How many albatrosses must die with plastic inside them before we say, "enough"? Do we require more evidence single-use plastic bottles are a blight on our environment - on the land, sea, and its creatures?
Hawke's Bay beachgoers recently found an emaciated albatross on Whirinaki Beach north of Napier.
The juvenile toroa/southern royal albatross was taken to Wildlife Base, Palmerston North, where it died a few days later.
A 500ml plastic bottle, as well as remains of a balloon, was found in the bird's stomach after an autopsy.
Experts said starvation was a probable cause of death with plastic items obstructing the stomach, likely causing pain.
Staffers from the Department of Conservation (DOC), say 90 per cent of all seabirds have eaten plastic, and it's a major threat, because it can't be digested.
It means birds die of starvation or dehydration. DOC says its research shows albatross parents are consuming plastic at sea and feeding it to their chicks.
Meanwhile, our regional and district councils have given the thumbs-up to a major expansion of a plant in Otakiri seeking to create more than a billion new plastic bottles per year.
Residents and iwi are fighting in court to stop the expanded transfer of local water to foreign hands. Their success would also slow the procession of plastic.
Sustainable Otakiri delivered its appeal to the Rotorua High Court after surpassing its fundraising target of $35,000 to fund its legal fight.
Te Runanga o Ngati Awa delivered its appeal to the court last month.
Both groups are appealing the decision of the Environment Court to allow Creswell NZ, a subsidiary of Chinese company Nongfu Spring, the right to increase the amount of groundwater taken by the Otakiri bottling plant for commercial purposes to an annual allocation of 1.1 million cubic metres.
Their appeals against Bay of Plenty Regional Council and Whakatane District Council granting consent for the expansion were dismissed earlier this month in a split decision by the Environment Court.
Sustainable Otakiri chairwoman Maureen Fraser said the group was heartened by comments made by Environment Commissioner David Kernohan, the dissenting voice in the court's decision.
Kernohan said he was concerned about the creation of 1.35 billion new plastic bottles each year and also believed consent for the expansion should have been publicly notified.
Those who support the plant's expansion say it'll create up to 60 new jobs. They also point to fizzy drink sales in stores, saying other manufacturers are already loading up shelves with plastic bottles.
In my opinion, this kind of "what-about"-ism is designed to cloud an argument that to many people, is clear: any increase in single-use plastic bottle production is harmful, and we must kick the plastic habit one container at a time.
What better place to tackle the problem than our own backyard?
We need tighter restrictions on the production of single-use plastic.
If we must sell water, sell it in glass containers or in aluminium cans, both of which are nearly infinitely recyclable. An article late last year on reuters.com said cans have on average 68% recycled content compared to just 3% for plastic in the United States according to Environmental Protection Agency data.
Reuters says global beverage giants Danone, Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Nestle are among companies launching canned versions of water brands.
It's not a simple environmental win, though, as experts say production of each can pumps about twice as much carbon into the atmosphere as each plastic bottle.
Still, think of the albatross when considering other downsides of drinking water from cans:
• Aluminium is more expensive than plastic, which could raise the price of drinks
• Bottles come in many different sizes, while can sizes are more limited
• Can makers are already scrambling to add capacity to meet demand
Despite the challenges of switching to metal, US brand Dasani announced plans to offer water in resealable aluminium bottles starting this year. Manufacturers are also experimenting with greener plastics, including those made from 100 per cent recyclable materials.
While the rest of the world seeks to curb plastic production, why would we, in clean, green Aotearoa permit, even encourage, more plastic?
Bottling water in single-use plastic bottles is so 1990s.
Remind me which decade we've entered?
Then remember the albatross, whose brothers and sisters are still swimming and swallowing pieces of plastic-filled sea created by those who at one time, may not have known any better. Today, we have the information; we know single-use plastics ruin habitats, kill animals and one day, may help in wiping out humans, too (we are, after all, what we eat). Let's ask politicians making decisions about water and land use whether money and convenience outweigh doing what's right.
We've already banned single-use plastic bags and Minister of Conservation and Associate Minister for the Environment Eugenie Sage was quoted recently saying the government is working on solutions for other unnecessary plastics.
Napier environmentalist Helen Howard told NZME everything in gutters or streets ends up in the ocean.
"A ban on single-use plastic unless it's unavoidable would be my wish, but that type of policy needs to be applied at a government level."
According to Howard, 90 per cent of our northern sea birds are threatened with extinction due to the plastic crisis.
"In the meantime, I'd suggest avoiding single-use plastic and picking up litter when you see it." She said she doesn't buy beverages in plastic, only glass, because plastic has limited recycling capacity.
"It can only be recycled once or twice and then it ends up in landfill for 400 or so years."
Cresswell NZ says glass bottles carry a much heavier carbon footprint than recycled plastic used in New Zealand. A spokesman said the company is working on a fully biodegradable bottle for market.