation of your choice. I wonder if he ever will.
These same classes of people, who now have no reliable source of fresh drinking water or farming land or fishing grounds (where they once did), are then forced to consume food and drink items that come in plastic. Carbonated drinks of all kinds, water in bottles of all kinds and the like are marketed as a status “feel good” item. It is the domain of the poor to always strive for these small signs of status. Now it is also the domain of the rich. Bottled water is a perfect example. The marketing of Fiji Water especially in social media is a case in point.
Also, the poor, who survive on trash, or are swamped by it, or out-fished by it, seem reluctant to pick much of it up. Plastic drink bottles and aluminum cans for example are worth money in almost every country, even Fiji, however, not many people want to touch them once they leave a clean hand and end up as “trash”.
Why should the poor pick it up? The rich don’t seem to be interested in it either. Culturally, the poor normally mimic the habits of the rich in the effort to appear not to be poor. Perhaps it will take the rich to create a behavioural norm of picking up what is now classed as “trash” or “ocean debris” for the poor to mimic that behaviour, it seems to work for consumption!
Groups like the “Two Hands Project” seem to have cottoned on to this. They post pictures of people who look to be not in poverty who pick up as much as their two hands can pick up in thirty minutes on beaches, parks, and other nice looking places. Simple, effective, and a great tool for people with internet access.
It also can be taken as a consideration that most developing or third world nations (in the Pacific they are tiny islands or groups of Islands which are now termed SIDS or Small Island Developing States) still maintain a chiefly or feudal system, as well as a European style government. The government of the day makes the rules, but daily life is still very traditional. In the chiefly system, individuals would not normally come up with ideas and implement them alone, or even in groups, for fear of being perceived as not respecting the hierarchy of the chiefs and minor chiefs. People have been taught to wait for leadership on an issue, and then follow direction. Today in Fiji, there are still chiefs and village headmen, as well as a government.
In the past, when tribal wars and feuds were the determining factor in loyalty to one chief or another, and also the hierarchy amongst the chiefs, leadership was expected. To maintain one’s status, or indeed life, one had to be a great strategist, very intelligent, a great leader, with an excellent and obedient, unquestioning warrior class, fisher class, farmer class, and a loyal village or villages. Now that tribal wars and feuds are forbidden as an aftermath of Colonialism, chiefs are no longer chosen simply by leadership qualities, but often by birth. The Western World has demanded that democracy be seen to prevail, or sanctions apply. Those born into a chiefly family may not have the necessary skills to be change agents and leaders.
However, as society still operates mainly on traditional values, people await leadership, but it does not necessarily come. Action without leadership is seen in many ways as disrespectful to the community. Action without leadership in the past was seen as a direct challenge to the chiefly title, and cause for a fight. One had to be very sure of loyalty to the idea, and a very good chance of victory over the reigning chief to take independent action.
Could this be the reason that often the problem of trash seems so marked in the developing world? People are awaiting leadership? This is in no way a criticism of current leaders as all the rhetoric is there: “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”, but without the facility or infrastructure for the populace to do so. I have never seen a recycling bin in Fiji except at one resort island, and at the Coca Cola Plant security office, oh, and at the mini bus stand in Sigatoka.
Recently in Suva, during a tropical depression (pre-cyclonic rain), many streets were flooded without a critical water level being reached. Without exception, the flooding was attributed to blocked drains. Most of the drains are blocked with plastic, but still, the solution does not seem obvious. Agencies are assigned to clean the drains, without heed to the nature of the problem, and the underlying implications. If we can’t stop the people buying plastic, then we must find a way to facilitate a paradigm change and enable the people to recycle it – really recycle it, not just post slogans REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE, without asking ourselves the question – Recycle where? Recycle how?
What is “trash” anyway? It is just our perception.
Perhaps it is also a status thing – I am not that poor that I have to go into the gutter to pick up trash, but I am so poor that I can’t afford shoes for my children, and sometimes just feed them rice and milk, or less. Also, I am not that poor that I need to pick up anything that has been discarded by another, and is therefore “trash”and make anything that I NEED out of it, like a bed, or a chair, or a chicken house, or even a house, or fuel. Certainly in most developing nations, there is little extra head space for “art” either, and it is left to visiting artists with more ephemeral tastes for trash. Trash art also is a great tool for those arty types, or those motivated by art. However, as far as a change agent in the developing nations, it is often the case that those who have been marginalized do not necessarily choose to express their emotions artistically, as in the case of the black diaspora, black slaves sent to South America often depicted themselves as faceless.
