Tēnā koutou e hoa mā! 

So what’s plastic pollution got to do with us, whānau? Well, we already know that the whole plastic life-cycle involves marine, freshwater, and atmospheric pollution, choking our fish, leaching chemicals throughout our water systems, and emitting heaps of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

Plastics (and microplastics) are all through our Moana and our Whenua, and they have made their way into our bodies, our whakapapa, and even our minds (think about how normalised plastics are in society)! But what can we do about it?

Iwi Māori have a long whakapapa of resistance to the things that cause us harm, and this problem might seem like just another kaupapa amongst many injustices. But plastic pollution traverses national and generational boundaries, affecting every person and every ecosystem.

Plastics are made from fossil fuels, which involve ecological pollution and degradation from extraction to combustion and pollution. Plastics don’t break down organically, so all these single-use and disposable plastics used globally pose a serious intergenerational problem. They will affect our taiao and our whakapapa for centuries to come. It is our responsibility as kaitiaki of our whakapapa and of Aotearoa as a whole to find effective, holistic solutions.

Mat Peryman sitting on the road

Approaching plastic pollution with collective action

It will take a lot of loud citizens like us to push back against these massive levels of plastic production, so we can prevent even more plastics from polluting our taiao. To do this, we need strong evidence to make our case for more governmental regulation of plastic polluters. The environmental organisation Break Free From Plastic has been collecting brand information from rubbish found all over the world, to find out which companies are making all this plastic that is destined to end up as pollution. And since all this information has been published, the big corps have been feeling the heat! Coke and Nestle have both said that they will reduce their plastic usage, but these voluntary commitments are shaky and nowhere near enough to actually reduce pollution levels. Coke alone produces almost three million metric tonnes of plastic (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2021), the equivalent of 200,000 plastic bottles every minute (Thomas, 2020). Only 3% of this is reusable (Vine, 2020), and we already know that plastic bottles aren’t going to biodegrade!  We need proper regulatory legislation to minimise plastic production at the source, which can only come from all of us putting pressure on our governments to urgently regulate plastic usage.

Leading with Kaupapa Māori 

Kaupapa Māori research is all about collaborative action for social and ecological justice. Working with Mana Whenua and conservation groups here in Tāmaki, we’ve been collecting plastic rubbish to figure out who is polluting our taiao. It turns out, it’s not just the big international companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsi causing plastic pollution, but our local NZ companies too. We have to work with our businesses, as well as our governments, to minimise their plastic usage and stop their products from eventually harming our taiao. With this mahi, we are building our mātauranga on pollution and our collective mana to act on behalf of our communities and our whakapapa.

The Scientists Declaration on the Global Governance of Plastics is currently being shared and signed around the world. This public statement from the scientific community demonstrates the urgent need for a legally-binding global treaty to address the harmful impacts felt throughout the life-cycle of plastics. This treaty would establish legislation to hold plastic polluters accountable and plastic production would be substantially reduced worldwide. It would prioritise the development of refill and reuse solutions to replace single-use consumption and our extremely faulty recycling systems. Governments, businesses, and pollution scientists would be responsible to monitor and report on plastic production, consumption, waste management, and pollution. Importantly, this information would be publicly available and used to inform plastic pollution responses in policy and in practice.

With such a treaty, we must remember that plastic pollution disproportionately endangers Indigenous and lower socio-economic communities. Exploration for and the extraction of fossil fuels often occurs in Indigenous Land and Ocean spaces (Liboiron, 2021). This often happens without Indigenous consent nor consideration for the impacts of fracking, drilling and mining on Indigenous food webs and livelihoods. Hazardous waste management facilities are most often built closer to these communities. Indigenous coastal communities, like many throughout Aotearoa and the Pacific, consume up to four times as much kaimoana than the global average per person (NZFAT, 2021) and are therefore disproportionately exposed to the harmful impacts of marine plastic pollution. It is crucial that we ensure our Indigenous voices, perspectives, and sciences are represented at all relevant decision-making tables, particularly in the design and implementation of a global treaty.

The scientific consensus is clear: now is the time to act, to genuinely address the plastics problem at the root. Greenpeace Aotearoa has a petition open right now calling on the NZ government to make the key legislative actions necessary to support such a global treaty, with emphasis on addressing social inequities and the impacts of plastics on climate change. We have the power to drive the changes that we want to see, and it’s our responsibility to protect Papatūānuku and the futures of our tamariki.

Ko Putauaki te Maunga, ko Rangitaiki te Awa, ko Ngāti Awa te Iwi, ko Matt Peryman ahau. Matt Peryman, is a social anthropology student based in Tāmaki Makaurau. As part of the Aotearoa Impacts and Mitigation of Microplastics (AIM2) research programme, Matt’s Kaupapa Māori research focuses on identifying which corporations are polluting the Whau Awa and finding Indigenous-led solutions to the plastics pollution crisis. Matt sees collective action as integral to this kaupapa, and understands kaitiakitanga (intergenerational responsibility) as fundamental for best practice in science, activism, policy, and business. Mauri ora!

Matt Peryman

Ko Putauaki te Maunga, ko Rangitaiki te Awa, ko Ngāti Awa te Iwi, ko Matt Peryman ahau. Matt Peryman, is a social anthropology student based in Tāmaki Makaurau. As part of the Aotearoa Impacts and Mitigation of Microplastics (AIM2) research programme, Matt’s Kaupapa Māori research focuses on identifying which corporations are polluting the Whau Awa and finding Indigenous-led solutions to the plastics pollution crisis. Matt sees collective action as integral to this kaupapa, and understands kaitiakitanga (intergenerational responsibility) as fundamental for best practice in science, activism, policy, and business. Mauri ora!

PETITION: Demand a Global Plastics Treaty

Call on the NZ Government to ban unnecessary single-use plastic bottles* in NZ, and to incentivise reusable and refillable alternatives.

Take Action