We know that everything we do is connected. To each other, to other actions, to the places we live and places over the other side of the world from where we live. If it wasn’t that way, one thing would be enough. But it is, so one action isn’t enough. We need three: the first to wake us up; the second to wake other people up; the third to change the system.
And the three things? They are all accessible and attainable without suffering. They all have genuine, tangible and physical impact. They all create wider change.
Refuse single use. Cut meat and dairy. Use your democracy.
Refuse single use.
Single Use Coffee Cups
This is the easy way in - you won’t be called a radical or fanatic if you make the decision to never accept a single use coffee cup again, so it’s not going to rattle your world or alienate your friends and family. Plus, they are an easy switch to accomplish - simply make time to stay, bring a jam jar from home, buy a good ‘keep cup’, or borrow from the cafés own mug library or cup swap system.
But the reason this is top of the list today is that the knock-on effect is huge. By declining single use coffee cups:
- We liberate hospitality from the need to invest in them, redirecting packaging companies, forcing them to turn their ‘eco ingenuity’ elsewhere (especially true of ‘compostable’ cups, which we all know now are a resource waste, a waste stream night mare and enablers of throwaway culture).
- We demonstrate responsible behaviour. When we walk down the street with a reusable, we change what is socially acceptable in terms of behaving for our own immediate convenience and satisfaction, rather than taking personal stewardship that protects the present and future of all living things. We make being selfish unacceptable.
- We spark more change. 80% of people who invest in their own reusable cup make other changes in the way they live their daily lives. Their eyes are opened to a world of avoidable single use that there is no need to invest in or condone.
- We increase the value of cafes in our society as making time to stay (over running off to look busy and successful) returns. With pubs and churches in demise, to have a physical space in which we can connect - even with a nod, a smile of recognition between each other and the barista, or the other locals - can be a life saver. On a broader note, the more we see each other as relevant, connected, the more likely we are to feel responsible for each other’s well-being.
Quite simply is a scam. Everyone in New Zealand Aotearoa has access to a tap that can provide safe drinking water. Bottled water epitomises the ‘Emperor’s new clothes’ aspect of post-WWII marketing that sells us something we don’t need for no other purpose than to make money. This, alone, is a vital reason to use our consumer power to end this industry in New Zealand. Then add the packaging.
Plastic water bottles, we know, are a menace. Glass is better, but as the whole premise is unnecessary, why use valuable resources and expend energy to create them? And next are the hybrids, the ‘this is not made from plastic’ bottled water that goes the dangerous next step: aiming to persuade us that buying this product is actually better for the planet than not buying it at all. Shame on them! (And it is worth noting that the ‘eco’ coffee cup companies insinuate the same). These products have oil based plastic lids, hence cannot be recycled as they are, cannot be composted as they are, and all this is irrelevant. It’s all bullshit, money making bullshit, because, yup, we don’t need them at all.
There are several health agencies focusing on getting us back to the tap (Cancer Society, Diabetes NZ) and moving us away from bottled drinks. They are receiving local government support. Add to this a consumer-driven move away from purchasing bottled water and what happens? It already is happening: an investment in public water fountains, reusable water bottle refill stations, taps at sports fields. Investments in societies well-being. Places we can utilise, like the village well…
A small P.S. here: Do some research on the detrimental effects of drinking from plastic water bottles. Chemical leaching, etc. Don’t be tempted to use that pump bottle over and over again. Just don’t buy it in the first place. It isn’t on your team.
Take Out Food Containers
This is a favourite of mine because it’s visual. It instigates conversation. It applies positive peer pressure to others in the queue. And it is cute af. Who wouldn’t want to know the person walking down the street, back to class, or back to their work space with a ceramic plate, decorated with pandas, stacked high with sushi?
As with single use coffee cups, single use or plastic take out food containers are a relatively new phenomenon. If we have lived without it, happily and healthily, we can do so again. We’re all aware that New Zealand (as is the whole planet) is facing a waste stream crisis. Our ability to recycle is minimal. What can be recycled varies greatly from region to region. Recycling requires energy, produces off-gassing, and indicates that a product has only one moment of use; one moment to shine. That’s not enough. Accepting plastic take out pottles when you take your Thai meal home, and saying you will reuse them - that isn’t enough either. Our acceptance of these products affects the figures. Packaging companies will keep making them. Restaurants and cafes will feel they have to keep supplying them to keep us happy and loyal. Nah. We need to end this madness. Take in your own container. Buy one good one and take care of it, or use your mum’s Tupperware (it’s food grade plastic - it’ll outlive all of us), or just use your favourite bowl and fork from home. Personality is everything. Refuse single use.
Cut meat and dairy.
There is little point in talking about this much. Either we are prepared to understand reason, or we aren’t. Nothing I can say will change any minds today. We are conditioned to consume animal products. We are raised in New Zealand to see farming as lush green paddocks with frolicking lambs. We have been fed incredibly effective marketing from the dairy industry for generations. Fighting this conditioning is hard. Real hard. But ditching meat and dairy is the ultimate in sticking it to the man. Animal agriculture is the most destructive industry in New Zealand: none of our rivers are graded ‘good’, and 60% are graded ‘poor’. Economically, it threatens our tourism industry - but fuck that, it threatens our very survival. There is no doubt that history will see this phase of human meat consumption as suicidal, barbaric, genocidal. But today, it is a battleground of habit versus ethics. Conditioning versus logic. So, either accept logic, or if you are sitting on the fence, feeling the pull but struggling to break free, do some research. Treat yourself to vegan pizza and movie night: Dominion, Earthlings, Cowspiracy, Land of Hope and Glory. As in all things required of us now to make change of a level to keep life worth living in the future, we must allow ourselves to feel, and then we are equipped to think.
Use your democracy.
Take to the streets. Vote. Sign petitions. Discuss. Connect. Object. Call it out. Exercise your rights to information. Ask questions. Research. Learn. And most of all, use your power. As consumers within a western democracy, we have never been so powerful. How we don’t spend our dollars will change everything. Stop buying shit we don’t need. Stop buying shit fullstop. Pay attention to the noise around fast fashion, around food origins, around packaging from its beginning to end of life. If we buy it, we condone it, and we perpetuate the current way of living, which is not working out. If we don’t vote against it, we may as well vote with it. Use your voice. It is your most powerful tool in your own defence.
Start today. Here. Do a search (use Ecosia, not Google) for ‘Thumbs Up New Zealand petition’ and sign it. Then browse through change.org. Add your support. Get yourself on the Greenpeace and 350.org mailing lists. Sign their petitions. Be on the list. We are already statistics - be one that indicates change is coming and change must come.
In conclusion, thank you for giving a fuck enough to read this. For taking time from your life to consider making changes, and to encourage others to step up beside you. Things look pretty bleak (to those of us who have the stomach to actually look) but I truly believe that the opportunity to create a kinder way of living is just within reach. Just use your own cup, hey?
Laura Cope, Captain, uyo.co.nz – ‘Use Your Own’ Aotearoa Responsible Café guide. A not-for-profit, all for change, web based guide to cafes who encourage us, and each other, to refuse single use, with search criteria based on creating environmental and societal change. Also Instagram @uyo.nz: a feisty platform to call out shitness, offer reusables and support each other to step the fuck up and be the change we all need.
As a side note here, this winter, we worked with the University of Otago began its journey to becoming a disposable cup free campus, with three of 9 cafes ditching single use options entirely, the other 6 offering loan cups and retail, and the student body and environment groups creating and managing mug libraries. Just chucking that in there…If you’re keen to see this happening around your way, get in touch?