This is where it gets interesting. I have not seen anywhere in all my research any one person or organization that has any real power, that has been able to connect the dots.
Most goods that are packaged in plastics and sold in developing nations are owned and produced by companies that are based in developed nations. For example, Fiji Water is made in Fiji, sold worldwide, but owned in the USA. Coca Cola Amatil has a bottling plant in Fiji which proclaims in the front office a commitment and obligation (from every employee) to be environmentally proactive and responsible, and owns or distributes alcohol, sports drinks, water, juice and soft drinks, and is owned by Coca Cola Amatil Australia. The producer of 95% of Fiji’s chicken is Crest, owned by Goodman Fielder, also owned in Australasia. Coca Cola Amatil got back into the beer and cider markets in Australia in December 2013. For more information on brands see http://www.brewsnews.com.au/2013/12/back-in-beer-and-cider/
“About CCA: An ASX Top 30 listed company, CCA is one of Australia’s largest premium branded beverage and food companies and one of the world’s top five Coca-Cola bottlers with territories in Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Samoa. CCA has a premium spirits beverage business, with a portfolio which includes the premium Beam Global brands, and it acquired the Fiji Brewery and distillery in Fiji and the Vailima Brewery in Samoa in 2012. On December 17 CCA will reenter the Australian beer and cider market with Molson Coors’ brands Coors and Blue Moon; The Boston Beer Company’s Samuel Adams and Alehouse draught beer and Pressman’s Cider from the Australian Beer Company, CCA’s joint venture with the Casella group. Rekorderlig Cider will join the portfolio in early 2014.”
The developed world feels powerless to help the developing or third world, and feel that it is not something that they can control. Poverty, heartache, sea level rise, oceans devoid of fish, nations being swamped – what can we do, people may think, from here?
What we can do in developed nations is realize that most of the producers of plastic pollutants either at home, or in less developed nations, are based in our own back yards. What we can do is use our consumer power (the only real power we seem to have any more) to either stop buying products produced by those companies in our weekly shop or lunch on the run.
What we can do is ask the question and find the answers to:
- what other countries do you trade in?
- what have you done about recycling there? not just platitudes, but profit figures, number of units produced, number of units recovered through recycling, number of recycling bins, amount of money spent on community programs such as beach cleaning machines, or scholarships
- where do you get your water supply? (it takes over 2 litres of water to produce on litre of most bottled beverages including alcohol)
- where do you dump your industrial waste and is it treated appropriately?
If the answers are not what you are hoping to hear, what are you going to do? Could you forgo your bottled drink or packet of chips at the footy or would it just seem to reactionary?
I have come to the conclusion that if enough of us connect the dots we might see the following and maybe think about taking the appropriate consumer action:
- It is a fact that there is global warming and villages are being inundated by sea, and the polar ice is melting.
- It is a fact that plastic is killing wildlife, not just at sea, but on land. Recently they found that cattle in India are dying from ingesting plastic bags that get stuck in their stomachs.
- It is a fact that obesity and diabetes are on the rise. Fiji has the number one amputation rate per capita in the world from diabetes related infections.
- It is a fact that products that come in plastics are attractive, especially to those who can ill afford them.
- It is a fact that many families in Fiji and other developing nations do not have enough money for food, education, or other necessities, but still consume a large proportion of convenience foods which come wrapped in plastics.
- It is a fact that many plastics are worth money to recycle, but that there is not much of a perceived value as in developing nations, not many people pick them up and trade them in.
- It is a fact that in developing nations, diets have become so poor that there are a high proportion of mothers with anaemia, and infant deaths.
- It is a fact that most producers of plastic wrapped consumer items are based in developed countries, where they must exercise appropriate social responsibility, but continue to trade in developing nations with impunity as there is little robust compliance framework in place.
- It is a fact that weak or developing economies feel powerless to impose stringent compliance networks, and also are too busy trying to provide sanitation, education, and health care.
- It is a fact that civil servants responsible for environment in developing countries are victims of poor education and training and are not up-skilled to cope with the new demands and challenges that are mounting daily.
- It is a fact that teeth are rotting in children and adults in developing countries due to the amount of sugar in processed and packaged foods and carbonated drinks consumed, and lack of money for appropriate dental care.
- It is a fact that archaeologists of the future, or our own grandchildren will not need to dig up the ground to find out what motivated the generation of people with purchasing power since the mid 1960’s – it will be everywhere, and visible, and evident. It will be plastic leftovers from the items we “had to have”.
