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The power of simple actions

The other day I bought a new dress (well, a vintage dress, but new to me). “Do you need a bag?” the shop owner asked me as she handed me the tissue wrapped bundle. “No, I have my own”, I said, and pulled out one of the fold-up bags I always have on me. “Thank you for doing that”, she said, looking me in the eye and smiling.

That simple interaction was a reminder that behaviour I consider normal – bringing my own bag – is not normal for everyone. And it wasn’t always normal for me. It’s something I do now that I didn’t do, say, five years ago. It’s a small change I’ve made over time towards generating less waste.

A recent piece of research has highlighted how Kiwi behaviour and thinking towards living more sustainably has been changing.

The Colmar Brunton Better Futures report tells us eight out of 10 of us now mostly, or always, use reusable bags, up from less than a third in 2017.

You could say that’s because the supermarkets have stopped using single-use plastic bags, and you’d be right. But our easy acceptance of the phasing out of plastic bags shows we were ready for this action.

Plastic waste is at the top of the list of Kiwis’ concerns, according to the Better Futures report, where 72 per cent of us say we’re concerned about plastic build up in the environment – that’s higher than the level of concern about the cost of living. Of those surveyed, 55 per cent expressed a high level of concern about the impact of climate change on New Zealand – the highest in the 10 years this survey has been going.

It feels to me like the plastic issue is a tipping point. Is this the moment when climate change really kicks in as a serious concern and spurs action?

Already this year we’ve been reminded of the fact that climate change and health are inextricably linked. The EAT-Lancet Commission report told us, globally, we need to change what and how we eat if we want to have a healthy planet with healthy people on it in 50 years’ time.

Another huge report in the Lancet alerted us to the ‘Global syndemic of obesity, undernutrition and climate change’, and called for ‘a holistic effort to reorient human systems to achieve better human and planetary health’. The authors called this ‘our most important and urgent challenge’.

These kinds of reports sound scary and overwhelming, and it can be hard to relate to what they’re saying, let alone what they’re asking us to do. A lot of people got pretty mad at the EAT-Lancet Commission’s recommendation that we should have no more than 14 grams of meat a day, for example. Many meat lovers (and media outlets) couldn’t get past this and missed the report’s very pertinent points about reducing food waste and improving food production.

But back at home, in households around the country, action is actually taking place. The Better Futures report says 10 per cent of us are now eating mostly meat free – a step towards a more sustainable diet and a healthier one. Twenty-five per cent say they, like me, buy second hand to avoid consuming more new stuff.

All over the place, people are decluttering, Marie-Kondo-style, and simplifying their lives.

But the report shows we still have a way to go, even in some really simple things. For example, bringing our own containers for takeaway lunches.

Eighty five per cent of people surveyed said that reducing disposable packaging is the right thing to do. But only one per cent of those who buy lunch use reusable containers.

Barriers include feeling nervous or like a nuisance asking to use their own containers, along with worries about looking odd carrying it around.

We need to get over this. Just like we need to get over the idea that our own small actions can’t make a dent in an overwhelming problem like climate change. They can and they will. And we can start right now, in the kitchen. Is this the moment when climate change really kicks in as a serious concern and spurs action?

First published: Apr 2019
Last updated: March 14 2019
Last science review: March 14 2019

Article sources and references

  • Colmar Brunton. Better Futures 2019, colmarbrunton.co.nz
    https://www.colmarbrunton.co.nz/
  • Mendenhall E & Singer M. 2019. The global syndemic of obesity, undernutrition, and climate change, The Lancet doi.org/10.10 16/S0140- 6736(19)30310-1
  • Willet W et al. 2019. Food in The Anthropocene: The EAT-Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets From Sustainable Food Systems, The Lancet doi.org/10.1016/ S0140-6736(18)33179-9



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