Plastic poison


I hate lights left on all night in city buildings, glossy junk mail, plastic bottles. Share your pet company waste hates here and let’s try to make a difference!

ONE of my readers made a disturbing comment on a blog I wrote which showed a distinctly defeatist view about taking a stand. It was in relation to the story about animal exports to Indonesia.

To paraphrase, he said: “If we don’t supply them someone else will. And then our farmers will be the only ones who get hurt.”

I replied that history is too often tragically shaped by silence. As philosopher Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” One person has to step forward and say: “No more!”

But the truth is, I too sometimes have doubts. Opening the mail last week I saw that almost every bill came with a brochure spruiking something. My insurance, phone, electricity and credit card bills all came with shiny rubbish and a corporate motto: Kill trees and stuff them into envelopes for no one to read.

I felt overwhelmed with the pointlessness. Why do we keep trying to uphold our own standards in relation to the environment – no plastic bags, recycling, turning off lights, having short showers – when at a corporate level there is such massive wastage and polluting?

Travelling around America last year, I was alarmed to discover that many cafes and restaurants don’t believe in washing cutlery or plates and give customers disposable plastic instead; even breakfast is served on party plates at medium-range hotels. Wine glasses are often disposable. Not to mention the epidemic of plastic drinking bottles. Back home and products are sealed in layers of plastic casing. Lights dominate the city skyline. Why?

Can any of us make a difference in this world of endless slaughter and pollution? The answer is “Yes!” After the Four Corners documentary on the horror of live animal exports, thousands of people put their names on petitions saying, “No more!” Now live cattle exports to Indonesia are suspended and the ban could even be widened.

Another success story is the decision by Coles to switch to hormone-free meat after listening to constant calls and complaints from consumers who wanted ethically treated, free-range animals. Coles will be phasing out buying meat from farmers who use them by 2014. “We acted on consumer demand. And profits are up 7 per cent as a result,” spokesman Jim Cooper told me.

I stopped donating to my favourite charity, Greenpeace, because they kept sending junk mail about why we should stop logging! And I let them know it. As Jim Cooper reminds us, companies are listening.

What are your big consumer complaints? Please share your frustrations and hopefully the government and corporations will hear us!

Please comment below




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31 Responses to Plastic poison

  1. Tony Y 26 June 2011 at 2:17 pm #

    Dear Ruth , I am unable to understand why we need layer upon layer of plastic packaging for some foods e.g sliced cheese wrapped in plastic inside a plastic container , is it because we have sanitised this society so much to “protect” people from all possibility of harm and in the mean time not understanding what long term harm we are doing to ourselves. I also believe the throwaway society is inherited by watching parents bad habits, it is something I see regularly. You can work out who throws rubbish out of the car window by watching their children.
    I suspect you are talking about my “disturbing comment” and the remark that it was “defeatist”. If it was indeed my comment you talking about then I want to point out to you that I think your paraphrase of what was said is incorrect. I certainly did not say “if we don’t supply them someone else will”. I only have a suspicion that may be the case. What I did say was when an official from Indonesia was questioned on ABC radio about whether they can source cattle from another country, “sure” was his reply and went on to name many countries.
    I support your views on needing to take a stand but it needs also to be a well thought out stand not a kneejerk reaction with collateral damage. Good honest planning will have the most impact on what we try to achieve.
    If it was not my comment you were paraphrasing then please disregard and accept my apology.

  2. Alex Nelson 23 June 2011 at 11:01 am #

    Hello Ruth, I noted in your column “Making a difference” (June 18-19) the comment: “As philosopher Edmund Burke said, ‘All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.’”
    Perhaps I’m at risk of being pedantic but in my Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (Revised Edition 1996) a version of this quote is included in the section Popular Misquotations (Things They Didn’t Quite Say) where it is observed: “Attributed in a number of forms to [Edmund] Burke, but not traced in any of his writings”.
    However, regardless of origin, it’s an apt quotation for us all. And as for having doubts whether what you are doing is worthwhile, that at least demonstrates you have awareness and are conscious of your impact and the role you can play in this world.
    That’s far superior to those who have no doubts because they couldn’t care less.
    Kind regards,
    Alex Nelson

  3. Ruth Ostrow 21 June 2011 at 2:59 pm #

    Hi both Mike and Tim thanks for joining the argument. Your emails are both so wrorthwhile. But just to let you know that you both posted in the wrong place, which was at the bottom of the intro What’s New page. I have moved both of you here which you come to by clicking on the actual story and going to the top right hand corner — the tiny tiny word comments which takes you through to all the discussion and a box you can comment in. Or you can scroll down all the comments on the page. Best of wishes to both of you. Let me know you saw this. Ruth

