Auckland’s annual Chinese Lantern Festival took place 26 February to 1 March. While for many the experience entailed a cultural celebration with beautiful lanterns and delicious food, there is a darker side to the festival.
Youth volunteer organisation Plastic Diet, teamed up with Chris, a Zero Waste expert to make this event waste-free. Retailers were instructed to sell only biodegradable or compostable packaging.
Over the course of the festival, Plastic Diet and Chris provided over fifty volunteers who dedicated more than 330 hours to help with the zero waste efforts. Waste volunteers underwent training to divert as much waste as possible into either compost or recycling bins at ‘Waste Stations’ placed around Albert Park.
Volunteer Georgia Harris says many people are simply not aware of the damage plastic causes,
“There are many problems with plastic. It contains chemicals toxic to our health, doesn’t biodegrade and will persist in the environment, meaning that every year one million seabirds and 100,000 marine animals die because of plastic pollution. Also, plastic is made of oil and gas - non-renewable resources.”
On people’s reactions to the Waste Stations, Ms Harris said, “People were overwhelmingly positive about what we were doing, and there was genuine interest to learn how to decrease plastic use.”
Unfortunately, some vendors ignored the event organiser’s instructions and purchased styrofoam packaging - an inherently toxic type of plastic. It was also difficult to separate recyclable, compostable, and landfill packaging because things like drinking coconuts were encased in cling film.
In response to these points, as well as illegal dumping of waste at the end of the festival, Plastic Diet founder Florence Reynolds suggests stronger regulation of traders at future events.
“As well as stricter council policies, all packaging should be made and labelled biodegradable, recyclable, or reusable to both reduce waste and avoid confusion. Plastic Diet aims to work with businesses and other stakeholders to change New Zealand’s environmental policy and minimise waste.”
Ms Reynolds explains further, “We are not a ‘cleanup’ organisation; we aim to work at the top of the waste hierarchy and address the issue at its source.”