The Big Fissue

To be honest there are times when I don’t want to pick up a newspaper for fear of what I’m going to read. The bad news can be too overwhelming. I am sure that everyone who gives a damn about our environment has times likes these and sometimes you need to allow yourself these little ostrich moments and just stick your head in the sand and wait for it to pass. But when we are looking at the worlds fish declining fish stocks we cannot afford to look away. This is an issue that is as terrifying as it is large but it is not hopeless. Yet.

“Globally, 75 per cent of wild marine fish are now either fully-exploited or overfished. This means these species require conservation and management in order to survive in their present numbers”.

~United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (UN FAO)

If the world continues its outright assault on our fisheries then we will have no more edible fish left in our oceans by the middle of the century. By 2048 (by which time the global population will have increased by a third) we will have eaten 90% of the fish population from 1950. Already 90% of our big fish (tuna, marlin, swordfish, and sharks) are gone. If we cannot control our appetites now then we compromise the food security of millions of people in the future. The only way that the world can prevent this from happening is by reducing the catch and weight quotas, eliminating unsustainable practices and setting up large marine parks – and lots of them. And the only way that this will happen is if we – the consumer – vote with our dollars. (More on how to do that tomorrow). So how have we got to this stage? What is wrong with the way we are fishing?

Bycatch and its nasty bonus!

Bycatch

Every year a quarter of all the fish caught worldwide are discarded – considered an incidental waste product known as bycatch. Bycatch is any other marine animals that are unintentionally caught along with your target species. So your target species may be Cod which will result in bycatch of turtles, sharks, whales, fish, seabirds and dolphins. The methods that are often used by industrialized fishing fleets are described as non-selective – they lack modifications that deter or completely exclude unintentional catch. Common examples of non-selective techniques are Bottom-trawler nets (which have a heavy steel bar that drags along the sea bed), seine nets (which hang vertically in the water dragged by a boat to encircle marine creatures) and gill-nets (charming devices that snare fish by their gills). Looking at all of these methods it is easy to understand how other species get caught up in the haul whether they are scooped up or entangled.

Pic by Ross Flett - Orkney Seal rescue

Pic by Ross Flett - Orkney Seal rescue

In the tropical waters of Northern Australia the average bycatch ratio for Prawn Fishers (which use bottom trawlers) is 15:1 – for every 1kg of prawns caught there are 15kg of other species hauled up as well. These species are then scooped up and dumped onto the deck while the workers sort through the creatures and get the priority goods (the prawns) into freezers. After being trodden on and left in the sun the remaining animals are thrown overboard, where the majority of them then die if they aren’t already dead.

Pollution

http://www.bycatch.moonfruit.com/

Large industrialized fishing fleets litter the ocean with literally millions of tons of organic and non-organic debris every year. Fleets regularly dump overboard gear, twine, food containers and plastic bags which have obvious effects on the surrounding ecosystem. These floating factories (fish processing plants) also unload unregulated wastes and effluents into the water. Referring back to the above paragraph and we see that bycatch poses another serious problem. It amounts to approximately 27 million tons of marine life thrown overboard every year.

Then there is ghost fishing. When equipment, like pots or gill nets, are lost or discarded they continue to catch and kill marine life until they break apart. They are designed to be resilient and can take a very long time to breakdown. I used to watch The Deadliest Catch (reality show about dangerous crabbing season on the Bering Sea) and see the Captains frequently lament the price associated with loss of crab pots in storms. Not once did I think about the price that the environment was paying for every pot that sunk into the darkness. One study into a US squid fishery by the U. S. National Marine Fisheries Service estimated that .06% of driftnets were lost each time they were set, resulting in 12 miles of net lost for every night of the season which equated to 639 miles of net lost in the North Pacific Ocean alone each year.

Global Warming

Fish are often considered as the “environmentally-friendly” meat because they do not produce methane, need forest to be felled to produce them, drink a lot of water etc. But boats still burn an incredible amount of fossil fuels when not only catching the target species, but in the case of farmed carnivorous fish, catching their dinner and then processing them into pellets. Overfishing also severely reduces the ocean’s ability to resist diseases, filter pollutants, and absorb carbon dioxide thus worsening the effects of global warming.

