A new trend sweeping supermarkets and restaurant's goes beyond saying no to a plastic bag, Ryan Dunlop explains.

They carry their own knives and forks to restaurants, and metal straws to bars.

They take the reusable cup they keep in the office to the cafe across the road to get their morning coffee.

They bring their own Tupperware for their takeaway sushi, and take mason jars to the supermarket to fill up on seeds and other bulk foods.

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When it's time to fill a prescription, they hand over a small container they've brought from home to the pharmacist.

Meet the environmentally conscious shopper.

Sarah Tay of Dunedin gives tips and advice on how to reduce waste and cut down on plastic usage. Photo / Peter McIntosh
Sarah Tay of Dunedin gives tips and advice on how to reduce waste and cut down on plastic usage. Photo / Peter McIntosh

The trend goes beyond just saying no to a plastic bag at a supermarket as more Kiwis become aware of the impact that plastic, especially single-use, is having on our oceans and environment.

Cropping up at eateries nationwide is signage telling customers they won't automatically be provided plastic cutlery, or sachets of butter or tomato sauce.

Many cafes sell glass or reusable plastic cups.

Millennials have been passionate about the change but it is also going full circle for those born before the 1950s.

Sarah Tay of Dunedin carries these items around with her every day. Photo Peter McIntosh, Otago Daily Times
Sarah Tay of Dunedin carries these items around with her every day. Photo Peter McIntosh, Otago Daily Times

Sarah Tay, a speech therapist from Dunedin, runs workshops at community centres to advise people how to make shopping changes she has.

For the elderly, many have the skills to go plastic free as they had no choice before 1950 when the polyethylene plastic bag made its first appearance.

"[The classes] have been fully booked every time."

"It is all walks of life, I've seen people who are teens, young families and elderly.

"It is weighted towards young people though there is a really passionate group of older people."

Tay aims to send "nothing to the landfill while still being as normal as possible".

Sarah Tay runs workshops in Dunedin to teach people how to reduce their plastic usage. The workshops are popular and every one so far has been full booked, she said. Photo / Supplied
Sarah Tay runs workshops in Dunedin to teach people how to reduce their plastic usage. The workshops are popular and every one so far has been full booked, she said. Photo / Supplied

She rarely visits supermarkets any more.

"The way for me to get the food the way I want it is to go directly those who make it.

"I go straight to farmers markets or growers for vegetables. I go straight to the butcher - they cut it to me and wrap it up and I buy more milk from a farmer."

"It's been two and a half years since I started. I went from producing one supermarket bag a week to one 40 litre council bag a year.

Sarah usually gets her groceries from the farmer's markets around Dunedin but on this occasion she missed out and did her shopping at Bin Inn, only picking up two plastic items. Photo / Supplied
Sarah usually gets her groceries from the farmer's markets around Dunedin but on this occasion she missed out and did her shopping at Bin Inn, only picking up two plastic items. Photo / Supplied

"I started in 2015 by making reusable shopping bags a habit. Slowly I learned more and added in new habits. I've found that picking one or two things to change helps me make changes achievable and sustainable."

She runs social media pages called Waste Free Sarah on which she gives tips and advice on how to reduce waste and cut down on plastic usage.

Consumer-driven

At Scratch Bakers, surrounded by office buildings in the Auckland CBD, one in every five customers brings in a reusable cup, compared with about one in 100 a year ago.

Jonny McKessar and his business partner also operate the cafe Pollen and 3 Beans Coffee.

They also sell reusable cups and between the three cafes, sold about 120 a month, four times what they were selling just 12 months ago.

The change was driven was consumers, says managing director McKessar.

Jonny McKessar, Scratch managing director, makes a coffee with a recyclable cup. Photo / Greg Bowker
Jonny McKessar, Scratch managing director, makes a coffee with a recyclable cup. Photo / Greg Bowker

"Interestingly enough it is the hospitality industry that is the start of it, consumers are so closely related to small business owners, it's the consumers saying to hospitality owners we want compostable cups and reusable cups.

