The rubbish littered streets of Nepal inspired Helen to create The Rubbish Whisperer and design reusable produce bags and compostable straws to help New Zealand live up to its clean green reputation.
While living in Nepal, Helen was shocked at the amount of plastic rubbish on the roadsides and rivers. She then came to the realization that in New Zealand, we actually produce far more rubbish, it’s just taken away by a truck every week. Because of this, we’re never confronted by the amount of rubbish we actually produce. It was this realization along with research into the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (more about that further down) that inspired Helen to try and make a difference by manufacturing products that would help reduce that waste.
“Since 2013 we have saved 4.26 million plastic bags, 72 km of plastic wrap, and 260,000 plastic straws”
The Rubbish Whisperer was founded by Helen and is run by her and a small team of women who handle the graphics, photography and social media. Their large sewing team provides employment and community to many women who are otherwise unable to work – whether that be because they look after young children, struggle with language barriers, or have health issues that prevent full-time work.
Helen and her team make reusable mesh produce bags and compostable paper straws in a whole variety of colours. The bags are perfect for anyone who wants to reduce the amount of waste they produce from plastic bags for fruit and veggies alone. And the paper straws are great for kids parties or restaurants and cafes. They’re branching out with their straws and are currently developing some new products.
As well as being Conscious Consumer accredited, they donate 1% of dales to local environmental projects. Last year, they bought possum traps for the Banks Peninsula Conservation Trust to help get New Zealand one step closer to being predator-free.
Helen says “I put in the little bit of extra effort to collect/stockpile recyclable materials that need to get dropped off at recycling points – soft plastics go to the supermarket drop off and batteries get taken to Lincoln New World. Although reducing is best, recycling is next in line!”
Becoming environmentally conscious doesn’t have to mean completely changing your behavior and habits; you can still use straws, just swap them out for reusable metal or glass ones, or paper straws that you can chuck in the compost. As for eating out, you can always ask for no straw! Lots of Countdown supermarkets now have soft plastic recycling bins, but the first line of defense is to refuse soft plastic all together!
The Rubbish Whisperer products are stocked in a wide range of outlets in NZ, including New World, you can find a full list of their stockists on their website. You can also buy their products and find out a whole lot more information on their website:
The environmental impact of soft plastic
Soft plastics like produce bags and straws often end up in our oceans, which has a huge negative impact on marine life. In the North Pacific Ocean, currents have carried an enormous amount of plastic and rubbish in a vortex in what is known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, located between Japan and America. The majority of this rubbish consists of non-biodegradable plastics that break into smaller and smaller pieces. This results in a soupy mixture of microplastics and larger debris. However, it’s estimated that 70% of this rubbish actually sinks to the ocean floor, making the extent of the Garbage Patch impossible to measure.
To marine life, this rubbish is lethal; sea turtles often mistake plastic bags for jellyfish and die, albatrosses mistake plastic for fish eggs and feed them to their babies which starve, and seals and other animals get entangled in discarded fish nets and drown. The microplastic soup prevents light from reaching and feeding the plankton and algae below – extremely vital parts of the food chain.
Because it’s so far from any one country’s coastline, cleaning up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is nearly impossible and likely to bankrupt any single country that tries. It requires a united force from multiple countries. As consumers, we can help to minimise the growth of the Garbage Patch by refusing soft plastic as much as possible. Using reusable produce bags, shopping bags and straws is a fantastic start. Restaurants and cafes can reduce their waste by providing paper straws to their customers instead.