The Human Cost

For us (the privileged) we can choose our proteins the way we choose our undies – whatever feels right on the day will do just fine. This is not the case for 20% of the world who depend upon fish as their primary source of protein. Fishing is central to the livelihood and security of 200 million people. There is no denying that global fish stocks are in free-fall (since the 1980’s) and a practice that is being hailed as the solution to world hunger is farmed fish. Penned as an industry that will help ‘feed the world’ – salmon farming in particular is actually responsibly for mass starvation and huge environmental damage as well. Salmon are carnivorous and in the wild eat smaller fish like herring and anchovies. Because Salmon stocks are now so low (but small fish are in abundance) richer nations make deals with poorer countries to export their small fish which are then turned into pellets that are fed to the salmon. Not only is it an extremely inefficient means of food production but it is removing a vital food source from locals in developing nations. It takes 5 pounds of small fish to make enough pellets to sustain 1 pound of salmon. These controversial deals already exist between Europe and Northern Africa and Britain is also under heavy fire for the effect this practice is having on the people of Peru.

“Overfishing cannot continue. The depletion of fisheries poses a major threat to the food supply of millions of people.”

~Nitin Desai, Secretary General of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, Johannesburg.

Damaging Ecosystems

Non-selective fishing techniques damage the environment. Yes - those are dolphins. www.news.sciencemag.org

As I mentioned, we use bottom trawlers when shrimp-fishing and it is also the method of choice when fishing for cod, sole and flounders among others. The problem is they literally drag a weighted steel bar along the bottom of the seabed damaging formations, fragile ecosystems and stirring up sediment as they go. Particularly sensitive networks are those with sea grass fields, coral reefs, algal beds or when tube worms or sponges are present. The bottom trawler does not discriminate and can literally damage an entire ecological community. Not only that but the sediment that is stirred up from essentially ploughing the seabed then drifts downstream to another community where it blocks sunlight and suffocates sponges, corals and other marine animals that form the base of the surrounding ecosystems.

Deforestation

Well this one had me scratching my head. There is now huge demand for prawns and developing countries are clearing mangrove forests at a rate of knots to make room for farms to capitalise on the demand. There are varying estimates and studies supporting each regarding what per cent age of mangrove forests have been felled for this purpose but they range between 10 and 45%. Regardless where the figure falls between those ranges, it is too high. These farms also are heavy polluters which then affect coastal towns and villages and the ecosystems that they live off.

Dolphin Friendly?

When that terrible footage surfaced back in the 80’s – the footage of dolphins being drowned or left to die on the deck of a tuna boat – there was a worldwide call to boycott tuna. By the 90’s it was estimated that over 7million dolphins had died by the fishing methods employed by industrial tuna fleets. Fleets used to harvest yellow-fin tuna by spotting, encircling and then drowning the dolphins in seine nets. Horrific. Since then there have been various standards put in place to make tuna fishing ‘dolphin safe’ which includes no intentional chasing and netting of dolphins, no accidental drowning and then paradoxically not allowing any dead dolphins being put into the ‘dolphin-friendly’ wells in the boat hull. This is still a gargantuan improvement from the days of yore when fisherman were deliberately hunting down dolphins. Today, the annual kill of dolphins due to tuna fishing is estimated to be around 3000. Just another statistic to throw at you, the annual quota for the Taiji Bay dolphin slaughter – the slaughter that has the world up in arms – was approximately 2,400 and now sits at 200 dolphins every year. How is it any different?

Why are we overlooking this?

For me all those factors combined are enough to give up marine products altogether (except for oysters – which I will explain tomorrow). It is so easy to become complacent with seafood because it really is a case of out of sight, out of mind. The big blue has always provided and under the surface we do not see the fish stocks plummeting – it is not like watching the Amazon slowly falling, the icecaps melting or Indonesian jungles being burnt to the ground for palm oil. But I can guarantee that there are island nations and developing countries that are watching them visibly disappearing.

