Plastic Seas – two minute thesis and apology to taxi drivers of the Pacific

plastic sea

Source: vimeo.com

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.

plastic sea 2

Source: vimeo.com

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.”

Source: http://www.brewsnews.com.au/2013/12/back-in-beer-and-cider/

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:

  1. It is a fact that there is global warming and villages are being inundated by sea, and the polar ice is melting.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. It is a fact that products that come in plastics are attractive, especially to those who can ill afford them.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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”.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. It is a fact that we know all this, but have yet to act.
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Sorry Mr Ram – my favourite taxi driver in Levuka Town!

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!

Piggy and Peggy – free range pigs in Fiji?

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Roni communing with Peggy

For about six months, I have been going to the local vegetable roadside vegetable sellers collecting their waste for use as green manure or compost on my garden.  I go almost every day and am constantly amazed by the amount of “waste” I collect.  There is constant talk in Fiji in the media about working towards what they call “Food Security” which is a term used by politicians and local agriculture experts.  Loosely speaking, what they are aiming for is for Fiji to be able to eventually produce all of its own food requirements locally without having to import food, and without poverty.

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Going for a walk

The figures and statistics are always saying that there are up to 40% of Fijians living below the poverty line.  Up to 40% of mothers with anaemia, a high infant mortality rate, diabetes that is endemic with Fiji having the highest rate per capita in the world of amputations from diabetes related infections.  How is it possible?  From a small market place of approximately 8 “table vendors” (where they have a table with piles of produce to sell) each day I collect approximately 10 large hessian bags of “waste”.  Much of the waste is actually fresh food that is either bent or in some other way not perfect enough to be bought.  I was in the habit of making huge piles of the waste, and then digging it in to produce a permaculture garden, with whatever happened to sprout.

Last year from this method, we ate (without one seed or any fertilizer being bought):tomatoes, motha, bele, rourou (dalo or taro leaves), cucumber, chilli, corn by the bucket load, eggplant, banana, pumpkins galore, long beans, bora beans, bitter gourd, and much more.  Where I have harvested those crops, I now have a large and very tall cassava plantation, flowers, more corn and beans, and a massive pineapple plantation, plus rosella, more pumpkins, more eggplant and cucumbers, pawpaws etc.

Anyway, long story short, I had so much good food being given to me that I was forced to sort it, and use in the kitchen what was still good.  Consequently, we have a very varied diet of fresh vegetables and fruit with often an embarrassingly full freezer of beans, pawpaw, banana, eggplant, mango, cassava, and I make jars of jam and chutney, pancakes and gulab jamen with what I can’t freeze and give it away.

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Taking off around the corner

Even that wasn’t enough to ease the burden of so much fresh food that was otherwise literally going to rot, so I decided to buy two piglets – now known as Piggy and Peggy when they are good (and sometimes Minky and Monkey when they misbehave).  Our little pig house is down a gully.

Normally, when pigs are moved in Fiji, they are tied with rope by the hind legs and dragged.  This causes a lot of distress to the animals, and the thought of my husband dragging a fully grown pig by the legs up a 6 metre gully didn’t bear thinking about.  Animal rights is not a big thing in Fiji – perhaps humans are still trying to get a grasp on their own rights.  Animals are often neglected whether they are farm animals or domestic animals.

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Piggy and Peggy wallowing in a pool of water on their excursion to the neighbour’s place

There is also a perception that processed food is “better” for the animals, or perhaps it is a sign of status to be able to afford processed food.  When I first started getting the surplus of good food from the waste, I offered some to a relative who had a pig.  I was told “thanks, but no thanks – we can afford to buy pig food”.  I was dismayed at this, as their poor pig was almost starving sometimes, and my relative is a farm hand, with a family of four kids who takes home about $100 a week.  In reality, they seem not to be able to afford a lot of things, so I was surprised that they did not want to share my scraps.  Even during the eight months that we lived across the street from each other, not once did they take any for the pigs.

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Having fun at the carpenter’s shed

To save myself and the little four week old piglets the trauma of being hog tied and dragged at a later date, I decided very early on to let them out for a run in the mornings.

I figured it was going to be better all round if the pigs come when they are called…and thought I would give it a try “Babe” style.

They loved it so much, and they look forward to it so much that now they come out in the mornings, afternoons, and any other time if I am alone and want some piggy company.  It is great to see them in their natural behaviour patterns – they dig in the compost, find any puddle and wallow in it (or make a puddle themselves).  They love to interact with the cats, and have learned that they are not allowed on the verandah areas, or in the house (although Peggy has snuck in a couple of times!).

