Internationally renowned engineer calls for end to plastics pollution on World Earth Day

20 April 2018

Recycled plastic bread bags, getting a new lease on life.

Professor Kim Pickering from the University of Waikato’s School of Engineering is backing her work making materials which can reduce waste plastics with a personal commitment to the environment and a more sustainable future.

Earth Day 2018 on April 22 is highlighting the threat plastic waste poses to the planet, with the campaign aimed at fundamentally changing human attitudes and behaviour about plastics.

Professor Pickering is running her own personal campaign to encourage others to take action, through things as simple as picking up a piece of rubbish every day.  She has also turned into a somewhat accidental plogger. For those not in the know, plogging is the combination of jogging and picking up litter, a movement which started in Sweden a couple of years ago, and has spread around the globe.

Out for a jog earlier this month, Kim was running along the Waikato River track in Hamilton, when she came across the litter from an entire fast food burger binge left near the beach at Jellicoe Drive. She picked the trash up and deposited it in a nearby rubbish bin. “I was disgusted by the behaviour because whoever left their rubbish there would have had to walk past the same rubbish bin I ended up using.” She continued plogging along the river, collecting a disappointing array of litter on the way.

Kim says she had what was almost an epiphany about sustainability and plastics waste while visiting India a few months ago. She was in Bandipur National Park, and her guide took her to see a herd of elephants, including a calf, heading to a watering hole at sunset. It was an amazing experience, but then her guide told her about a dead elephant they had found locally, that when cut open had 60 kilograms of plastic in its stomach. Elephants love salt, so empty plastic snack bags blowing around are a tasty treat for the animals to ingest, and eventually die from. “That’s when I thought, I don’t want to live in a world that does that.”

Professor Pickering’s research focuses on giving value to used plastic so the material doesn’t become waste, as well as biodegradable alternatives. She believes that plastic itself is not the enemy, but what humans do with it can be.