Fish are also handicapped by their lack of ‘cuteness’ for want of a better word. How many Fish-Eating-Vegetarians have you met in your life? They have no warmth in their eyes and are easy to pass off as mindless clones that don’t feel pain. There have been countless studies that disprove this however if that still doesn’t sway you – bycatch is effecting all the ocean favourites from the cute and cuddly (seals, albatross) to the awe-inspiring (dolphins, whales, sharks and turtles).

This being said, we don’t all have to abstain to make a difference. We don’t have to stop eating fish – but we do need to adopt a much more responsible attitude towards our oceans. Tomorrow I will blog about how you can as a consumer switch to more sustainable fish habits and what we need our governments to do as well.

** Editors note – Vegetarians and Vegans… it has been brought to my attention that I didn’t put a “Already have given up fish!”. How did I forget myself??? Maybe because this information so long ago was what made me give up fish? Please just vote for the top option if you already do not eat seafood. 

“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need,

but not every man’s greed”

~ Mahatma Gandhi

Free Screening: “Bag It – Is Your Life Too Plastic?”

This is a documentary about an ordinary guy who looked around one day and realised – ‘Wow. I have a lot of plastic in my life’. So he set himself a simple goal – to stop using plastic bags at the grocery store. This simple goal turned into an inspiring documentary that proves that you don’t need to be a scientist, politician or lawyer to use a little bit of knowledge to make a whole lot of difference. Take a look around. Is your life too plastic? How much are you wearing, touching, sitting on or at, typing on, chewing…

A quick lunchtime illustration on some old office paper

“Think about it, why would you make something that you’re going to use for a few minutes out of a material that’s basically going to last forever, and you’re just going to throw it away. What’s up with that?”

– Jeb Berrier

The great thing about this documentary (directed by Suzan Beraza) is that it is inspiring and simple and sometimes downright funny. The ordinary guy – Jeb Berrier – is so accessible. He is easy to like and easier to relate too. Check out the trailer…

Tonight (Tuesday 7th February) there will be a free screening of the multi-award winning Bag it at the City of Fremantle Town Hall from 6pm to 8pm (doors open at 5:30pm). There will be light refreshments and a relaxed positive vibe – as there always is at these amazing Freo community gatherings. It is a great place for all ages – my mum will be my date tonight – and it is a great place to meet likeminded people and learn a little at the same time.

Plastic Free Freo (along with City of Fremantle and Ecoburbia) have been huge supporters of this screening of Bag It. Plastic Free Freo is an amazing campaign that is currently working with the Fremantle community (both the retailers and consumers) towards a more sustainable town with a lower carbon footprint. If the campaign is successful Fremantle will hopefully resume the role of ecological trendsetters and become the first town in Western Australia to impose a ban on single-use plastic bags. If you want to get involved with the campaign contact Plastic Free Freo here.

This doco is equally important whether you are informed about the plastic problem or just starting out on your journey towards a plastic free life. I look forward to seeing you down there.

Bag It Flyer

Here is a map of how to get there –

Tackling The Plastic Bag Problem Around The World

The Bangladesh Jute industry has bounced back due to the plastic bag ban – Image from http://www.hello.news352.lu

A wise man once said “with great power comes great responsibility”. I believe that man was Spiderman? Never mind – the point is that thought-provoking little hybrid got me thinking about Australia. We really are ‘the lucky country’ sitting pretty on the comparative global scale. Sure, we complain about drought but last year more than 29,000 children under age 5 died in 90 days in southern Somalia. We complain about ignorant politicians but despite my loathing of his attitudes (and taste in swimwear) I still prefer Abbott to the likes of Gaddafi, Mugabe or al-Assad. We complain about the rising price of groceries while 75,000 people die every day from starvation. We are unbelievably privileged.

‘Australia is a lucky country, run mainly by second-rate people who share its luck.’