- It is a fact that most of these items we don’t actually “have to have” but most of them are actually luxuries, and the trimmings of wants rather than needs, but we have been marketed to so successfully that we see our immediate wants as needs.
- It is a fact that these wants are marketed to us for one reason and one reason only – to drive up profits, dividends and attract shareholders for major corporations that are based in developed nations, but trade also in developing nations, to the blissful ignorance of most consumers in the developed world.
- It is a fact that we know all this, but have yet to act.
Well, my two minute nutshell was an hour, so maybe I haven’t been able to crystalize my thoughts yet. Maybe my nutshell takes the time of a long taxi ride to the airport. In fact, most people I talk to about this are sorry taxi drivers, who are a captive audience.
Taxi drivers of the Pacific region – please take this as my apology!
Ok, here it is, as promised, the bed from recycled paint cans, sticky tape, and cardboard!
Let me make it clear, I am not trying to set myself up as some kind of self professed DIY guru (although maybe I should start a blog site called just that…) or trying to turn this blog site into a site about how to make things out of recycled stuff. Of course my daughter has visions of becoming an overnight internet sensation from this post. If enough people want a bed out of junk, maybe she will!
I am simply a mum living in a place where furniture is expensive, money is tight, and there is so much that is discarded that is actually useful. I am often a woman on the edge, wondering how I am going to maintain a lifestyle that I want the kids to have in a country like Fiji where money is always tight.
I am also concerned constantly with the perception here of what is actually “trash” or “rubbish” as once something is discarded it is immediately viewed as that. All of the paint cans, lids and cardboard that I used would have otherwise ended up in landfill, a problem for my kids to have to worry about in their lives – heavy metals, paints etc leaching into the mangroves and the sea. Living in an island nation in the middle of the Pacific, the prospect of an ocean full of toxins and rubbish, and void of fish is actually frightening. I have once seen a fridge floating in Suva Harbour.
Our live in family recently increased from me, my husband and one teenager; to me, my husband and three teenagers. The two new teenagers arrived from Australia with a suitcase each that was filled with nothing that is actually useful in Fiji a land of alternating mud and dust – no towels, no toothbrushes, no sheets, just video games and high heels it seemed to me. Frustration and despair got me nowhere, but I must admit I felt it keenly.
Anyway, with two extra kids, and no extra money or furniture, I had to pull myself together and see what I could come up with. If only I could work out a way to spin a towel or a sheet set from spiderwebs and butterfly tears, my world would be complete!
I didn’t, but I did manage with the help of my 15 year old daughter to make her a bed using only the below. The hardest part was being disciplined enough to pick up the stuff when I saw it in the dumpster and take it home, and to stop my family from trying to “tidy up my junk” every Saturday where they would try and put it all kinds of places to get it out of the way. Also, my nieces and nephews were constantly using the paint lids as frisbees and hurling them down the hill where I would often find them a week later.
- 50 used paint cans (you could substitute large juice cans)
- 4 rolls of packing tape
- 3 regular cardboard boxes
- 1 cardboard box from a large electrical appliance
- 8 recycled coke bottle lids
- some of the white plastic binding tape that they use for packing white goods
- about 30 small screws and a screwdriver
- 1 thin piece of foam
- Material to cover
The only things that I bought new were the screws and the packing tape and the foam, plus the material to
cover, all the rest of it was salvaged from building sites and dumpsters, plus Jacks of Fiji Nakasi store gave us some great boxes. The total cost of the bed was $18.
- We used 50 cans in ten rows of five to fit a single mattress.
- Lay them out to make sure it fits.
- Make a cardboard stencil to cover 4 cans, 6 cans and 3 cans.
- We grouped the cans into fours and sixes and then put them together as you would leggo so as to give the structure some strength.
- We then had a group of two lots of six cans, and one lot of three cans.
- You need a stencil for both the top and bottom of each set. I think we used eight stencils of the 4 can set, twelve stencils of the 6 can set, and two stencils of the 3 can set.
- Trace the stencils onto cardboard boxes and cut with stanley knife or scissors
- Tape the paint cans together in sets, then tape the cardboard stencils to the top and bottom of each.
- Then tape the leggo pieces together.
- Lay the large cardboard on the floor and place the large leggo pieces together
- Score the cardboard so that you can fold the extra cardboard up to make the sides of the bed.
- Tape around the cardboard.
- Place some cardboard boxes on the top of the bed, and cover with a piece of thin foam if you have it.