  4. Mike Kibblewhite 21 June 2011 at 2:56 pm #

    Things that make me mad: lots of things corporations do anonymous of individual and in the name of profit. I have been wondering how I as a single entity can be heard about such things and couldn’t resist your invitation to comment. I suppose social media would be a good platform, but here goes.
    Two weekends past in Business section WA – CEO of Gas Fracturing Company (both names elude from this distance) demanded those suggesting extraction of gas damaged the environment ‘substantiate’ their claims. A demand Christopher Hitchens suggests has its counter in that those in such positions, as the CEO in this case, should ‘substantiate’, guarantee ‘it’ doesn’t. Corporate bullying, compensation and protectionism from governments and media campaigns suggesting corporations are just like you and I are insulting to ordinary people corporations market their product to.
    And talking product, product wrapping comes in two forms; both make me angry, spin and advertising I can ignore, the other usually ‘plastic’ arrives wrapped around everything. Manufacturers should be made responsible for returns, recycling of such material. Not the consumer who is forced into accepting the packaging with the product. If everyone removed the packaging (clothing is a good one) where practical and left it in store, store owners (supermarkets especially) would have to deal with the material and maybe send the message back to manufacturers.
    I do this where possible and keep a bag for plastic wrap not accepted in council recycling and every two, three weeks take it back to the retail source. I’ve seen plastic in Tonga, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea collected into piles that are set fire to on a weekly basis because there is no where to put it and importers, exporters and manufacturers wipe their hands of the product once the consumer has it. Here in Australia we fill holes in the ground, not really sustainable when reuse might be a better option.

  5. Tim Harper 21 June 2011 at 10:25 am #

    Hi Ruth, enjoyed your column in Weekend Australian Magazine ‘Making a Difference’.
    If you are looking for a cause, how about softdrink, beer and flavoured milk container deposit legislation.
    There was resistance by Coca Cola et al against the legislation back in 1975. Today they should be showing their environmental pedigree by pushing for it.
    Congratulations NT after 36 years for joining SA later this year.
    I know the arguments about a lack of infrastructure in each state.
    Add the deposit and businesses, councils and Scout groups will jump to it in weeks. The litter stream will stop the moment it has value and will wait till support infrastructure is ready to accept it.
    Those bottles and cartons not held back will soon be collected by the homeless and community groups for the income.
    I guess other states are still taking a ‘watching brief’ to see how it goes in SA.
    After almost 4 decades this is insane! JUST DO IT or elect a politician who will!

  6. John V 20 June 2011 at 4:37 pm #

    Hi Ruth,

    I am slao flabbergasted by the increasing use of resource intensive product packaging.

    Tea bags are a classic – they used to come in a small plastic wrap containing 10 tea bags but now they come individually wrapped in a foil package inside a cardboard box – think of the energy and manufacturing required to facilitate that change – let alone the additional greenhouse emissions.

    Chocolate is another one recently the packaging changed from a foil wrap enclosed in a paper cover to foil enclosed in a cardboard box apart from the sneaky additional weight in the cardboard meaning you end up buying less chocolate – it does not add up environmentally either?

  7. Ruth Ostrow 19 June 2011 at 6:24 pm #

    Thank you for being a long time reader Noel, I feel privileged to hear from you. Ruth

  8. Ruth Ostrow 19 June 2011 at 6:15 pm #

    Well put

  9. Ruth Ostrow 19 June 2011 at 6:13 pm #

    No, I don’t hate people who go on and on. This space is created for us all to air our feelings, not just those who have access to the media. I just hope corporations and governments are reading.

  10. Noel McKay 19 June 2011 at 6:07 pm #

    Thank you for your entertaining thoughts and writings over the last 30+ years.
    I am of an age that saw the introduction of computers into the workforce. I was told as an interested, sceptical and sometimes cynical pencil and pad sales manager that these computers would cut out all paper waste in the workplace……………..No comment.
    I now live on King Island in Bass Strait (bliss) and from time to time go to Melbourne to look at an Australian city. One thing that makes me wonder as to how fair dinkum we are is the waste of electric power by leaving city building and neon advertising lights burning day and night.
    Also we have have seen the opposite ends of the political spectrum in power since we have all been told to save resouces, cut waste etc etc. Why won’t a government of any persuasion make it compulsory for all new buildings (housing, commercial and industrial) to have some form of solar energy to help cut our reliance on any form of other power.
    I guess I could go on with more pet hates however, living as I do on a self reliant property on King Is makes one less cynical and leave more time to watching the other world go by. I realise though that doesn’t help fix the problems.

