The Greenstyle Podcast interviews Ricki Hersburgh about Picnics Unwrapped

PLASTIC OCEANS AUSTRALASIA'S EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR RICKI HERSBURGH WAS RECENTLY FEATURED ON THE GREENSTYLE PODCAST INTERVIEWED BY CO-HOST NICOLA TSIOLIS.

Within the episode they had a conversation about the impact of the world’s consumption habits on our Ocean, on our society and also explored the public campaign of 'Picnics Unwrapped'. The Picnics Unwrapped campaign allows everyone to get involved and host a plastic-free picnic wherever you are! To raise awareness on the impact of plastic on our ocean whilst raising money for Plastic Oceans Australasia's Education Program.

Nicola had a great range of questions that she and Ricki discussed, and we wanted to highlight some of them here. To listen to the full Podcast visit the link here.

To join in on Picnics Unwrapped this Spring 2021 click here!

DO YOU MIND INTRODUCING YOURSELF AND TELLING US A BIT ABOUT WHO YOU ARE AND WHAT IT IS THAT YOU DO?

I'd be delighted to. Hi, my name is Ricki Hersburgh. I'm the executive director and founder of classifications Australasia. My day-to-day job is to manage the organisation which is known globally from the award-winning movie A Plastic Ocean that was produced back in 2016. It was released globally, and we launched here in Australia in 2017. Our aim is to deliver programs to the community, businesses, schools, government, pretty much everybody that wants to learn more about how they can change their behavior and what they do with plastic.

SO WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS THAT YOU'VE LEARNED WHILST BEING IN YOUR ROLE WITH PLASTIC OCEANS AUSTRALASIA?

Oh, wow, well, that's a big question. I’ve had many years already working with other NGOs in different parts of the world with different focus on whether it be reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, or whether it be animal welfare. One of the things that’s really resonated with me, in this role in particular, is now more than ever, there is no time to waste with what we're trying to do to save the planet from the scrouge from plastic waste because plastic is indestructible, and plastic never goes away. When plastic was invented over 70 years ago, we all went, “Wow, this is so amazing. It's such a fantastic, flexible, durable and inexpensive product to use.” And we had no idea way back then that what we had created was this grey monster that's become so insidious in our lives today.


So for me with the work that we're doing, I wish that we could all work together, and speed up the reduction of plastic use by pivoting people over to alternate products to actually try and mitigate the new production of plastic materials, whether they're recycled or not.

We've got more plastic today in our life, in the globe, around the world, than we will ever be able to reuse and get rid of. How can we hasten the take up? Through the younger generations. They're the ones that are going to make the difference and we've made a big mess for the future of the sustainability of the planet and sadly now we need to rely on them because they're smart, like you to really help us navigate out of this in a really, really fast manner.


Recently, we had a Code Red media alert, which announced a climate crisis, which includes plastic as it assists in the increase with greenhouse gas emissions rising. So plastic is a huge problem with what's happening with climate change. And the two things go hand in hand. So we have a big job to do. So that's what I've learned just in the four years of being at the helm of POA.

DO YOU FEEL THAT OVER THE TIME THAT YOU'VE BEEN WITH NGOS, AND PARTICULARLY PLASTIC OCEANS AUSTRALASIA THAT THE ATTITUDE TOWARDS THIS CRISIS HAS CHANGED IN ANY WAY? WHAT SORT OF ATTITUDE IS IT WITHIN THE COMMUNITY THAT YOU'RE WORKING WITH?

Look, that's a fantastic question. And I'd love to be positive and just say, yes, the attitude’s changed for the better, but actually, to be really honest, having worked with so many NGOs, and working with businesses, corporate and government entities, the attitude is mixed.