- Lay the material/fabric on the floor overlapping so that there are no gaps if you are using pieces, and make sure that there is enough on each side to cover the sides of the bed, and fold over the bottom.
- Turn the bed frame upside down and lay on top of the middle of the material.
- Cover the base of bed with a piece of material, and fold the top material over the sides and to the bottom so that no joins will show when the bed is right side up.
- Use a piece of white packing tape, or cardboard to get a straight line, and screw the material into the base, all folded in, using the packing tape as a guide.
- Use some long screws, and screw the coke bottle lids into the base as small legs.
- Turn the bed over, put on the mattress, go to sleep!
Yesterday, I took a day off from blogging, and researching the effects of beverage plastic PET bottles and other plastics on the environment here in Fiji. I have a wonderful friend who sent some stuff from home with her friends to Fiji. My friend collected up some old footy jerseys, footy socks, some solar lights (thanks, and if anyone else is coming to Fiji, please ask your friends to pack a couple of sets of solar fairy lights in their luggage and I will collect from wherever they are!). Solar fairy lights give enough light to eat, do evening stuff as a family and stay on all night until dawn. They seem to stay lit a lot longer than the other types of solar bulbs for some reason.
Anyway, so I arranged to meet Katie and Tony Hiller who run the Mount Glorious Butterflies near Brisbane, Australia (www.mountgloriousbutterflies.com)
They arrived a week ago and leave today so yesterday was my last chance. With one thing and another (got my wallet stolen, no cash, no cards, no transport) I kept putting off our meeting. Yesterday, thinking I had money in the bank, I got a bus to Nakasi. I tried my ATM, but no joy. On to Suva. I was lucky enough to get in a return cab for $1.50 (same price as the bus) and met a fellow passenger who is the team manager for the Davuilevu Knights Rugby Under 16s League Club. Now my son can finally go to footy training! The club is affiliated with the Newcastle Knights in Australia, but they are still waiting on training jerseys, balls and other equipment. Apparently the old contact has now left, and things seem to have broken down. If you have any spare football jerseys, boots of any size, shorts, socks, balls, pumps, or spikes, let me know and I can arrange to get them here. There are very few clubs outside of schools, unlike in Australia, and this is the first one I have found. I gave the guy my number, he said he would call. I got to Suva and they guy (Andrew) offered to walk me to the minivan stand, but I told him that I was ok, as am used to finding my way around in Suva.
The cab dropped us off outside the Flea Market. From there I had planned to go to the ATM, get out some cash, buy them a gift as a momento of Fiji, and then travel to the Fiji Hideway Resort on the Coral Coast by minibus to meet my friends. Well, I had made a boo boo on my internet banking, so when I got to Suva, no cash. I only had $25 in my wallet and the return fare to meet them and get home was $23. I decided to make the trip.
I got in the Suva to Sigatoka minibus for $10 and enjoyed the ride. As always, I was constantly thinking about the mangrove reclamation (a euphamism they use here for the destruction of the mangroves where they cut, then burn, then cover in hessian or similar, then cover with dirt, then build industrial areas) outside of Lami, the Coca Cola, Fiji Water and their other brands and the thousands of bottles on the side of the road, in the creeks and river mouths etc, but decided to give my mind a rest and let some thoughts collect.
For Katie and Tony, on their first overseas trip in nine years, they were literally forced to relax. Tony did so much at home before they left that he gave himself acute sciatica and could not go anywhere at all. They did make one trip to the Kula Bird Park which they really enjoyed as Tony breeds and studies birds and Katie is an insect lover who breeds butterflies. Luckily, they were in the perfect place to relax – a resort in Fiji! Katie joked about the need for a wheelchair, but in Fiji, I know that any of the Fijian lads who work at the hotel would have happily carried Tony where ever he wanted to go – life is just like that here. We want every one to be happy – really and truly.
I had the nicest day with Katie and Tony, who are on their way to Nadi airport right now. By the time they get home, they will be on the internet – as promised! What an interesting couple. Katie was born in Aruba, and when she was growing up, she remembers there being only one hotel which the locals called “The New Hotel”. Now apparently, Aruba is a tourist mecca. Katie then moved to the mainland USA and then went traveling. Forty years ago almost to the day she sailed on a yacht to Fiji and landed near Suva. She loves diving, and still had a hankering to see and dive the Great Barrier Reef, so she traveled to Australia. Tony, who used to work at a Zoo in the UK (the name escapes me but here is a list of UK Zoos, and Tony might fill in. He says that the Zoo he used to work at has really come ahead since he has left – I pointed out that that might not be a coincidence! Anyway, Tony, forty years ago had gone to Heron Island to collect samples of insects or birds, and as he tells it, he collected an extra specimen, Katie.