Donald Horne, The Lucky County, 1964

This fortunate position should inspire Australia to become leaders in technologies, ideas and attitudes that will help the planet, yet sadly we are lagging behind. A prime example is the great plastic bag debate. Why are we not employing a bit of forethought and banning plastic bags like many countries (developed and developing) around the world are? South Australia and now the Australian Capital Territory have led the charge but we need to do more. Clean Up Australia says that Australians use in excess of 6 billion plastic bags per year. It isn’t good enough.

Maybe we can take some inspiration from other countries around the world that are reducing (or have already significantly reduced) their plastic appetite…

Bangladesh

The Bangladesh Jute industry has bounced back due to the plastic bag ban – Image from http://www.hello.news352.lu

As I explained in my post about the effects of plastic, in 1988 and 1998 plastic bags were determined the main cause of devastating floods that submerged two-thirds of the country. In 2002 Bangladesh was the first large country to impose an outright ban of the use of polyethylene bags. Not only was there a significant reduction in plastic pollution but it also revived sustainable industries which have biodegradable alternatives such as the Jute Bag industry.

Italy

Italy used to be responsible for 25% of all the plastic bags in Europe which equates to roughly 25 billion a year.  As of January 1st 2011 single-use non-biodegradable plastic bags were outlawed. Retailers – predictably – warned of pandemonium at the checkouts but evidently people have survived. Maybe the customers were smarter than the retailers thought and noticed those wonderful appendages at the end of their arms that can be used for carrying things?

South Africa

SA really came to the table! Not only did they ban the use of thin plastic bags in 2003  but also imposed a 100,000 rand ($12020AUD) fine and a 10-year jail sentence for any retailers caught handing out bags! This has encouraged shoppers to either take their own sustainable carry bags or invest in plastic bags that can be used more than once.

More information can be found at the BBC South Africa bans plastic bags.

Ireland

This is my favourite example of plastic bag reduction because (to me) it absolutely typifies the flippant Western attitude towards plastic bags. In May 2002 Ireland placed a 15 euro-cent (25cAUD) levy on supermarket checkout bags. Within 3 months Ireland had cut its plastic usage by 90%. There was a 95% decrease in plastic bag litter. This model has been so successful that the Department of Environment (Department of The Environment, Ireland ) have since increased the levy to 22euro-cents. The health of the planets oceans, animals, people and atmosphere proved to be worth less than 15cents. I guess the ends justify the means?

China

More than 1.3billion people live in China. If they had not recognised the danger of plastic the results would be catastrophic.  It has been estimated that 37 million barrels of crude oil are used to produce China’s annual supply of plastic bags – 3 billion every year! In June 2008 (before the Olympics) the Chinese State Council put a nationwide ban on plastic bags. It prohibited all shops, supermarkets, and sales outlets from handing out free plastic bags and banned the production, sale, and use of ultra-thin plastic bags less than 0.025mm thick.  Since the ban China has reduced its bag consumption by half which saves 1.6million ton of oil! Looks like the red is greener than the green and gold! ()

India

Similar to Bangladesh, India also had severe flooding and landslides due to plastic bags blocking drain systems during monsoon season. Many cows also died after mistakenly ingesting the plastic bags. A ban was imposed banning the manufacture, sale and use of all plastic bags.

New Zealand

Our Kiwi kinsman used to have an impressive appetite for plastic consuming 1 billion bags per year. A five-year initiative (the New Zealand Packaging Accord 2004 – 2009) was introduced to attempt to reduce plastic bag usage by a fifth. While they still have a way to go AC Nielsen data shows that consumers are now taking on average 5.8 bags down from twelve months earlier (6.5 bags). It sounds measly but actually equates to 100million less bags!

Europe

Similar to some companies in Australia (Officeworks for one) a select few countries throughout Europe have decided to take matters into their own hands. Instead of waiting for government legislation to force their hands, most retailers in Germany, Switzerland and Denmark charge for plastic bags at the check-out.