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Bele, another favourite food

If I have to go for a walk to pick some extra bele for them, they will often come too, much to the amusement of the Uni Students who mock me incessantly calling “Piggy, Peggy” and sniggering.  I am not sure that they have ever seen free range pigs.  The only animals that seem to free range are the packs of stray scavenging dogs.

The pigs are now a few months old, and growing fast.  When they run, they are surprisingly fast.  My husband, who at first thought I was more than half mad, has now taken the pigs under his wing, and spends ages with them.  Whenever people come over, he wants me to let the pigs out as some kind of circus curio show.  In a couple of months, the pigs will be ready to have piglets.  I am thinking about whether the piglets will follow their mum up the steps and around the garden.  I am fairly sure they will, and look forward to that exciting event.  IMG_0592

IMG_0483This is the first time that I have ever kept pigs, and it is a delight, although a very big time commitment to clean their pen twice a day, get their food, sort it and cook it.  Their favourite food is pawpaw, but they hate banana.  Who knew?  They love cassava, but hate pumpkin.  They eat only the seeds of the cucumber but not the flesh.  Every morning, they get fresh grass to eat, and then make it into a nest for their day time nap.  About 3pm in the afternoon, they start calling to be let out, and as soon as the gate is open they barrel up the steps at a million miles an hour and then race around the yard to their favourite spots for an update on what might be available.  They they settle down to snuffling in the ground looking for worms and other tidbits, race around the house and move to another spot.  The kids have taken over the cleaning of the pig pen (phew!  great news for me!) and my husband now cooks their food.  When their pen is clean, their food and water replenished and all is ready for their bed time, we call “Piggy, Peggy” and start walking down the steps and they follow (not always the first time).  The pigs are actually so well fed, that they have become fussy with their food – I keep telling them that I have seen other pigs in this country forced to eat their own shit, and that they are very lucky, but I think their vocabulary is not quite up to that yet.  Perhaps I shall make some flash cards.

I have to tell you though that sometimes they are a bit naughty, and sneak away from me when we go for a walk, always about 5 paces ahead of me.  They go from neighbour to neighbour and sniff around the yards.  Sometimes they go and visit Nobbit, a lovely dog with only three good legs.  This is always a bit of fun, as Nobbit is often asleep on the porch, and when he notices the pigs and gives a little bark, they scoot off as quickly as they can, but always go back for more.  Sometimes I have to borrow bread or crackers from the neighbours and entice them back home, sweating and frustrated, and hoping that my husband never finds out!  It always makes a good story, so I end up telling him anyway – never have been good at keeping secrets!

Perhaps I will be the first “free range” pig farmer in Fiji?

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How to make a herb garden on wheels from recycled pallets

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Source:byronobserver.com

My friend Robyn who lives in Byron Bay but has close ties to Moturiki Island, Fiji,  posted this great herb garden on wheels from recycled pallets.  Thanks Robyn!

Also, it appears that if you get your hands dirty, you feel happier – who knew!  But, I must admit whenever the stress of life gets to me I take refuge in the garden, and the reward is that I haven’t had to buy fruit or vegetables for months now and I haven’t even bought any seeds, I just throw the bags of waste from the market vendors on the ground and see what germinates.

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We eat: corn, tomatoes, ochra, pumpkin, sweet potato leaf, pumpkin leaf, beans, long beans, chilli, paw paw, bele, roro (taro leaf), soursop, banana, cucumber, dahnia, bitter gourd, eggplant, dalo, cassava, and the list goes on!

Often people go hungry here, and the papers are full of what they call “Food Security” which means that they are trying to get to a point where all the food needed for Fiji can be grown or farmed in Fiji.  However, every weekend I go to the very small market in Nakasi, and I bring home a van full of bags of “waste” from the market. This waste is called “rubbish” but it is mostly good food, and what isn’t good for cooking, I use on the garden and the seeds grow!

Normally this waste is not even separated, but just sent to landfill with all the millions of plastic bottles, cans and other stuff that is still perceived as waste here.

To see step by step how to make the herb garden on wheels check out Robyn’s post at http://byronobserver.com/2013/11/26/getting-down-and-dirty/

It also reminded me of this photo I saw today.

 

Art challenges the lie that “Plastic is Cheap”

A couple of artists create art from plastics from one beach.  Again, calling all artists, do you want to do something like this in Fiji?

http://beachplastic.com/In-the-News

Coca Cola Amatil – recycling in Fiji – a fuller picture

Recently, I emailed a major Water Bottler here in Fiji, with its main market in the USA, and asked them some questions about their recycling plans and initiatives in Fiji.