They are a young and vibrant couple, Tony is 71 and Katie is 62. We talked and talked about rubbish in Fiji, rubbish in the ocean, country life, travel plans for the future, their butterfly and bird park, and my obsession with plastic trash. I even stopped and asked the hotel garbage collector staff what happens with their waste. They tell me that at the Fiji Hideaway, all rubbish is taken to the back area and sorted into plastic bottles, glass wine bottles, cans and paper, then the rest, and the recyclables collected by a company called
Waste Recyclers(Fiji) Ltd
Phone: 336 1055/992 1056 (Lot 26 Wailada Subdivision, Lami),
This has to be a good thing! Suva City Council states that
A total of 1,954,120 kg of rubbish(house garbage, green waste, general refuse) were disposed of at Naboro Landfill. Source: http://suvacity.org/home-composting/
It is not clear whether this is a yearly for 2012, or a total figure since the landfill was established.
I finally tore myself away at about 5pm, to give Katie and Tony some time to enjoy their last night in Fiji, and went across the road to wait for a minivan. I met a taxi driver who hailed a truckdriver friend. The driver was not going to Suva, but was going all the way to 9miles, which is a $2 taxi fare from my house! What a great trip. Along the way, other passengers got in and out, and we all talked. In Fiji, everyone is happy to talk. Everyone wants to know about you, and wants to share information about themselves.
Katie was mentioning that at the resort, everyone says “Bula” which is kind of loosely translated as “Hello” but in a happy way, sort of “Happy Hello”. I think she wondered whether it was just a tourist thing, but it really is genuine. Fijians as a nation (including all Fijians, whether iTaukei, Indo-Fijians, or the quaintly named “Others”) are to me at least, very genuine.
Sitting up in the cabin of the truck, I had a great view, a seat to myself, with my big bag of stuff from home stored comfortably at the back!
On arriving back in 9miles, the driver, Deo, gave me his number and invited me to visit at home with his wife. His supervisor, Suresh, immediately got my bag, helped me jump out of the truck (I literally did have to jump), and insisted on hailing me a taxi to make sure I got home safe.
When I told the driver where I wanted to go, he headed to my old house, remembering me and where I used to live before we moved a couple of weeks ago. I got home, and still had $5 left in my purse. I came home happy. Half an hour after I got home, guess who called – Andrew from the footy club, as promised!
So nice to see and hear from people from home, and so nice to meet new people here. I know that Tony and Katie will be back to Fiji – they have to come – my husband wants to cook them a lovo! One week in Fiji is really not enough – if you come, please come for at least 10 days. We would have been so honoured to have Katie and Tony as guests in our home for a night or two, and show them some of our little part of Fiji, and hope that next time, as they only have to save for the air fare, and not the accommodation, that they will take us up on it, and that it is not nine years from now!
I 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Here’s a thought! Amazing what you stumble upon – apparently seaweed houses have been a traditional method of construction on some island communities. A modern take on it is on Dornob. Click here for more information. Pictures of the seaweed house at the bottom of this post.
So many ideas for building in Fiji where timber is expensive. Funnily enough though, mahogany or mangrove wood is used for firewood here, and the sawdust from the mahogany is sold for $2 FJD per bag to use in chicken houses or on the garden. Banana crates are made from mahogany, but most Fijian homes are made of either concrete or corrugated iron. So many of the homes even in coastal villages are corrugated iron loosely cobbled together. So many (between 100,000 and 300,000) people in Fiji live in informal settlements or shanty towns. http://www.informalism.net/2010/04/asian-coaltion-for-housing-rights-in.html
Seaweed is apparently fire resistant and insulating, and also readily available in Fiji.
Do you want to participate and enable a study on the air quality in the Suva area? If you have visited, or live in Suva, please have your say. The chief investigator of thestudy apparently is having trouble convincing her counterparts at a University in Australia that there could possibly be an issue with air pollution in Suva and needs “proof”.
If you are concerned about the emissions from vehicles, the thick diesel fumes at the bus stand, the black coating all over the buildings and foot paths, the smoke from burning household waste, or burning community rubbish dumps, then please participate.
To participate you can either
Log into the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/SuvaCleanAirForum,
Complete the quick online survey at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/SuvaAir
Results will be published on the Facebook page.