  11. Ruth Ostrow 19 June 2011 at 6:07 pm #

    What a moving story!

  12. Ruth Ostrow 19 June 2011 at 6:06 pm #

    Hi Ian, The Australian is now on iPad and there are huge changes abroad to electronic digital media. Murdoch’s new newspaper is only on-line so the days of paper wasteage in the industry are nearly over.

  13. Ruth Ostrow 19 June 2011 at 6:03 pm #

    Interesting to note Margarita that there is a trend back to the local stores, well at least in Bondi Sydney where I live. Just say No to the huge conglomerates and multinationals, like Coles told me, they will soon hear you.

  14. Margarita 19 June 2011 at 5:22 pm #

    I agree Ruth, it really just takes people to say “no more!”. It is about people power and let’s face it, the laws of supply and demand. Let’s stop supporting poor quality and unethical products and let’s start demanding change. I think a huge consumption issue is that of lies. We consuming lie after lie after lie. Taking matters into our own hands i think is really where it needs to come down to – where possible. Start growing some food, start buying locally made products, encourage people around you to be interested in what sustains a positive existence – meaning, the environment, healthy food supply and socially conscious people. Maybe then we’ll see reductions in waste, lies and corporate dominance.

  15. Ian 19 June 2011 at 3:10 pm #

    Hi Ruth,
    I get both The Advertiser and The Australian and on week days throw out, unread, about a quarter of each. The weekends are worse with something like a half going into the recycling unread. How sensible would it be for subscibers to be able to nominate which sections they don’t need.

  16. Evelyn Harrison 19 June 2011 at 2:57 pm #

    Re consumer complaints

    My big spoil was a new kitchen with Italian Gaggeneau appliances and a German ‘top of the range’ refrigerator, Liebherr. This was my love object which degenerated quickly into “I want to take an axe to you’ hatred.
    The door handle came off in my hand 3 times, always when we were entertaining, and over Xmas. All the shelves on the inner door full of items worth about $100 smashed to the floor twice. The shelves all developed flaws in the plastic holders, as did the plastic drawers in the refrigerator itself. It took weeks to get replacements. We got no recompense for the smashed items. The suction is such on the main section that if you close it and have to get something quickly out you can’t till it releases pressure.
    Nearly every new Gaggeneau appliance had to have a repairman before it worked. The oven, the downdraught for the barbecue, the inbuilt steamer were all defective. The first use of my new Japanese micro-convection oven would not let me open the door when the oven got hot. Dinner was very late that night and cold. The distributers wouldn’t replace it, and it took 3 weeks to get repaired. They found the door was defective.

    I was a demonstrator of electrical and cooking appliances so it wasn’t through misuse. Everything is being sourced to China, thus the inferior plastic. I am sure the rubber lining will have a short life, it is rubbish. We are seduced by the myth that overseas products are superior. The upside is we became good friends with the repairman. He is very sympathetic. He is on my Xmas card list. I am not alone I have found, and the glossy raves in upmarket magazines lauding German and Italian goods are a con. I started cooking on a one fire stove, beautiful food and never needed a repairman, so much for progress.

    We have in our kitchens cans and jars the elderly can’t open without a crowbar. Boxes that issue tissues in a steady stream of paper because they are not properly perforated. Gladwrap, impossible to cut neatly. Are there any women designers? Do these people ever use their own products? Or do these all come from China?

    I couldn’t agree more about feeling overwhelmed with the pointlessness and stupidity we see every day. My ex was a top journalist and I realised the only way to get results was to get into print. You are in a prime position to air the grievances of women who are considered unimportant till the media takes up their causes.
    Years ago I rescued a penguin, rang the Fisheries and was told to quietly dispose of it as many were being washed up covered in oil. I immediately rang the papers; they came out and did a story in The Sun. TV the next day showed the fisheries cleaning up the penguins, and the Zoo agreed to take my penguin. I had managed to clean off the oil which was killing him with baby shampoo. It was just a small victory.

