Presenter:  Neil Mckenzie-Hall, EnviroWaste Services

Presentation title: Innovation, consumerism and the throw-away generation

Innovation, Consumerism and the Throw‐away Generation    By Neil Mackenzie‐Hall, Waste Minimisation Manager         New Zealanders as a whole are becoming more aware of recycling, which is great. The government has introduced a couple of Acts of Parliament that promote waste recovery through increasing landfill levies and councils also have collections for our recyclables. Added to this, there are recyclers operating throughout New Zealand and all over the world!     All of this looks great, doesn’t it? Well, to the contrary, I think we are missing the point. While we are recycling more, and there are good innovative approaches to recovery, there remains a more fundamental problem.    I’ll give you an example to illustrate my point. You walk past a shoe shop and see they have a 50% off sale. You see a really nice pair of shoes and try them on. Great, they fit and look perfect. You buy the shoes and take them home. You then put them away for safe keeping. Hey, at this point you’re feeling pretty good about your purchase and yourself.     But let’s analyse this situation ‐ what really happened? Face it, you didn’t really go to town to buy shoes, you just happened to see the shoes in the window and liked them. Or perhaps it was the fact that the sale saved you 50%, even though you didn’t really need the shoes.    What you actually bought was a plastic bag, which contained a box, which contained those really nice shoes wrapped in tissue paper. But wait, there’s more ‐ in the bottom of the box is a little moisture adsorbent pouch to protect the shoes. Is that really what you intended to purchase as you walked past the shoe shop?     The point I am trying to make is that we are always going to purchase items, either when we need them or on the spur of the moment. But what we must remember is that everything we purchase will be packaged. We didn’t want the packaging but through purchasing the item we have purchased the packaging.     Now, what do you do with the packaging? Being cardboard you can burn it in the fire or put it out for recycling (clearly the later is correct). If it’s raining outside the cardboard is going to get soggy and is going to make your road frontage look very messy. If this happens, it will all probably end up in the waste bin along with the bag and the absorbent pouch    (the receipt was destroyed at the scene, so you don’t have to worry about this).     This is where innovation can make a small difference. Through producer responsibility, some suppliers of plastic based packaging have started using biodegradable packaging. Don’t start thinking all plastic is biodegradable, because it’s not! But at least they are trying to resolve the problem. However while this a positive step forward, if you are a recycling operator, then this becomes an issue as most plastics are not easily distinguishable between biodegradable or non‐ biodegradable. So innovation starts to look very confusing all of a sudden.    So, I encourage you next time you go food shopping, to consider how the food is packaged e.g. fruit on trays wrapped in plastic or individually wrapped dried fruit packaged in a plastic container. All of this will probably end up in the landfill. Look at how much you buy ‐ do you often throw half of it away? Just look in your fridge when you get home –homuch are you going to waste?w     Next time you eat a bag of potato chips, consider that the bag is not recyclable in New Zealand. The polystyrene trays your mushrooms sit on will go into the landfill. After all, you only wanted the mushrooms.     Innovation is borne from a problem or a requirement to solve a problem. I’ll leave you with a couple of questions: Is it you who is at fault or is it commercial marketing that entices consumers to buy products when we don’t need them that is at fault? Who is to blame and who should innovate?

Event: WasteMINZ Conference 2013

Date: Tuesday 22 October 2013