Messages of practical action and causes for (cautious) hope abounded tonight at the Adelaide Sustainability, where a meeting on plastics and what to do about and with them was held. Around fifty people (overwhelmingly female) got to eat scrumptious (potlatch) food, and then heard from four expert panellists, all before watching an interesting American documentary ‘Bag It’.
As part of Plastic Free July, an event – “Bag It! Plastic Free Film Night” was held at the Adelaide Sustainability Centre tonight (Tuesday 11 July). This blog post tries to give a relatively complete account of who said what (but it’s not verbatim and if you think I got something wrong, please let me know via the comments).
People were asked to bring food to share, and all who came were treated to lovely and mostly vegan/vegetarian food and mingling before the formal event started. It was a good way to get to meet new folks. Diane Salvi, who runs the ASC for the Conservation Council opened the event with a welcome to country. She noted as well that it is NAIDOC week and closed with a request that if people have ideas for events, to get in touch.[ diane.salvi at conservationsa.org.au ].
Then Lynda Curtis who organised Plastic Free July took over and introduced four panellists, Luke Christiansen from Precious Plastics South Australia, AliRoush from KESAB, Jo Hendrikx, also from KESAB http://www.kesab.asn.au/ and Jarvis Webb from Rawtec.
Jarvis was asked to talk on some developments in the reduction of waste since the ABC’s ‘War on Waste’ show last year. These include moves towards substantial (rather than tokenistic) moves to phasing out single-use items, more compostable items (an interesting topic for the final Q and A), and the “circular economy”. Two Foodland supermarkets (in Brighton and Glenelg South) have been trialling compostable food bags. Government funding has been extended to February 2019, but since the bags are 4 to 7 times more expensive than standard bags, getting business on board is going to be quite a challenge… There was mention of a move in Milan where single-use bags have been legislated out, and food-waste diversion (a good thing) is very high (80%), (see here ) whereas in South Australia it is at only 6 to 15% (depending on which council is in charge). (However, South Australia is very good at doing its recycling within the state – very little ends up interstate or overseas).
Jo was asked what the biggest change in the last 20 years has been an increase in awareness of the need for recycling. The increase in plastic use in the 70s and 80s meant the end for backyard incinerators (the author of this blog post doesn’t want to admit being able to remember that). But then again, said the panellist, the problem is only 30-40 years old, and is therefore (perhaps) soluble…
There was also an important warning that the words ‘biodegradable’ and compostable are NOT the same thing, and that there is a lot of confusion (which benefits the status quo) about these, with people easily lulled into thinking that because something is biodegradable that it is somehow okay.
Luke explained that his organisation – Precious Plastic South Australia – has put in an order for five new shredders (to reduce plastics to small enough size that they can be remoulded), and this and other activity is helping to “build networks of back-shed recyclers”, with new connections and new networks (Precious Plastics was born in the Netherlands but a few years ago by Dave Hakkens).
Ali, who among other things for KESAB does school engagement, was asked “what are the kids talking about.” Ali spoke on how they’re open, have hope, believe they can change the world (unlike we jaded adults).
On the general question of what solutions are “out there”, Luke spoke of reading in Engineers Australia magazine (presumably create ) about a Western Austrailan chap, angered that no recycling facilities existed in WA (so it is all shipped overseas or interstate) has established “Green batch”, which is turning plastic bottles into 3-D printer filament
Eco Party Box people (“Australian-owned family-run business on the south coast of Adelaide in the beautiful fleurieu peninsula, offering eco party, catering and wedding supplies including biodegradable plates, cups and cutlery. Eco friendly decorations, party bag fillers, party stationery and party boxes“) turned up and got a shout out.
Lynda then asked what can/should governments and citizens be doing.. Answers came
- Push in schools and workplaces, (even though it seems to take forever. Also, do it with a smile)
- push governments to legislate/mandate
- make sure ‘recycled content’ is actually from within Australia
- show others how easy it is to do stuff (be a role model)
- make it easier for those who aren’t interested
There were time for three questions before the film
The first was on the finer details of compostable bags (sorry, didn’t catch the gist of this)
The second was on what incumbents might do to water down the moves of entrepreneurs/legislators. One positive example was given – ten years ago SA Power Networks had almost 94% of their waste going to landfill. They sought advice, then took that advice and now almost 90% of their office waste and 80% of their site-based waste avoids landfill. Additionally, Woolworths are banning plastic straws etc.
A third observation came from someone suggesting that it is worth engaging with big supermarket chains etc, and praising them when they do the right thing.
Next up was the film (reviewed here)
The post-film Q and A was short, but very interesting. Although the panellists had had to leave, there were clearly some very knowledgeable people in the audience.
- Greenpeace has produced a toolkit A million acts of blue: A toolkit for a plastic-free future that goes beyond the sorts of individualistic/consumerist suggestions at the end of the Bag It film.
- There is a National Packaging Covenant, that has consultations periodically. Worth looking at who is on the board/committees, what formal commitments companies have made.
- The Loop Platform is South Australia’s circular economy effort
What about cutlery etc that is labelled as compostable? There are people who think that will contaminate compostable wastestreams and should go in recycling. There’s a further set of educating to be done there (sidebar from an academic – this is an example of mimicry a la Edison and gas lighting being TOO successful).
Overall, the event was a really impressive piece of work. Well-designed, well-executed. It may be that because the audience was overwhelmingly (4:1) female that there was none of the dreadful speeches-thinly-disguised-as-questions from the floor which usually suck the energy out of the room. How can I repay the hard work and skill of the organisers, besides by writing a blogpost? Well, by making two suggestions. One, try to get these events videoed for those who could not be there (and for those who want to refresh their memories). Second, further improve the network-building by having a ‘turn to the person next to you’ thing, at the outset and immediately after the film, so people can compare notes, come up with questions (see previous blog posts about this here and here). But seriously, this was a fantastic event, so congrats to the organisers, the panellists, those who brought food, asked questions etc.
Marc Hudson is finishing his PhD. No, honestly. His writing on (on climate policy, renewables etc) has appeared in The Conversation, reneweconomy.com.au and in various Australian newspapers He is researching an article on the “Greenhouse 88” conference (especially the Adelaide element). If you were at it, he would love to hear from you. Also, please pass this on to anyone who was at the event.
Phone: 04979 32031
In other news: On Weds 18th July there’s an event at the King’s Head called ‘What Happens to My Waste?’. Organised by Adelaide Sustainability Connect and Waste Management Association of Australia (WMAA) SA Young Professionals Group, it will look at not just the ‘easy’ items to recycle, but also paint, electronic waste and medical waste. The panel includes Linley Golat, Sustainability Educator at Cleanaway, Lynda Wedding, Waste & Recycling Education Officer at the City of Onkaparinga, and Tim Johnston, Logistics Officer from Veolia. It’s free, and is happening at the King’s Head, 357 King William Street , on Wednesday 18th July from 6pm to 7.30