Kenya

The late, great Professor Wangari Mathaai – Image from http://www.elleafriquemagazine.wordpress.com

Last year Kenya (and indeed the world) lost an amazing woman – Professor Wangari Mathaai, 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner.  Before she died Mathaai had spoken out about the effect that plastic bags were having, not only in Kenya but all across Africa. Discarded plastic bags were filling up with rainwater and were becoming perfect little pools for mosquitos to breed in which caused a dramatic rise in vector-borne diseases such as malaria. In early 2005 the Kenyan government (with the help of UNEP and the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis) imposed a ban on thin plastic bags as well as placing a levy on the heavier varieties. Any money raised is put towards recycling schemes.

San Francisco

In 2007 San Francisco became the first state in the USA to ban the use of plastic bags in grocery stores. Biodegradable bags made from materials such as paper or corn by-prodcuts are allowed. Just two years after the ban was imposed San Fran saw a reduction of 18%.

USA

Around the US many towns, cities and sometimes entire states are taking note of the dangers of prolific plastic bag use. In January 2010 bans were placed in the following counties – Brownsville, Texas and Kauai (Hawaii). While a complete ban was overthrown in Californies various Cali cities agreed to it (Malibu, Fairfax and Palo Alto). Other notable cities were Bethel (Alaska), Edmonds (Washington) and Westport (Connecticut). Slowly, slowly America is starting to act on their 100billion bag a year habit.

Last and… well, probably least… Australia!

South Australia – as always – are leading the plastic free charge. In 2009 a ban was placed on all lightweight shopping bags. The Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science at UniSA has reported that before the ban six in ten shoppers would take their own reusable bags to the shops, which has now risen to nine in ten! What a fantastic success. The Northern Territory and the ACT are now also taking steps to reduce their consumption. The ACT are trialed a four-month transitional ban (July – November 2011) and is now in full effect after getting a great result from an environmental perspective as well as from consumer attitudes.

The is more information about the South Australian plastic bag ban here.

What are we waiting for?

The above list is just a small selection of forward thinking countries that are fighting the war on plastic. Honourable mentions go to Bhutan, Cameroon, Eritrea, Brazil, Canada, France, Holland and Nepal. We really have no excuse not to act. Beyond that it is our responsibility  to act.

If the government fails to act then there are always steps that you can take, at an individual level or within your community, to make a difference. Tomorrow I will upload my post on reducing plastic in your life. If you want to learn more about the issues, here are some fantastic resources;

The Effects of Plastic

A hero of mine – Tim Silverwood [Image originally from http://www.surfwx.net

The use of plastics in Western society is so illogical and so blatantly flawed that it makes my head spin. We are using plastic (a man-made material designed to last forever) to create products that are designed to be thrown away! It wasn’t always like this. You just need to sit with your grandparents for a chat about the good ol’ days to see where we started going wrong. Milk used to be delivered in little glass bottles that would be collected and reused. My Grandma used to send soda and beer bottles back to the factory to be sterilised and refilled. When she would send fragile things in the mail it was wrapped in newspaper – not bubble wrap. She would wash my mothers’ material nappy rather than throw them in the trash. It is all making sense now. We are so focused on convenience that we are literally turning the earth into a trash can.

“We currently recover only 5% of the plastics we produce. What happens to the rest of it? Roughly 50% is buried in landfills, some is remade into durable goods, and much of it remains “unaccounted for”, lost in the environment where it ultimately washes out to sea” – 5 Gyres Institute

Since watching “Plasticized” (a documentary about ocean plastic pollution) I have declared not only to make it Plastic Week here at Olive on Blonde, but also to entirely banish plastic from my life. Before I make massive life changes though I always like to have a really good understanding as to why I am. So I got out my reading glasses…

The Problem with Plastic

Firstly, where it comes from. Plastic bags are made from ethylene, a gas that is produced as a by-product of oil, gas and coal production – all non-renewable fossil fuels. Ethylene is then made into polymers which are in turn made into pellets. These pellets can be used to produce a whole range of items. The problem is a huge amount of plastic products fall into two main categories; Single Use Items or Short-term Use Items.

