Talking rubbish

My family may say I do it all the time, but never in a million years, did I think I would be talking rubbish.

But here I am, and it is thanks to the thousands of students who marched to Parliament, demanding more urgent action on climate change. I felt inspired, or should I say, my hackles were heckled, prompting me to add my own voice to this incredibly important work of caring for our planet.

Every day I pick up other people’s rubbish. Call it what you like – litter, trash, rubbish, garbage, waste, or refuse – it is on our streets and, sadly, human behaviour is responsible for putting it there.

Thirty minutes into my walk and my hands were full

According to estimates, about 80 % of litter found in oceans comes from land-based sources, from human hands. Rubbish is choking the marine animals and plants. These marine animals and plants play a significant role in the life cycle and in absorbing carbon emissions. I live in coastal Papamoa; I try to make sure I grab what I can before it enters the ocean.

The photo illustrating this article shows my rubbish recovery mission 30 minutes after leaving my home in coastal Papamoa. There are chunks of hard plastic, wrappers, bottles, cans, lollipop sticks, polystyrene, plastic pallet ties, plastic and beer bottle tops, pieces of gladwrap and food containers. Every similar.

People say Covid-19 turned the world upside down. But I felt a grinding tilt in my inner psyche that something was not right a year earlier. It started with the Christchurch mosque shootings and ended with Greta Thunberg’s fiery climate change speech. Both these events disturbed me. By the end of 2019, my belief and hope for a better, cleaner, and more loving world lay fragile and tenuous. The job of changing the world seemed too big for this ‘ordinary’ pensioner. 

Yes, Thunberg’s ‘How Dare You’ speech rattled my cages. I became defensive.  No way could I be responsible for the rising sea levels and the shrinking, melting ice glaciers.

‘Pooh to climate change. How dare you, too,’ I shouted back.

When I reflected on this ‘tilt’ and process the disquiet that had been slowly building, I came across poet Rumi’s quote scribbled in one of my journals.

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” [Rumi]

The only thing we can change as individuals is our behaviour.

Yes, instead of looking to change the world on a global and grander scale, I asked myself what I could actively do to address my footprint on this planet, right now. That is when I noticed rubbish on the ground…. everywhere.

I had walked past rubbish on a daily basis. Did I see it, or did I just ignore it?  Not mine, not my responsibility. But it is my responsibility, as it is for each of us. No, I may not have been responsible for putting the rubbish on the ground, but once noticed, it did become my responsibility to pick it up.

Now rubbish practically waves at me. Look at me, it says, I am everywhere, in the gutters, footpaths, parks and beaches. PICK ME UP!

How many students stopped and picked up litter along their way to Parliament building? How many students clean up rubbish in their own neighbourhood?  Marching for climate change would carry much more weight if each student engaged in an activity contributing to making a change, rather than demand change from someone else. What it looked like was an act of hypocrisy. Instead of clogging the environment with their carbon footprint travelling to Wellington, why not each school take the day off and clean up their own neighbourhood?  

Much of the rubbish I pick up belongs to the younger generation. I find it at skateboard parks, around schools, public playgrounds, reserves, and sports fields. Rubbish and broken bottles on Papamoa Beach are a regular aftermath of summer-time beach parties.

So, when I read, ‘We are the last hope’ slogan on one of the protesters placards I just had to say,

‘Crikey, I hope not!’, before putting pen to paper.

But I do have to thank the voice of the young for bringing the matter to my attention.





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