Does anyone else have as much fun as I do with their rubbish? Collecting items for composting and sorting inorganic items for various recycling streams brings a vision of my small grandson, head focused on a kindergarten sorting game. Like Oscar aged 2, I find the sorting an enjoyable challenge. “Must I really add this the landfill bin?” I question myself while seeking an alternative fit for an empty blister pack of antibiotics, necessitated by a recent bout of pneumonia. “Nope,” I say annoyed, and push it into a small catfood sack, annoyingly made of plasticised paper, that has sat in my kitchen bin for weeks destined for the landfill. The small pharmaceutical carton is added to the cardboard stack I’m collecting for recycling while the paper pharmacy bag, plastic tape first pulled off and added to the ‘soft plastic recycling’ stash, goes to my compost bucket.
What I love about my two wooden compost bins is their appetite! Claudia, my upper bin, seems insatiable: this week she had plentiful food scraps from a series of visitors along with a heap of old kale plants from replanting part of the vege garden along with some grass clippings; by the end of the week, it had all packed down and she was ready for more! For weeks now I’ve been giving Claudia food scraps, vegetable peelings and fruit skins ( minus the annoying branding labels which I stick on my ‘soft plastic’ recycling, saving the pile for my next trip for Auckland where types of soft plastic recycled are far broader than here in the Far North), garden weeds, seaweed, as well as paper and cardboard and grass clippings. Claus the lower bin is currently empty, still patiently awaiting his turn.
“Here you are, Claudia, here are today’s treasures,” I say to my gorgeous compost bin as I tear up 3 toilet roll inners along with 2 paper mushroom bags that visitors were requested to use if stopping for supermarket fruit. I’m sure I can feel my compost bin’s contentment as she settles in to look after these resources. I too feel so content: each gift to Claudia connects me once more into the circle of life; I feel connected with all the other living beings with whom I share this world. It’s a humbling experience and yet at the same time brings with it the best of endorphins – the natural joy from looking after our world’s resources is the best feeling ever.
Of course many people and businesses in the Far North have no access to a compost bin but shouldn’t this natural joy be theirs too? If Raglan’s community-owned large scale composting facility keeps waste food scraps out of the landfill and turns them into garden compost, why don’t we follow their example? Perhaps there’s still too big a big difference though between Raglan’s friendly community recycling and resource centre, Xtreme Zero Waste, and what we have so far settled for in the Far North? I admit I’m not a fan of our local FNDC Recycling Centres as exemplified by my ‘local’, the Whangae Transfer Station. Contracted out by FNDC to be run by the multi-national Chinese-owned Waste Management corporation, Whangae is a barren and soulless place. When I drive in with bottles, cans and paper for recycling to this location on the Opua-Kawakawa Road , I feel no sense of either my place within the circle of life nor my connection with other living beings. Perhaps a FNDC centre like this is not a good location for a large scale ‘Claudia? In a region where the heart of kaitiakitanga pulses as a powerful a guiding force, here at Whangae its absence is palpable. This place feels heartless, soulless, a monument to an overseas corporation whose shareholders profit from increasing the amount of rubbish we the people of the Far North throw out. Its not a comfortable fit if we are a people looking to the future.
Like rubbish itself, we residents of the Far North have for years disposed our responsibilities for looking after our environment and the future wellbeing of our community to a faceless FNDC. Its ‘their’ responsibility we say, forgetting that ‘they’ are ‘us’. An ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach to the resources we throw out has built up as we the people of the Far North stood on the sidelines. Some years ago, I overheard two grandparents boasting about their planed ‘SKI trip’, and on admiring their level of fitness, was laughingly told, “Oh no, Jane, SKI stands for our new lifestyle, ‘Spending the Kids’ Inheritance!” This year, talking with Northlanders, its clear that the ‘SKI approach’ to rubbish no longer feels comfortable or funny; increasingly I find the people of the Far North are shocked and embarrassed at what they throw out. People are looking for a new theme song.
Its hard to hear a new song amidst the familiar old lyrics. “Its not my fault. I recycle where I can. I don’t drop litter. My rubbish gets picked up from the kerbside” can still be heard amidst the back patting. “We’ve no choice,” Far North citizens chorus as they continue to purchase plastic packaged items within a system that is neither fair, ethical or sustainable. But do we in the Far North really have no choice? Are we stuck or is there a new song in the air? Is there a heartfelt and healing new ‘post-disposable’ harmony on the lips of Far North citizens young and old? Without doubt, my own song is changing. Just 18 months ago when out with friends, at work or looking after my family’s needs, ‘convenience’ and ‘disposability’ guided my choices and the value I put on time. No longer. Today my desire for that natural joy that comes from connecting with the natural world has become so important that reducing my rubbish footprint is essential. I’m no longer prepared to accept being labelled as a mindless ‘consumer’ with no feelings and values of my own. I’m not mindless, I’m a citizen and a Far North resident and I care.
It dawned on me that I can sum up this new approach of mine with 3 ‘R words’: rethink – reorganise – request. Is it time yet for all in the Far North to sing a new song to bring healing to our community as we heal our environment? Are Far North citizens keen to honour their place within the natural world by choosing a future where landfills are history and items are re-valued as resources not rubbish? If so, perhaps these 3 words will become the chorus line of a new song as we each Rethink, Reorganise and Request a rubbish-free Far North?