Single Use Items

Items like plastic bags, water bottles, packaging or lolly-pop sticks. These items can have a usability of 2 minutes but a lifespan of 1000years! To put this into perspective, the amount of petroleum used to make one plastic bag would drive a car about 115 metres! By that logic, in Australia we use approximately 6.9 billion plastic checkout bags every year which would be enough to drive a car 800 million kilometres which is nearly 20,000 times around the world or 4 round trips to the Sun!

Short-term Use Items

Do you find that every time you buy something a better, more efficient, trendier product has replaced it the next day? This can range from TV’s to phones or even toothbrushes… “Wow – that brush has a unique bristle design to clean my tongue and cheeks… my old one only has whitening cups. I better go get the new one”. And then there are all those dentist recommendations telling you to buy a new brush every 3 months. These are very well-thought out marketing ploys by the name of either ‘Planned Obsolescence’ or ‘Perceived Obsolescence’. It is basically a way to shame you into buying a new product when your existing one is still completely functional.

Effects on the Natural Environment

The polluted coastline of Kamilo Beach, Hawaii [Image by http://www.rozsavage.com

Other than being unbelievably ugly, disposed of plastics have massive effects on both the urban and natural environment. Details about the natural environment are spoken about in all the below points; things like animal death and injury, biotoxificaton and the fact that it is non-biodegradable. Biodegradable plastic is not all it is cracked up to be; some plastics only degrade when in contact with sunlight (not buried in landfill), others can take 500 years to decompose and others are actually more dangerous as when they finally do breakdown they release methane into the atmosphere. With roughly 50% of the plastic we use ending up in landfill this is all of serious concern.

Effects on the Urban Environment

Flood victims waiting to receive aid at flooded port city of Narayangonj. Aug 26, 1998.[Image by Pavel Rahman

Plastic can also be extremely dangerous for urban environments and the people that live in them. In 1988 and 1998 over two thirds of Bangladesh flooded – the capital, Dhaka, aws 2m underwater. In the 1998 floods 1,070 people died and 30million were left homeless. The main culprit for this flooding was discarded plastic bags covering and getting caught in drains. This led to a complete ban on plastic bands being imposed in 2002. Similarly I went to Bali last year and could not believe my eyes! Along the streets, in the rivers, in the ocean even in the jungles of Ubud – plastic rubbish was everywhere. In Bali (also a developing country) it is too expensive to dispose of so they just have to leave it there unless they come up with their own solutions…. I walked past as a Balinese man lit his pile of plastic on fire to destroy it. It was horrendous seeing the plumes of black smoke whirring up into the atmosphere, and watching people and children talking near the fire and surely inhaling the toxic chemicals it was producing.

Effects on Animals

A very famous image of a Green Sea turtle eating a plastic bag                       – Image found at http://www.kropes98.global2.vic.edu.au

According to Care2 “more than a million seabirds and 100,000 marine animals die every year from ingestion of or entanglement in plastics”. These animals (including whales, seals, turtles and dolphins) die slow and painful deaths either from intestinal blockages or drowning. Considering  we use approximately 500 billion plastic bags alone every year that is a lot of potential deaths – especially when you realise that plastic bags can be serial killers. The animals that swallow the plastic decompose quicker than the plastic inside them which then releases it back out into the water for another poor soul to mistake as a jellyfish.

“24 August 2000 – a Bryde’s whale died in Trinity Bay (2 km from central Cairns). An autopsy found that the whale’s stomach was tightly packed with plastic, including supermarket bags, food packages, bait bags, three large sheets of plastic, and fragments of garbage bags. There was no food in its stomach”

                                                                                                        ~Federal Department of Environment & Heritage website

Effects on Human Health

Mahi Mahi Fish full of plastic – Image from RozSavage.com

As I also explained in my last post fragments of plastic are also breaking up into small nodes – can be microscopic – allowing a large range of animals to eat and then absorb it into their bodies. Our throw-away items are leading to mass bio-toxification of our oceans and consequently our food chain. Scientists are only now starting to really understand the long-term effects this plastic will have on our own biochemistry, but many studies have linked our increased plastics consumption to cancer (breast and colon), infertility, birth defects and obesity.  These scary statistics should not just be attached to the plastic that is in our food chains either. Considerable findings are starting to point to how we package and heat our foods as well. Plastic bottles, cheese, tofu, canned goods (inside of cans are lined in plastic), meat on Styrofoam trays and wrapped in cling wrap – these products have all been linked.

