July has been designated as Plastic-Free July in many countries around the world in recognition of the huge damage that single-use plastics do to the environment. Locally, a group of students from one of the Diocese’s schools is taking the challenge seriously – and is attracting support from thousands.
Wellington’s Samuel Marsden Collegiate School has been running a social studies programme in which students choose a social justice issue to work on, and this has led a group of students to start a petition directed at the Environment Minister, Hon Dr Nick Smith, asking for a levy to be charged on plastic bag usage.
“There’s just been an explosion of social justice projects at Marsden,” says the school’s chaplain, Sarah King. “We used to do a lot of bake sales but we realised that you can’t just throw money at a problem, you’ve got to get involved. It’s great that the students get to be involved in something they’re interested in.” Sarah tells us that students across all age groups are working on a whole range of projects, and they are generating a lot of excitement. One student was volunteering at a local pre-school, and found out that due to many of the centre’s families being unable to afford the fees, the centre was very scarce on resources. She put out a request in school assembly and sourced donations from local businesses, and was soon able to help the centre stock up on much needed supplies.
The issue of plastic bags is a global one – plastic used for single-use purposes like shopping bags and takeaway food containers is used for an average of twelve minutes, yet it has a life of 500 years before it decomposes. Huge quantities of the plastic manufactured around the world ends up not in a landfill, but in the natural environment, posing significant risks to wildlife. It’s estimated that quarter of a million metric tons of plastic is now afloat in the world’s oceans, and by 2050, there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish.
When a 5p (9c) levy on plastic bag usage was introduced in the United Kingdom last year, there was an 85 percent reduction in plastic bag usage within six months. During this time, £29m ($52.3m) was raised through the levy and this was donated to charities. In New Zealand, nearly half of the country’s mayors have signed an open letter to the Government supporting the levy, and in Wellington, the Sustainability Trust is offering several different plastic-free or reduced plastic alternatives.
For the Marsden students though, they are proud of their achievements thus far, and the school is proud of them. The petition set out to gain 15,000 signatures and at the time of writing, it has received almost 13,000. We look forward to hearing more from this campaign in the future.