Their response so far is very positive, and I will keep you posted, however, I am not sure that what they are being told is the full picture.  Today they told me:

We work with Coca-Cola on the recycling initiative. We pay Coca-Cola a fee to process our recycling; they arrange the bags, and do pickups for our large customers.

Additionally, Regular consumers can drop off their recycling directly at the Coke depots.

A fuller picture of the situation here regarding recycling from my observations: The information the Water bottler received regarding the joint procedure with Coca Cola Amatil is correct, but doesn’t quite give the full picture.   The reality of the situation is quite different from how they make it sound.  I live here in Viti Levu and travel all around the island.  Additionally, I do also have to travel to other islands in the Fiji Group.

Recycling here is not what your sources have made it out to be.  I met with Coca Cola over the last couple of weeks at their facility in Suva.I asked them the same questions that I asked you, including how do they plan to be proactive regarding recycling.  The current situation is that most of the population do not know that you can recycle here in Fiji.  The reasons being numerous and complex:
1. there is no public education campaign
2. there are no bins outside supermarkets or bus stops.
3. there are very few bins on the roadside.  In fact between Nausori (where Suva airport is) and Nabua (Suva City), there are no bins at all that I can see on the roadside.
4.  I personally have never seen a recycling bin anywhere in Fiji, although I understand that some resorts have them, and I did see some cardboard versions of them in the security office at the CCA (Coca Cola Amatil) facility.  Even at the new ANZ stadium, Olympic Pool, Damodar National Aquatic Centre, there are no recycling bins.  In fact at ANZ stadium, there are no bins at all in the forecourt or on the stands.  This could present an opportunity.Outside even major supermarkets the only bin I can see is often a plastic bucket for ATM receipts.
5. I asked at CCA if they could provide some of the cardboard recycling bins and some pamphlets, and was told that I couldn’t have any of the bins, and that the pamphlets would have to be emailed to me to print.  That still has not eventuated.
6.  I was told emphatically that the recycling bags (which are like big garden waste bags) would not be dropped off to customers in the delivery cycle, but that their regular customers know that the bags have to be collected from Suva.
I indicated to them that as Fiji has 332 islands (and over 500 islets)and the Fiji Islands are scattered over 1,290,000 square km of the Pacific Ocean, that collection from Suva for many people would be an impediment. This was hotly denied.  I asked what islands currently recycle, and was told only Taveuni.  There is no indication of any recycling on Vanua Levu (the second largest island) or any other islands that I know of, or were mentioned by CCA. As mentioned, I know that some resorts and perhaps other communities have instituted recycling on their own. Apart from that, most of Fiji is rural, including on Viti Levu and Vanua Levu.  The Coca Cola trucks deliver to all of these places.  I asked whether bags could simply be put on the delivery trucks and the process explained to the shop keepers or business owners, but was told “no”, as sometimes people put other “rubbish” in the bags. I was also told that CCA had no plans at all to initiate recycling programs as they are awaiting container deposit legislation here in Fiji.  I am not sure how much you know about the political situation here in Fiji, but that is likely to take maybe several years.
On pressing the CCA staff, I did finally persuade them that if I found “specific people” on the islands or around Viti Levu (the main island), that they would agree to drop off the bags in the monthly delivery cycle (and I was clearly told it would take one month!), and then collect as required.  I was told that I needed to pass on the list of “specific people” to CCA and they would deal with it from there.  I am reluctant to do so, and will monitor it myself, due to the attitude and defensiveness of the CCA staff at the meeting. I also know from other contacts at some of the resorts that the Coca cola delivery is weekly, not monthly.
I also asked CCA about why their community spending in Fiji is so low compared to other countries they operate in such as PNG and Indonesia.  For example, in Bali, Coke branded trucks and staff clean the beaches daily.  This has proven to be a market share driver for them in that area.  Coke also sponsors scholarships, community farms, orphanages etc in those other countries.  The reason I was given for community spending in Fiji being so low is that they wait to be asked, and if it is a worthwhile cause they would agree, but that they do sponsor the Coca Cola games each year which costs $500,000 FJD.  Are there any recycling facility at the Coke Games?  I question why this expenditure is not on the table of spending.
I am in contact with resorts and other island communities, and they are interested in recycling and want me to get this moving as soon as possible.
To give you an idea of what the daily rubbish (which is mostly recylclables) looks like in Fiji, I have made a special link of photographs giving a recent snapshot of the issue at https://alicevstokes.wordpress.com/2013/07/09/could-one-simple-idea-help-solve-the-problem-of-how-to-get-recycling-going-in-fiji/