(If you are interested, Mens Health had this fantastic and thorough article about plastic and how it effects our health)

Effects on the Economy

Public perception is that plastic is cheap. Hell! It is better than cheap… it is FREE! However, this is a classic case of not looking at the embodied cost of the product – the true cost! As reported by Planet Ark plastic bags, for example, are not free to consumers – they add an estimated $173 million a year to Australia’s grocery bills! Additionally the Australian local and state governments spend over $200 million a year clearing litter. Right there is $375million that the Australian taxpayer is contributing to pollution. In the 2010-11 budget our government cut $250 million from urban water initiatives and $80million from major national environmental protection program (Caring for our Country) because of ‘hard financial times’. Could we not just cut the pollution, saving the consumer $173m, the taxpayer $200m and the environmental devastation which is unmeasurable? That’s $375million which could be injected back into the economy, towards useful ends, not just a lazy convenience. I know that producing a budget for the entire country is more complicated than that but the overall solution is simple. Stop investing in pollution. Start investing in sustainable technologies and solutions.

Effects on our Self-Respect

Image by Manan Vastsyayana original found at CoastalCare.org

It is not fair that we treat our environment, other countries (predominantly third-world), the animals that live in it, our health or our oceans this way. It is not even for a noble cause. There is not one application that we use plastic for that could not have an eco-alternative that uses renewable energy sources. I throw down the challenge for you to think of one? We need to start having a bit more self-respect and respect for the rest of the planet. We need to stop biting the hand that feeds us.

“Don’t blow it – good planets are hard to find”

~ Quoted in Time Magazine

My Conclusion

Researching this post has really strengthened my resolve to eliminate plastic from my life and I hope it has you too. I will be documenting my challenge to be plastic free as I am sure there will be some hurdles but I am willing to jump them after the information I have read this week. It isn’t all doom and gloom – tomorrow I will be looking at solutions (individual and otherwise) to this massive problem. There are little and big things that we can all do.

“Plasticized” Movie Premiere

The crowd gathering before the movie

On Friday night (13th Jan) the amazing crew at Hulbert Street managed to add another gorgeous green get-together to their list of achievements. As arguably one of the greenest streets in Australia, Hulbert is often a central meeting place for community events that are focused on creating awareness about environmental issues and living sustainably. With the zany Tim and Shani Graham at the helm, Hulbert is fast becoming a Mecca for environmental education in Perth.

Shani Graham (The Painted Fish)

Even with all this eco street cred though, the greater Hulbert community managed to outdo itself last week by not only premiering an eye-opening and inspirational documentary but also reeling in the Director for a mingle and some questions. Special mention goes to absolute eco-babe Lisa (Head Campaigner for Plastic Free Freo) who recognised the powerful message in Plasticized after seeing it in Melbourne and set about organising its Western Australian premiere. The unexpectedly young and unduly anxious Director, Michael Lutman, flew over from his adopted home of Melbourne (a San Fran native) to personally introduce the documentary and then answer questions after the screening. Judging by the rip-roaring applause at the end of the movie he can stop feeling so nervous about how his debut film will be received…

High-tech Cinema Screen doubles as Bed Sheet!

The Documentary

Plasticized is a documentary that shows the insidious reality that is plastic pollution in our oceans. Braving almost 31 days of sea-sickness and some fairly gnarly weather Lutman set off with a team of researchers from the 5 Gyres Institute aboard the Seadragon to examine the reach and effect of plastic in our oceans – the global impact of our plastic addiction!

