Film Maker & Environmentalist
Niamh wears Dancehall Trench
Tell us about Thumbs up NZ and what started your research into New Zealand's waste cycle?
I have always had a connection to nature growing up amongst the mountains of Central Otago. On a recent trip to Cambodia I was witness to the vast waste problem the country is dealing with along with the negative effect it was having on the environment. It was sad to see, but it really sparked my interest in trying to do something to combat the problem here in New Zealand.
New Zealand is currently in the throes of a waste crisis and it’s growing daily. Tonnes and tonnes of waste is clogging up our landfills with nowhere to go. Reducing our nation’s waste is key, but how on earth do we do that? It seems impossible, especially when we are not empowered as consumers to make quick and informed decisions about the environmental status of the goods we buy.
I recently started a petition to the government asking that they introduce new, simple, and compulsory labels on all food and drink products in New Zealand indicating the recyclability of packaging.
My idea is pretty simple. I propose we label products with ‘Two Green Thumbs Up’ meaning the packaging is 100% recyclable in New Zealand and made from 100% recycled materials, ‘One Horizontal Yellow Thumb' meaning it’s 100% recyclable in New Zealand, but not made from recycled materials, and ‘Two Red Thumbs Down’ meaning it’s not recyclable in New Zealand.
The current system is confusing, and I think it should be a whole lot easier to do the right thing!
For instance, the Resin Identification Code on plastics is only voluntarily included by companies, the recycling triangle only means that somewhere in the world there are facilities to recycle the material - not necessarily here in New Zealand, and Councils recycle different materials - meaning that what you recycle in one region is landfill in another, plus Compostable Plastics are great in theory, but many of them you can't put them in your own compost, and you can't put them in your recycling bin, as we do not have the infrastructure to process them here yet. Yip, you have to be a guru to know what you can put in the recycling bin without being guilty. But, it can easily be made a whole lot simpler.
What can our recycling future be, and what can we do to help?
Currently we don't recycle enough or utilise our recycled material for it to be economically viable. The labels change that, for the better! By introducing a national waste standard we could be the first country in the world to see the start of a circular economy within our waste management.
The labels would enable us to recycle smarter and in turn move us closer to zero waste. Companies would be encouraged to package with materials that are specifically recyclable here and made from Kiwi recyclables, lowering our carbon footprint and utilising our own existing infrastructure. It's a win win for everyone!
So, if you think it's a good idea, please sign and share!
Absolutely anyone, of any age, from anywhere in the world, is eligible to sign a petition to our Parliament.
You've just returned from Cambodia. Tell us about the change in environment.
I adored Cambodia! The extreme plastic pollution there speaks to the fact that water is unsafe to drink, and so bottled water is the only option to survive! Imagine if a free, nationwide, filtered water system was created and made accessible. Plastic bottles would then no longer be a necessity, but a luxury!
Here is a story I did with The Guardian about it, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/25/mountains-and-mountains-of-plastic-life-on-cambodias-polluted-coast
You're also a filmmaker, what are you favourite stories to tell?
My short film 'The Crying Wind' which is playing at the New Zealand International Film Festival and the Melbourne International Film Festival was inspired by my pet lamb Barry and my Mother.
Let me make a few more projects and get back to you on a thematic thread :)
Any upcoming projects you can tell us about?
I'm currently directing an episode for Vice which will be released in September!
What books do you return to, or prescribe to others?
Papillion by Henri Charriere.
I'm drawn to the classics.