koronivia to lokia 5km

Source: Google Maps

lami nausori

Source: Google Maps

I have a link to the article published in the Fiji Sun about our group https://alicevstokes.wordpress.com/2013/07/08/get-our-clean-up-published-in-print-how-i-did-it/.  It was reported recently that on the one weekend of 5-8 June 2013, that approximately 1000 volunteers (our group had 300 volunteers so we were most likely the largest group) collected 25 tonnes of waste which were transported to landfill.  The clean up was only from Lami to Nausori which is just a very small part of Fiji, so you can imagine how much is still left!  Lami to Nausori on map below marked A to B.

I have been racking my brains about the cost of getting recycling bins for public places, and how they could be made from recycled PET bottles, and stumbled across the below idea.  Wouldn’t it be great if we could make these bins out of dumped or salvaged bottles!  It could also provide employment here, and be a great brand advantage fora company that wanted to take it up.  It would really promote the concept of true corporate responsibility being companies that are proactively thinking about their packaging and its stewardship, without being forced to, in the absence of any robust compliance framework as exists in developing nations such as Fiji.  See link for picture https://alicevstokes.wordpress.com/2013/07/08/15-ideas-on-how-to-recycle-plastic-bottles/
My blog and facebook site are only new, but already the reach is wide, with the Australia, New Zealand and the USA topping the list of viewers. Every shaded area on the below map has a reader of my blog.blog reach new  This indicates that the issue of recycling and environmental and cultural sustainability is important to many.

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).

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 2012 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.   Also see 2011 Fact Book for net profit.

 

 

15 Ideas on how to recycle plastic bottles

I came across this today: http://www.designsclue.com/15-best-ideas-of-how-to-recycle-plastic-bottles/

Wow!  Maybe it will solve some of our problems.  I have been wondering how to get recycling bins in public places in Fiji and worried about the cost.  No need to worry further – just find someone who can help me with putting them together!

Also, check out the garden fence, hydroponics, and house!

Is Paradise really a Possibility?

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Roni at Namoimada, a white beach near Rakiraki

My life in Fiji -I met my husband in Australia.  At the beginning of 2012 he returned to Fiji due to visa issues.  The day before he returned, my dad had an accident and landed in hospital for many months, so I stayed behind, working at a University in Queensland, and caring for him, traveling back and forth to Fiji over the year, traveling to SavuSavu on Vanua Levu (the second largest island), but basing ourselves in Suva.  In November 2012 we made the decision that I would move over to Fiji with our son so we packed what we could in suitcases and said goodbye to friends and family.  We landed in Fiji on 18th December 2012 and I have been here since.

Since I have been living here in Koronivia, my life has changed so much.  We live in a semi rural community on a long dirt road that runs along the Rewa River.  We live in a corrugated iron 2 bedroom house with no hot water, no fridge (although I did buy a freezer), no washing machine or dryer, a TV that only gets one channel, no stove or oven, (just a two burner camping stove), no bed, no furniture save a folding plastic table and three chairs, a bed for our son, no car, no high heels… you get the picture.

So what do we have?IMGP0005

We have time with family here, and friends, although I miss my family and friends from home so much.

We have lots of time to think and observe while traveling by bus.  We have a garden that grows almost everything we need – corn, bele (which is like spinach), pumpkin, rosella, dalo and more.  We have neighbours who know our names and consider us their valued friends.  I have internet – sometimes!  We have time to travel cheaply and in every place we go we seem to have relatives.

I have been to Levuka, Rakiraki, Suva, Nausori (our closest town), Korolevu, Beach Cocomo, Sigatoka, Nadi, Savusavu, Namoimada and seen every place in between.

Fiji is truly a paradise, but it is being drowned by rubbish.  No need for us to go and investigate the famed “garbage island” in the Pacific, it is right here!

To think is easy. To act is difficult.
To act as one thinks is the most difficult of all.
Goethe

Major corporations that are overseas owned are trading profitably here, but seemingly with little corporate responsibility for either community projects or packaging stewardship and recycling.  Is it because in other countries there are covenants such as the Australian Packaging Covenant and other regulations with respect to waste water, water efficiency, and corporate responsibility to adhere to, but those things are not developed here?  Is that what they mean when they call Fiji a Developing Nation?

