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26 May 2020 | Environment

Tackling plastic pollution

There’s nothing quite like a visit to the beach. Here in New Zealand, our beaches are known for their beautiful scenery, the stunning black sand and, increasingly, the amount of plastic polluting these idyllic settings.

According to the World Bank, per capita, New Zealand is the tenth most wasteful for urban waste.

Plastic pollution is doing more than just tarnishing the image of our pristine beaches, it is directly impacting the health and wellbeing of ourselves and our wildlife.

Forest & Bird has found that one out of every three turtles recovered in New Zealand has died or become ill from eating plastic. They’ve also found that the risk to seabirds from plastic waste rubbish is worse in the seas around our country than anywhere else in the world. Combine that with our high number of unique seabird species, and it becomes clear just how dangerous the plastic issue is to our native wildlife.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. There are dozens of organisations dedicated to reversing this trend, not to mention corporates like The Warehouse Group who are prioritising not only cleaning up the rubbish that’s already polluting our world, but working to reduce plastic and product waste in the first place.

Love Your Coast Waitakere

One such organisation is Sustainable Coastlines, a non-profit dedicated to enabling people to look after the coastlines and waterways they love. To help do our part for our oceans, we partnered with Sustainable Coastlines back in March to hold the event on Auckland’s west coast beaches. From Muriwai down to Cornwallis and 14 beaches in between, 325 volunteers made up of TWG team members and members of the public picked up their rubbish sacks and got to work across a total of 15.2 km of coastline.

“This event enabled hundreds of Kiwis to be part of the solution, to act in a positive and meaningful way, and contribute to an optimistic future for Aotearoa,” says Tom Kelly, Environmental Initiatives Manager at The Warehouse Group. “We were able to galvanise, educate and inspire people to take charge in their communities and truly make a difference.”

The initiative also saw local community groups get in on the action, including the Muriwai Environmental Action Community Trust (MEACT), Save Cornwallis Old Wharf (SCOW),Cornwallis Petrelheads, Piha Residents and Ratepayers, and Te Henga Bethells Beachcare.

In the weeks leading up to the big beach clean, a team from Sustainable Coastlines connected with several local schools and kicked off the school education tour, presenting 21 times to a total of 958 students. The goal was to educate the students on plastic pollution and explain how we can all show some love for our beautiful coasts, encouraging the students to become kaitiaki of our coastlines.

In the end, after a full day of beach cleaning, more than 3,500 litres of rubbish were collected along the 15.2km of coastline covered by the event."

"It was a pleasure to see so many team members from The Warehouse Group attend the Love Your Coast Waitakere beach clean-up events. Connecting people to nature and to the issues that our coastlines face is the first step to enabling a more positive mindset to solve the problem of litter and the build-up of plastic in our environment and oceans,” says Stephanie Vercoe, Strategic Partnerships Director at Sustainable Coastlines.

The current data from our Litter Intelligence programme shows that on average there are 348 items of litter on the beaches of Aotearoa per 1,000m2. I think most New Zealanders would be shocked by this, so it's encouraging to work with large corporations, like The Warehouse Group, who share our vision for a plastic-reduction and waste minimisation."

Our commitment to plastic reduction and waste minimisation

Our mission to be Here for Good in everything we do is one of the main driving forces behind our environmental and sustainability-minded activities. We realise our role as the largest retail group in New Zealand means we have a crucial role to play when it comes to setting an example for other companies and leading the charge when it comes to creating change.

Over the past few years, we have developed a renewed focus on ways to improve our supply chain and operations when it comes to waste prevention. Last year, we introduced sustainable packaging guidelines for our manufacturers in our supply chain, laying out things like the types of materials to use and stop using when packing and shipping items, and ways to be more mindful of the waste we create.

We have already reduced the amount of packaging used on more than 700 SKUs over the last few months, and customers will be seeing the difference first-hand when they visit our stores. For example, the move from plastic blister pack to card box packaging for a glue gun will remove 385kg of plastic from the waste stream over the coming 12 months.

As part of the Soft Plastic Recycling Scheme operated by The Packaging Forum, in 2019 we contributed to the collection and recycling of 24,384kg of soft plastic that would have otherwise been sent to landfill. Currently, 16 of our The Warehouse stores offer the recycling, and we hope to be able to increase that number as the demand grows.

We know we have a long way to go, but by finding and recognising the gaps in our systems that are preventing us from achieving more waste minimisation, we will be to create immense change in our processes and beyond.

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