Sam Judd

Comment on the environment from nzherald.co.nz columnist Sam Judd

Sam Judd: 100% pure finger pointing

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Sam Judd is Co-founder and Events director for Sustainable Coastlines - a registered New Zealand charity that motivates people to look after their coastlines.

Most of the rubbish found on our coasts is from household consumers. Photo / Supplied
Most of the rubbish found on our coasts is from household consumers. Photo / Supplied

Last Thursday, at the launch of Pure Advantage, Rob Swan MBE- the first man to ever walk to both the north and south poles- said "The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it."

The belief that someone else is causing the problems threatening our planet is just as significant.

Ever since our Prime Minister was grilled by the BBC about whether our country is 100% Pure, people have been quick to point the finger at industry, councils and government. But in reality, we all play a role in the degradation of our national brand. Yes, 100% Pure is a myth, but it should be a goal that is not just for industry and government to pursue. It should also be a personal statement from individuals about taking responsibility for their own impact on the environment.

New Zealand ranks horribly in OECD waste generation

New Zealand ranks horribly on the OECD list of waste generation - at an average of 380 kilograms per person per year: we are the eighth worst material consuming country in the world.

Over the past five years, New Zealander's individual consumption of plastic packaging has increased by 16.5%. Our widespread dependence on this ecologically disastrous material is just one factor which is at odds with the notion of purity. What makes it worse is that we are not always responsible with our plastic once we no longer deem it to be useful.

Last year we co-ordinated a large-scale clean up of Rangitoto Island and removed over 201,000 pieces of rubbish from the shore. This iconic landmark in front of Auckland is uninhabited, except for a handful of historic baches. The rubbish on these shores comes from our largest city. When debris makes it past Rangitoto, prevailing south-west winds are likely to blow it onto either the Coromandel coast or Aotea/Great Barrier Island - also locations where we have conducted large-scale coastal clean-ups.

'Great Garbage Patches'

That which escapes the Hauraki Gulf will most likely end up in one of the 'Great Garbage Patches'. These vast areas, where sea currents converge, are critical to the marine ecosystem as they are traditional feeding grounds for many species where nutrients such as fish-eggs, plankton and krill collect. We humans have systematically turned these feeding grounds into huge toxic plastic soups that are heavily threatening biodiversity and also scarily, human health.

From Rangitoto we collected 8,346 single-use plastic bottles, 3,531 plastic drinking straws, 2,007 plastic lollipop sticks and 34,773 pieces of plastic food packaging. This is not solely the fault of manufacturers, who simply respond to our insatiable demand; responsibility really lies with a careless general population.

When we presented these results to the media, accusations flew at the perennial scapegoats - local councils - a convenient punching bag for irritable ratepayers who usually shirk personal responsibility around environmental challenges themselves.

It is certain that intensive land use and other industries have a big impact on the environment, but it is time we took responsibility and stopped pointing the finger. We as individuals are causing the problem; no one else is going to save the planet.

A week ago the Pure Advantage trustees - a group of New Zealand's top business innovators - launched an initiative promoting the idea that "there's money in being green." Such rhetoric is necessary to prepare society for a future, which will see our population reach 9 billion by 2050.

Their focus on people and businesses becoming proactive is the key here. Finally we have a group of role models actively using their clout to influence the way people behave.

It will give hope to those of us on the ground if and when we see such influence persuading people to look beyond next weeks' profit forecast and realise that financial sustainability and being responsible global citizens are inexorably linked.

Paying lip service to 'being green' will no longer cut it. The challenge is now up to all of us as individuals to turn the sustainability talk into personal action and take responsibility for our own footprint.

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