"We realised how much of everything we use can be composted, people think it is a domestic thing but commercially so much can be composted."

The pair temporarily launched a café on Karangahape Rd called Scullery with the intent of being as close to zero waste as possible.

They managed to reduce waste to one rubbish bag a week but being completely waste free was difficult.

Compostable cups were used but ordered in bulk covered in plastic. If they wanted to serve chicken on site they had to use plastic gloves and receive the chicken wrapped in plastic.

"It'd be a lot easier to go zero waste if the café was vegetarian," says McKessar.

Trevor Craig, business development manager at Bin Inn. Photo / John Borren
Trevor Craig, business development manager at Bin Inn. Photo / John Borren

At bulk food store Bin Inn, there has been a surge in people bringing their own containers which aligned with their policy of reduce, reuse and refill where possible, says business development manager Trevor Craig.

"This is stuff like Tupperware, glass bottles, reusable plastic bottles to cut down on the amount of plastic they would need in the shop."

"The whole impact of plastic is such a hot topic these days. People now have become acutely aware."

The store allows customers to weigh their containers before the fill them so they are only charged according to the weight once filled up.

"One of the biggest issues we all have to face is the challenge of all the other plastics, they will not be resolved so easily. It just can't happen overnight," says Craig.

The store has seen a massive uptake in reusable cups. Photo / Greg Bowker
The store has seen a massive uptake in reusable cups. Photo / Greg Bowker

Palmerston North based mum Shelley Wilson has made a living from selling sustainable goods.

From her home she runs In My Kitchen, an online shop which sells products she's made including reusable straws, reusable coffee cups, food wraps, produce bags and even a bamboo spork for the discerning shopper.

"We have been on one income for a number of years and I found that many money-saving solutions were also waste-reducing solutions, e.g. cooking from scratch and making my own cleaning products.

"I wanted to fill that gap in the market. I couldn't buy everything I wanted to get, and that was annoying."

Some of the items Shelley has for sale at the In My Kitchen online store includes metal straws, reusable food wraps, wooden toothbrushes and menstrual cups. Photo / Supplied
Some of the items Shelley has for sale at the In My Kitchen online store includes metal straws, reusable food wraps, wooden toothbrushes and menstrual cups. Photo / Supplied

"I make a lot of alternative stuff like handkerchiefs, baby wipes, napkins, and towels to replace paper towels."

She also sells menstrual cups, stainless steel clothes pegs and reusable baby wipes.

The company has been running for two years but Wilson has been environmentally conscious about her shopping for the past six years.

It was the voice of Oscar winning actor Jeff Bridges who really opened her eyes to the effect of the non-sustainable practices on our environment.

Bridges lent his voice to for a documentary crafted by the Plastic Pollution Coalition.

"Remember bring reusable items with you like a water bottle, a cup, bag utensils. Refuse plastic when its offered and remember to say no straw please," Bridges says in the documentary.

The coalition, which Bridges is an active supporter of, is combating single use plastic items.

Seeing the documentary was a revelation to Wilson and sparked her now six year long journey.

"It was a real lightbulb moment."

"I didn't realise how important it was for consumers to be part of the solution."

Plastic waste mountain

According to the National Geographic, 91 per cent of plastic is not recycled and with mass production in the past 60 years, 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic now exists.

Of that, 9 per cent is actually recyclable.

The effect of plastic use is often not seen immediately by those disposing of the items but is accumulated in oceans and Pacific islands thousands of kilometres away.

New Zealand's waste is shipped to various countries, although China last year banned imports of all contaminated plastic waste.

New Zealand previously shipped 15 million tonnes of waste plastic alone to Chinese processing plants each year.

Exports to Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia have surged, but stockpiles of some plastic have begun to appear around the country as certain types of products became harder to sell.

Last Month the Green Party announced a work group, led by the Ministry for the Environment, which will look at whether to implement more voluntary and mandatory schemes for products such as tyres, e-waste starting with lithium batteries, agrichemicals and synthetic greenhouse gases.

