It’s Plastic Free July. Throughout Aotearoa and across the world, people are saying no to the plastic that has wrapped itself around our lives and is tragically clogging the oceans. Dedicated, creative efforts to refuse, reduce, reuse, rot and recycle are finding that not only is going single-use plastic free possible, we also have solutions to create a zero waste society. From repair cafes to zero waste schools and marae, packaging free shops to waste sorting in homes and businesses, there is a cultural shift happening that bit by bit is redefining our relationships with the material stuff of our lives.

For us at the Kiwi Bottle Drive, getting to zero waste has brought our focus onto the  511 billion plastic drink bottles bought globally every year, of which Aotearoa uses 2.2 billion a year. We see so many of these in gutters, on beaches, and know they’re in the ocean, breaking down into microplastics and being eaten by fish. As a kid I learnt that this was the fault of people being ‘litter bugs’, and that it was important to be a tidy kiwi and not litter. This is important in the cultural shift towards a healthy relationship with the earth, but as a story it sometime feels like blaming Little Red Riding Hood, not the wolf, for eating Grandma.

The industries and companies who produce the litter, those billions of bottles have been getting off the hook. We enjoy a drink, then diligently try to put the bottle in the correct bin, councils collect it and waste processors recycle it… while the plastics and drinks companies keep making nice shiny new plastic bottles from crude oil. The ‘wolf’ then funds anti-litter campaigns, pointing the finger at us, while greedily profiting from a cheap, disposable product. What if drink and plastic companies where accountable for what happens at the end of a bottle’s life?

This is where bottle deposits come in. This system makes a series of small changes that turn a linear system into a circular one while sharing responsibility for ensuring zero waste. A small deposit (10, 20c) on every bottle encourages people to return them to collection points for a refund. The drink companies are required to balance any costs of the system that collects, sorts and recycles these bottles, making them accountable for their products end of life – something called product stewardship.

Whether it’s kids picking bottles out of the gutter, a part of the shopping routine, or a charity fundraiser, suddenly recycling rates of bottles will go from about 40% to at least 85%. Because they’re not mingling with pizza boxes and meat trays, the bottles can be recycled with less contamination. More, cleaner plastic will allow for high quality recycling, right here in Aotearoa. Which is handy now that China won’t buy our plastic waste. Stockpiling fields of plastic isn’t a long term solution. Bottle deposits are.

Plastic Free July is all about saying no to single-use plastics, and bottle deposits will ensure that the plastic from drink bottles is recycled many many times. They will stop billions of bottles form entering the ocean and being landfilled. Bottle deposits will reclaim all those bottles drunk by everyone whose choices and habits are constrained by what is in the shops. And our government already has the legislation needed to bring them in. In fact, it’s been sitting there waiting to be used for ten years since the 2008 Waste Minimsation Act!

To get bottle deposits, all we need is Associate Minister Eugenie Sage to send activate the legislation. Her role with the waste portfolio means she basically just needs to send an email to the Governor General and we’ll be away. So, will you get political this Plastic Free July? You could send Eugenie an email, sign our petition, and get your organisation to sign our open letter, asking her to introduce bottle deposits. We’ll make sure she represents what’s important to us, and doesn’t dine with the wolf, who’s actively opposing bottle deposits.

The model we are advocating for will create infrastructure and income to empower a network of community zero waste hubs across the country. It will also save councils between than $26 million and $40 million per year of our rates money, while creating 2000+ entry level green jobs. We’ll go into this in a blog next week.