  17. Geoff Baker 19 June 2011 at 2:30 pm #

    Can anyone make a difference? Yes – if you have access to a widely watched TV documentary. Otherwise forget it. Together with neighbours, I took part in the last Clean-Up-Australia Day collecting and separating the recyclable from the rubbish. One week later the roadside we’d cleared was littered with many more aluminium cans and plastic bottles thrown from passing cars.
    Our local university (USQ) café does not separate recyclables from its general rubbish; thus the supposedly intelligent part of our youth happily throw aluminium into bins full of trash destined for land fill. Builders are as bad. On building sites huge bins are filled with plastic pipe off-cuts, surplus metal roofing sheets and roofing battens to be carted off to landfill. Metal and plastic are types of material we at home carefully separate; why not them?
    Ignoring the state government planning provisions, which restrict residential housing development within 5km of the coast and below cyclone surge height, our local council last week approved a new 650 house development on low-lying wetlands less than 2km from the beach. If the Floods Enquiry here in Queensland results in anything worthwhile it will surely make recommendations for councillors who make such decisions liable for the costs of damage and consequent rectification when floods and cyclones occur; but it won’t. If a civil engineer designs a bridge and it falls down then the engineer is liable for damages. Why aren’t planners liable for faulty planning? Discrimination between professions – why?

  18. Bushkid 19 June 2011 at 1:18 pm #

    Yes Ruth, lights left on in the light (!) of Earth Hour and other stunts, glossy flyers in government agency mail, political advertising at election time (to say nothing of the inanity and insult of such material that assumes we are all idiots), plastic bottles (why the heck can we not have a nation-wide refund on the wretched things – SA does, and that’s just one small state?), bottled water (the tap water in Australia is almost entirely of excellent quality for drinking) and in particular imported bottled water, the sexualisation of just about everything whether we like it or not, the increasingly ugly social atmosphere that seems to pervade everyday life…..

    Oh, I’m sorry Ruth, I could go on for hours and hours and just end up still frustrated and unhappy. As I said in my previous post, we have let this happen to us, simply by not objecting when we were first offended by whatever it is that irks us. Only we can change things, but it takes a fair bit of moral courage these days to stick your head above the parapet. Thanks for raising this one.

  19. Bushkid 19 June 2011 at 1:05 pm #

    Ruth, I hear you loud and clear, and agree wholeheartedly. I have a list so long I fear you will tune out long before the end. How would you like to start a movement objecting to – initially – the absurd packaging of goods? You would have my support for one. This has been a hate of mine for a very long time, and it only seems to be getting worse. Perhaps the likes of Dick Smith, with his track record of care for the environment, could be brought on board. If we don’t start to make a very loud noise things will never change.

    Here’s my list, which does include a lot of things non-corporate (although politics seems to be more corporate than political these days!):

    1. Yes, over-packaging of EVERYTHING!
    2. Charities I want to support but just keep sending me more “information packages” and demanding more donations, thus spending my donation – which was intended to go to help a real person/people – on more paper and postage miles.
    3. Lights left on all night – everywhere.
    4. Households that don’t believe they can exist without 4 fridges, 6 TVs, a pool, 4 cars etc., etc.
    5. Poor housing design that virtually mandates air-conditioning and heating, uses excessive amounts of building materials and leaves no back yard for kids to play in or to grow fruit and vegetables in.
    6. Inefficient electrical appliances that use too much power – shouldn’t even be allowed on the market!
    7. Poor or non-existent public transport, falling use of rail transport that is forcing more freight onto already damaged and failing roads (come and have a look at the Bruce Hwy here in central Queensland!)
    8. The utterly disproportionate power of mining companies to ride roughshod over landholders and to dig up good agricultural land for short term gain to themselves, with a bit on the side for governments in royalties. When all the land is dug up and the water table poisoned or vanished, perhaps governments will understand that you can’t eat coal or gas!
    I could go on for a very long time about supermarket duopoly, lack of real political analysis, chemicals in and on our food, GM cropping and monocultural practices, ludicrous fashion cycles, economists who can see nothing but dollars in a big population and the dumbing down of education and the population as a whole.

    Bottom line is – we have let it all happen to us, although it creeps up on us so that we don’t realise until it is too late. We have the power to stop it. Take back packaging to stores where we bought goods and let them deal with it. Shame companies and governments into making sensible and responsible decisions.

    Sorry to be so long winded! Don’t you just hate people who go on and on and on…..

  20. Wayne 19 June 2011 at 12:05 pm #

    Gullible consumers and flights of fantasy are behind so much waste. We all have busy lives and have little time to check out claims made.

    This is facilitated by media. Coles a pervayer of much guff on TV or in the mail box, claims their chicken meat is hormone free when all Australian chicken is hormone free.

