Imagine walking through the mall with a can of Coke. After finishing it, you search for a recycling bin, but, not finding one, you just pile it in with all the ordinary rubbish. Many people would admit to doing this, and would readily recycle their waste if only the resources were available for them to do so. A group of Christchurch teenagers decided to change that situation. It was a collective effort in raising awareness about recycling, and getting young people interested in the environment.
It started with an idea. The idea was to get the recycling bins into the mall to encourage shoppers of Westfield Riccarton to recycle any recyclable items. Over half of the rubbish that is thrown out at the mall is taken to the landfill – an opportunity for sustainability literally wasted. That is why we, a group of teenagers, decided to change that and to show everyone that young people can live past the stereotypes and really can achieve anything we put our minds to.
After many planning sessions, we were ready. I had the opportunity through my church to be involved in the group who came up with this idea. Under the guidance of the social justice unit, consisting of Kate Day, Joylon White, and Tessa Laing, we were off to Westfield to survey the public about the mall’s not having any recycling bins. The public agreed that the recycling bins were needed in the mall and over half we surveyed said that they would use recycling bins if they were available. After a while of surveying the public, we were asked nicely to leave by the mall security guards because we did not have a permit to be on their property. That didn’t stop us. We decided to raise awareness to the public further by wearing costumes made by Kate, me, and a few others. We made coke cans, chip packets and “The Longest Milkshake in Town” out of plastic fabric. Another way we raised awareness was by creating a video, directed by Joylon White.
This video was inspired by a trip to The Palms which, at this point, was the only mall in Christchurch to have in-mall recycling. We found out when we visited that since putting the recycling bins in, they had cut down on half of the waste they had previously been producing. We hoped that through the video we would make the management of Westfield aware of the growing problem of unsustainable waste, why recycling was needed in the mall, and how passionate we were about it.
After management saw our video, they decided to set up a meeting to talk to us about the possibility of having the recycling bins put in the mall as a trial, something that had been successful in Matamata. Unfortunately that meeting was cancelled many times, which meant that we did not get to talk to them about the trial. Our next idea was to collect signatures on petitions. We emailed people in authority, including Sam Johnson (head of the Student Volunteer Army), Councillor Peter Beck, and Mayor Bob Parker to receive letters of their support for our project. Two members of our group were fortunate enough to attend a meeting to talk to Christchurch City Councillors about our idea and what we wanted to gain. We also did many rounds of petition signings at Burnside High School with the help of Nick and Tessa Laing, as well as collecting signatures from the public at the mall. By the time the head of Westfield, Lance Johns, organised to meet with us, we had over 1000 signatures. Students and mall-goers were keen to see the recycling bins in the mall.
For our hard work, we earned first place at the 2012 Youth Leadership for Sustainability Awards, and this was presented to us by Environment Canterbury and Ngāi Tahu. Our prize was the Māori experience at Willowbank that included a traditional meal and a tour around Willowbank. After the meeting with the head of Westfield in December last year, we were informed that the recycling bins would be in by the end of March. Unfortunately, this deadline was not met, but we are still working on achieving our goal now.
This project is an example of how teenagers can make a positive impact on the environment and how a lot of hard work can lead to a positive result, which can change the view of teenagers in society. Next time you are at Westfield Riccarton, ask the customer service desk when the recycling bins will be in the mall. If you have an idea that could change something in your community and change the impact you have on society, do it. Planning and hard work is the key. You never know what the result might be.
By Cassandra Watts.