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Mist on the mountains, Levuka town

Fiji, unlike what may be in the press and propaganda back home, is a peaceful and harmonious place to live, looking forward to a 2014 election, and hopefully democracy.  There is progress everywhere you look.  There are approximately 48% iTaukei (indigenous) Fijians, and 43% Indo-Fijians who have been here for many generations since they came on “Girmits” (agreements for indentured labour), with the rest “Other”.  “Other” includes Chinese, any other nationality, plus importantly, Fijians of mixed race.  This group are people who may have had a European great grandparent, but also who have lived here for generations.

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Our friends and neighbours, the Narayan family. We were honoured to be invited guests at the 21st and 18th birthday party.

Informal settlement. Source: http://www.usp.ac.fj/?id=10926

There are still many people living in informal settlements (which we would call shanty towns) of corrugated iron, tin, and wood, all held together with a hope and a prayer. Fiji is a nation of islands, with a surfeit of shipping containers.  Couldn’t we make safe and secure tropical homes from shipping containers?  Couldn’t we make mobile libraries and health centres from these resources?  The cost of buying a used shipping container here is approximately $5,000 FJD.  The cost of building a corrugated iron two bedroom house is approximately $25,000 FJD.

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Market Savusavu

We have fresh fruit and vegetable open air markets daily, but about 40% of women and children have anaemia.  There is an alarmingly high maternal and infant mortality rate. For some reason it seems to be a source of pride that Fiji was recently placed the 40th best place to be a mum out of 80 less developed countries in the Save the Children State of the World’s Mothers Index 2013.

Many Fijians live with boils, believing they come from a change in the weather.  Diabetes is a growing problem.

Paraquat (weed killer) is a popular suicide method.  Very few public toilets have toilet paper or soap for the fear that it might get stolen by the needy.  Suva City Library staff informed me that if you want to use the toilet, you have to go downstairs to the front counter and ask for toilet tissue, and that this, unbeknown to me, is a FACT, known by all others.

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Produce grown at home

Fijians all hope sincerely that tourists will return in droves after the election, but my fear is that intrepid travelers wanting to see “the real Fiji” will be saddened beyond belief when they see the refuse along every beach, waterway, road and path.  What will sadden them most is perhaps the feeling that they can do nothing, but they can!  Purchasing power is an immense tool.  If consumers when reaching home purchased only products from companies that traded ethically in developing nations, would that make a difference?

If instead of shaking their heads and returning to the hotel or resort after an excursion, each person picked up a bag of rubbish and took it back to the hotel for disposal, would that make a difference?  If before going out and about, each person asked the hotel staff for a bag and disposable gloves to do just that, would that make a difference?

If on a one week holiday, each person volunteered to replant coral on the reef for just one day, would that help?  If the resort organized the coral planting material which is available from the Department of Fisheries, would that help?  Should resorts also take a greater corporate and environmental responsibility and be proactive?

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Children walking to school, Savusavu

Couldn’t we recycle here, rather than baling up recyclables and sending to Hong Kong?  Couldn’t we create some “Spiral Islands” and use them as educational facilities?  Couldn’t we do something?  Is it possible to create a good news story from our situation?  With recyclables being worth $1 FJD per kilogram, and the cost of a year’s schooling for a child being $280 FJD, couldn’t we turn our problem into a solution?

Could we make recycling bins from recycled plastics? Could we have a total 100% recyclable solution?  Is it possible for Fiji to become a change agent and leader in the Pacific?

Which companies are going to stand up and do what is right, not because they have to, but just because it is right?

Please post your comments as you travel with me through Fiji, and perhaps, united, we can make a change!

Birds on a wire – waste water in Fiji

Birds on a wire at the back fence.  It was so unusual to hear them all there at once – some finches, some other types that I left my bed on a Sunday afternoon to investigate. All household water (shower waste, bathroom waste, kitchen waste) comes from taps in our house.  It all goes nicely and neatly into a sink of some kind and then disappears through the plumping.  It quickly re-emerges into the open drain that surrounds the house, that flows into another open drain that flows into the Rewa River about 200 metres away.  Sometimes the open drain fills up in various places with mud or weeds or topsoil and creates a filthy, stinking mosquito and toad ridden moat that surrounds the house on three sides.  On this day, I had managed to go knee deep into the slime and dig a trench that seemed to let the water flow away.  As the water flowed away and got shallower and shallower, the remaining water became too hot for tadpole survival, and the birds noticed that the tadpoles had no-where to run, no-where to hide.  It was like the birds were watching the best show on earth.  The next day the drain was empty, and the mud was covered in a myriad of bird footprints of all sizes.

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Birds on a wire