    They claim some small increase in beef tenderness in hormone free beef which can be achieved by slower chilling or different processing. Yet ignore the 12% reduction in food, water manure and global warming gasses achieved by returning natural hormone to beef that would be present if the cattle were not castrated.

    Coles hormone free beef is promoting waste on a grand scale.

  21. Barbara Bansemer 19 June 2011 at 8:51 am #

    We are absolutely fed up with

    1 Inhumane treatment of already-traumatised asylum seekers
    2 Tony Abbott for obstructing the government in everything they try to do for sake of being the opposition
    3 Plastic packaging you need a chainsaw to get into eg smoke detectors, camera card (and the plastic is not recyclable), and anything that comes double- or triple-wrapped. We think manufacturers should be compelled to take their packaging back then they would soon learn find a less wasteful way to sell their goods
    4 People who rubbish our perfectly well functioning 1988 car, 2001 mobile phone and our analog telly. We will use them until they cannot be fixed.
    5 Electronic gimickry you get given as a gift that you neither want nor need and take straight down to Vinnies (after removing the packaging to make sure you have no use for it)
    6 Electricity companies that pay a measly 6c for power fed on to the grid during the day then who sell their power back to you overnight for 19.93c.

    But we are happy we are alive !

  22. Vicki 18 June 2011 at 12:01 pm #

    ….and another one –
    I abhor imported ‘fresh” produce and refuse to buy it on principal. I buy grown or produced in Australian from Australian ingredients only. I would sooner go without than foster this insult to Australian producers.

  23. Vicki 18 June 2011 at 11:59 am #

    I ‘m also not happy that so many lights are on in cities (I live in the outback) even though when I go to the city I find it extraordinary interesting. However, it makes a mockery of that silly idea “earth hour”, and the current crap about carbon.
    My pet hate is that Australia produces so little; we send the raw ingredients to China so that they can be sold back to us in the form of sub-standard products.

  24. Ruth Ostrow 17 June 2011 at 8:03 pm #

    That would make sense. What about my hate of glossy flyers? Anyone feel strongly about that. I am most horrified that I get them from the government with my bills. I am paying tax for this waste.

  25. Sal 17 June 2011 at 8:01 pm #

    Ruth I agree with you. I look at the city and all the pretty lights with such pleasure but its a bit like eating chocolate. A guilty pleasure that makes me feel bad afterwards. Can’t there be a compromise where companies turn off half their lights or alternate or something?

  26. morry 17 June 2011 at 7:59 pm #

    My favourite story is travelling through India and my wife yelling “Look at the incredible colors coming from that fruit tree!” When we approached the tree was covered in colored plastic bags. it was appalling and beautiful at the same time.

  27. Ruth Ostrow 17 June 2011 at 7:57 pm #

    I am laughing at you cutting your finger on the plastic casing around the makeup. Mine comes in glass which the manufacturers sell as the recyclable, natural way, then they stick so much plastic around the product that you get wrinkles just trying to squeeze it open.

  28. Ruth Ostrow 17 June 2011 at 7:55 pm #

    Just wondering what anyone thinks about my pet hate which is the way lights are left on in the city buildings all night. Yes it looks fabulous but for god’s sake, how can we justify doing this on such a massive global scale?

  29. SkatCat 17 June 2011 at 7:53 pm #

    Has anyone seen those tragic photos of plastic bottles piled up at a rock concert in the USA. The bottles went on for miles. or those photos of the poor turtles wrapped in plastic bags as they swim or the one who swallowed a plastic bag which is handing out of its mouth. Why are plastic bottles and bags still in use when pictures like this haunt the world. Shame on the companies who are creating such environmental waste

  30. Lavender 17 June 2011 at 7:51 pm #

    I wonder if the men who manufacture cosmetics have any idea what it’s like to try to get a face cream out of the hard plastic cell that covers it? I cut my finger on the sharp outside the other day. I have every mind to sue someone but who? Every company in the world. Mascara and eyeliner and wrapped as if there were diamonds inside. Where is common sense?

  31. Mephisto 17 June 2011 at 7:48 pm #

    Hi Ruth saw this just come up. I hate hate hate the way some electronic products come with thick plastic around them, and you have to cut the plastic with a knife or scissors. I had such trouble getting my mouse out of the casing the other day I was almost tempted to take it back. What are these idiots manufacturers thinking? There is no advantage to anyone in this, and the consumer ends up paying for such stupidity.

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