I expected lots of shocking images of marine animals with bags in their bellies or round their throats and while there was an element of that what I was met with instead was a much more scientific and – surprisingly – much more shocking body of work. What Lutman does a fantastic job of explaining is that it is not just the visible scars bobbing on our horizons that we need to worry about but what they breakdown into. Our plastic rubbish is breaking down into ‘nurdles’ and creating (in Lutman’s own words);

“a plastic soup of confetti”

But instead of me yabbering on about it I’ll just embed the trailer so you can see for yourself –

The Scene

The dress code was “Recycled Black Tie” so my hubby and I had hit the op-shops earlier in the week to find some suitable attire. For $6 I managed to snag a gorgeous little black cocktail dress and Mark was equally successful with his $15 dress jacket. On arrival we realised we may have taken the brief a bit seriously as there were an awful lot of boardies and singlets – but we did get props from Shani who asked me to stand up in front of the crowd and do a twirl for my effort. Tim was the one that really brought the goods though, looking dashing in shorts, a singlet and a tie.

Friendly old fella – wandering around the crowds

At the very end of the cul-de sac (right outside The Painted Fish) sat a group of around 200 people on picnic rugs, deck chairs or just their bums. Loads and loads of bikes scattered around the street. Dogs were roaming around politely introducing themselves and it was a very chilled out vibe. We laid out our picnic rug, I took off my shoes and poured some champagne into some recycled jars – no plastic picnic cups for us thanks!

Who needs a flute when you have a jar?

The Event

Amazingly the first people that approached us were Mike and Lisa. It is so lovely to meet people who are unabashedly enthusiastic and passionate about their work. There was nothing nonchalant about it – just massive smiles and some nerves at the ever-growing crowd. I started speaking to another fellow who was absolutely lovely and halfway through the conversation (when the tipsy little stone dropped) I realised that it was in fact Brad Pettitt – the Mayor of Fremantle. After I stopped jumping up and down with excitement – cool as a cucumber I know! – we had a good chat about how progressive Fremantle is and he seemed very proud to be part of it and very modest about how vital his part has been (and continues to be).

Me and Michael Lutman (Director)

There were loads of familiar faces from all sorts of great organisations such as Sea Shepherd (the gorgeous Britta) and Animal Rights Advocates (the amazing Kim). If you want to immerse yourself in the grassroots of green campaigning these events are such a great place to meet with, chat to, bounce ideas off or just absorb some hippy vibes at.

Lisa (Plastic Free Freo), Brad Pettitt (Mayor of Freo), Mark (Spunky Husband) and Mike (Director)

Britta (Sea Shepherd)

My Overview

This documentary changed the way that I thought about plastic pollution in our oceans. In my simple mind there was a simple solution. We just needed to go out to these plastic islands and remove them from our oceans right? Not the case. Those nurdles that I mentioned earlier are breaking down into smaller pieces – I’m talking microscopic – and are floating through every part of our ocean. Being ingested by marine animals large and small. And then being caught and ending up as dinner around the world. As Michael says on the Plasticized website;

“With every nation, rich or poor, reaching further for dwindling resources at any cost, it is perplexing to see how we neglect one of our most precious and vital assets, the Ocean” – Michael Lutman

The whole point of the movie is that prevention is better than a cure. This documentary has motivated me to completely eradicate plastic from my life. I was not the only one – I bumped into Britta the next day searching for shampoo that didn’t come in a plastic bottle – she found a shampoo bar! Plastic bags and cling-wrap left my life long ago but I am now looking for bigger better ways. This whole week I will be dedicating my blog to articles about plastic and how we can avoid it. If you have any great ideas, let me know (via comments or at oliveonblonde@gmail.com) and I will research them further!

If you see Plasticized being advertised near you I highly recommend you go and see it! I have a sneaking suspicion that it is going to start getting a lot of amazing press the more people that see it, talk about it or hear about it.

You could go one better and request a screening for your community! Here are some more pics from the movie…

Sustainable transport – bikes everywhere!

Happiest dog in the world!

Shani and the Freo Red Carpet!

Mike (Director), Me (Me) and Brad Pettitt (Freo Mayor)

Happy chappys!

Lisa taking to the stage!

Mike fielding questions from the audience