Keith Beautrais

HAPPY New Year to all Conservation Comment readers. Thank you for your interest. You are part of a worldwide movement seeking new thinking and new behaviour to achieve a sustainable future. We have to win this struggle because it is a struggle for the future of the planet.

Some might think that it is a waste of time for Whanganuians to be troubling ourselves with such large-scale problems but we cannot wait for all the answers to come from Los Angeles or London, New York or New Delhi. None of those super-cities are anywhere near sustainable.

Sustainable living may well need inventing in towns and countryside on our scale, which is after all about the size of Athens at its height of influence.

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There can be no doubt that we are far from achieving our goals. We are still reliant on non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels — unsustainable. Our economic system is based on growth in consumption — unsustainable. And we are piling waste products into our freshwater, oceans, atmosphere and land — totally unsustainable!

Locally people have been focusing outrage on dumping costs and anger at fly-tippers everywhere from Mosquito Point to Castlecliff. The District Council, and the multinationals that have cornered the waste collection business are in the firing line.

Thoughtful people do their best to recycle but then hear horror stories about where some of the plastic ends up in the Third World. The next response is reducing our waste in the first place and the internet has stories from around the world of people having fun getting down to tiny amounts of rubbish. This is not about self-deprivation, it is about care-fullness, and satisfaction in simple living.

Many will cry it is too hard when they shop at supermarkets and affordable department stores. From plastic-shrouded fruit to polystyrene-packaged fridges, the waste seems unavoidable.

As is so common, there are short-term profit motives behind the deluge of waste in our supply chains and it is futile to blame irresponsible people at the end of the line. Dire punishments for rubbish tossers are suggested but would be about as helpful as using a cork to stop diarrhoea.

The cost must sit with the producers of the rubbish. Fast-food packaging and plastic drink bottles inevitably end up loose in the environment. There would be a lot less of it if the cost was put on the producers not the ratepayer. They have got away with voluntary codes and small contributions to Keep NZ Beautiful for too long.

The true cost of plastic drink bottles is paid by the ocean just as the true cost of nitrogen fertilisers is paid by waterways and the life in them. Those used to making profits in old ways always resist change but we need a fairer system to encourage innovation and reduce waste.

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We can salute the activists who have helped supermarkets to suddenly realise that humanity can exist without single-use bags, but this is only the beginning.

Sharpen your self-awareness and inventiveness to live better lives this year as we work individually and as a community toward sustainability.

Keith Beautrais is a semi-retired teacher and conservationist