The Government is also making moves to increase the waste disposal levy and roll it out to more landfills as part of a programme to tackle plastic waste and better manage it.

About 11 per cent of waste disposal facilities must pay a levy of $10 per tonne of waste. Operators can pass the cost on to customers. There have been calls to increase the cost to $140 a tonne.

When introduced in 2008, it was hoped the levy would encourage New Zealanders to find more effective and efficient ways to reduce, reuse, recycle or reprocess waste.

Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage takes her own containers to takeaway store. Photo / Duncan Brown
Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage takes her own containers to takeaway store. Photo / Duncan Brown

New Zealanders have the power to influence stores, brands and food outlets themselves by "voting with their wallet", Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage says.

Now, more New Zealanders understand the issues with single use plastics.

"New Zealanders, myself included, are taking their own containers for takeaway food and this may become more common," she says.

"People can use their purchase power to make it clear to retailers and manufacturers that they want to reduce waste."

The Government brought together 12 local and multi-national companies in June to sign the New Zealand Plastic Packaging Declaration.

Multinationals such as Amcor, Danone, L'Oréal, Mars, PepsiCo, The Coca-Cola Company, Unilever and Nestlé and New Zealand-based businesses Foodstuffs, Countdown, New Zealand Post and Frucor Suntory committed to use 100 per cent reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging in their New Zealand operations by 2025 or earlier.

Treaty on plastics disposal

Massey University's Dr Trisha Farrelly is working with a United Nations environmental assembly taskforce which will work on developing an international treaty to prevent unnecessary plastic products from polluting air, water and soil.

Farrelly hopes the regulations will be imposed at national, regional and then local levels.

"This is kind of an international instrument to level the playing field. Developing countries are at the moment bearing the brunt and developed countries continue to ship it off," says Farrelly, a senior lecturer in environmental anthropology .

"If we can stop the flow of plastic pollution at its source, it's prevention rather than end of the line management."

She hopes to see a UN agreement of a legally binding global instrument in the next few years.

"Some of the news clippings 10 years ago, we see there was a levy on plastic bags, now we are talking about a ban.

"We are behind the eight ball. But in recent years there has been a flurry of environmental organisations coming to life. "

She says that while individual households feed into the problem, large businesses are responsible for the bulk of New Zealand's plastic waste.

"We need to move away from language like littering which is individual responsibility. We need to move onto commercial responsibility.

"There is a change in mindset that is much needed.

"There are very important groups and individuals, more importantly they are pushing up against industry and making them accountable.

However, household recycling is still an "important interim measure", before the most dangerous producers are regulated, she says.

Farrelly is also researching environmental behaviour change, political ecologies of plastic production, consumption, and disposal of hazardous plastics.

Public awareness of the impact of plastics in the environment has grown and she has been an outspoken critic on microplastics and plastic microbeads used in body products.

"There is a changing trend, because of the global science community and all the stuff going on.

"As a consequence of the global discourse now there is a real push for change. It's late but lively, plastic bags was the start,"

The Government announced last month single-use plastic bags will be banned in New Zealand and are to be phased out over the next 12 months.

The ban was hopefully just the start, Farrelly says.

"It is a catalyst for more to come. I am pretty positive about it."

Reduce Waste

Palmerston North mother Shelley Wilson runs a zero-waste online store. Photo / Supplied
Palmerston North mother Shelley Wilson runs a zero-waste online store. Photo / Supplied

Owner of In My Kitchen, Shelley Wilson tips

1. A lot of people start by eliminating "the big four": plastic shopping bags, straws, disposable coffee cups, and single-use drink bottles.

2. Use what you already own first - don't throw away your plastic that's in good working condition for eco-friendly alternatives. Wait until the item runs out or breaks, then replace it with a sustainable alternative then.

3. Before buying anything new it's helpful to consider, "how will I dispose of this when it reaches its end-of-life?"

4. It's doesn't have to be (and shouldn't be!) an "all or nothing" approach. Start slow and work on one or two goals at a time, then once you've got them mastered, move on to another one.