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Plastic Bag Free Tairāwhiti

Last week I walked into the Tairawhiti Environment Centre and had barely greeted the two women present when one of them asked me if I would like a bag. If there is one thing I have plenty of, it is bags and so I gracefully declined.

Not to be deterred, the woman who I now know to be a wonderful person called Glenda, pulled out a pile of bags that she had recently whipped up out of a pile of curtain samples donated to Plastic Bag Free Tairawhiti. As soon as I saw the bags in question I briskly reneged on my previous answer, and without a hint of grace grasped in my clutches the beauty of a bag you see in the photo.

There are so many words that can be written in a month we now know as Plastic Free July. We can localise our sentiments as much as we like but they will hold true for nearly every other community around the planet, because whatever way we look at it, it’s been a bad few years for plastic.

This July we can give a little fist pump for the banning of single-use plastic bags, a small but significant regulatory victory in the very big fight that we face. Yay! We can talk about the recent changes in our recycling regime - hasn’t that been a bitter pill to swallow team? Would you like an extra helping of guilt with your yoghurt/hummus/ice cream/mayonnaise today Madam? We can commiserate over what a fruitless exercise banning single use plastic bags can seem when every single thing you think about buying from the supermarket comes packaged up in the stuff (and unlike ‘single use’ plastic bags it’s hard to find a second use for it).

As Nicky Solomon one of the founders of Plastic Bag Free Tairawhiti (PBFT) agrees, it’s very easy to be paralysed by the magnitude of the issue.

‘Plastic Free July’ provides us with the motivation to make small manageable changes to the way we live, in the quest to leave an inhabitable planet for our children and grandchildren. In Plastic Free Julys of the past I have often found myself dwelling on all the stuff I’m NOT doing on the minimising waste front and have wasted a lot of time feeling pretty stink about it too. But as time has gone on and I’ve plodded away at making one small change, and then another, I’ve noticed how my feelings toward the issue has changed.

I’ve noticed how empowered I feel every time I give something new a go, however basic or rudimentary that thing may be. It can be downright exhilarating to return to that resourcefulness that is so deeply embedded in my - in our - DNA. Moreover, I can’t think of a ‘cooler’ opportunity for communities to come together, on both a local and global scale, than in a bid to save our planet for future generations. All of a sudden we have a very pressing need to try and achieve the very thing that thousands of fictional super heroes before us have aspired to, but in Real Life.

It can be a very motivating thought if we let it be, if we can resist allowing it to be the toxic fuel that could just as easily propel us into an inescapable pit of despair.

Initially Nicky Solomon and Jess Jacobs had ideas of PBFT enabling a plastic-free region by working with one business at a time to kick their reliance on plastics, whilst chipping away at the low-lying fruit of the ubiquitous plastic bag; these things that were everywhere but which they knew we could easily do without, once we’d got our heads around that possibility.

Nicky talks about the unforeseen ‘lovely second layer’ to the group’s activities; activities which didn’t initially seem like ‘core business’ as such, like the Beach Clean ups, and the regular reusable bag sewing bees and the two slightly mad and truly wonderful 24 Hour Bag-a-thons; in which people from all corners of our community came together to collaborate, create and just spend time in each other’s space. Those connections and that collaboration can be viewed as lovely by-products of community initiatives which bring people together to work toward a common good, but they are really in the end what will see us succeeding rather than failing in that quest to create a bright future for the generations that will follow us.

Glenda put it well to me that day she gave me a bag ‘If you want a caring world then you have to care’. Glenda cares by stitching together reusable bags - objects of beauty as it turns out - and sending them out into the community, for whoever comes across them to enjoy. Using this aspiration of a plastic bag-free Tairawhiti to connect, to collaborate and heal.


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