There are older people that are at the end of their career and retired and there are a lot of them who are like, it's too late, there's nothing I can do. And for them, it's all about convenience. And the attitude is, it's too late, there's not much I can do. The attitude for the people that aren't in the middle of their careers like that, sort of the 25- to 45-year-olds, they are fantastic. And a lot of people in that age group really get it. And they're the ones where the attitudes are changing. and they know. I think it was the statistics last week, that 73% of the Australian population, feel that climate change is the BIG issue of the way froward and they want to see a change with what's happening with our politics, in government, with the direction and the focus. 73% of people all agreed that they needed to do something about that, and they wanted to see something happen. This is a marked attitudinal change. Then, of course, we've got the younger generation, you know, the wonderful kids that are coming out through school, and they are amazing, they get it, they're terrific. There are always those kids that are just like, I don't care, it's not convenient, I just want to drop it on the ground and keep walking sort of thing. But that's more in the minority now. But it has changed.

So I think the attitude is changing. The problem we've got is that it's not fast enough. And just because you change your attitude doesn't mean you know what to do about it. One of our challenges with what we deliver with our programs we try and explain to people how they can make that change, how they can live the dream of being plastic free not using so many consumables, whether it be plastic products, whether it be their clothing, whether it be the throwaway mentality that we have as people. How can we actually help people to make that switch? That's much harder than what you feel in your mind.

WHAT ARE A FEW OF THE THINGS THAT YOU'VE LEARNED ABOUT YOUR OWN PERSONAL CONSUMPTION OF PRODUCTS, THROUGH PLASTIC OCEANS AUSTRALASIA OR JUST, DAY TO DAY LIFE?

One of the things that really bothers me and has bothered me for many years about consumption of items, particularly ones that are packaged in plastic, is how the manufacturers, distributors and the suppliers of products that we have sitting on our supermarket shelves, have made it so insanely difficult for people to have a choice to be able to purchase products without the plastic.

As a consumer, if you looked at what are the two or three items in your personal world that you use a lot of, you could try and cut down as a consumer to reduce your consumption.

COULD YOU EXPLAIN THIS CAMPAIGN OF PICNICS UNWRAPPED AND HOW IT TIES INTO THE THEME OF CONSUMPTION?

We are pleased to launch for our very first time, a community public community campaign, which is starting actually on September 1, and it'll run all the way through till November 15. The reason we wanted to hold this campaign was to bring people together, keep people together in difficult times by doing what people do love, spending time with friends, family, with food and having fun!. This is a Picnics recipe as you could have a picnic, wherever you are.


You can have a picnic in your lounge room, you can picnic in your back garden or on the roof. You can have a picnic online, if we have to do virtual online and we thought wouldn't it be great if we could do those two things to raise awareness, get people thinking about how they could have a picnic without all the packaging.


Primarily plastic, single use plastic but other packaging that you throw away as well. Like, you know, there's lots of other packaging that comes with when you picnic – food waste especially. And the third reason why we're doing it is to raise funds to further deliver our education programs to schools, community groups and businesses. We need to raise urgent funds needed to deliver our resources to remote regional and disadvantaged communities including indigenous communities around Australia and the region being Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, the islands etc.


We really have no time to waste. So we wanted to really get people thinking about unwrapping and unpacking their food and trying to do it differently. Our governments are each taking steps to eliminate problematic high volume plastic items like cutlery, straws, throwaway coffee cups with the lids but it is very slow. With some mandates not being applied for another couple of years. We feel that is also the responsibility of the manufacturer the packaging of products, as well as the supplier to work together to see what they can do doing differently with delivery of products.

WHY DO YOU THINK THE ISSUE OF SINGLE USE PLASTIC IS SO IMPORTANT TO UNDERSTAND AND TO EDUCATE OTHER PEOPLE AND TO TAKE ACTION ON?

When plastic was first produced, way back, over 70 years ago, we had no idea at the time how difficult it was to get rid of this wonderful product that we produced. And single use plastic is very difficult to recycle, it has to be cleaned, it has to be sorted, it has to go through numerous processes, by the time you've done all that, it can cost more to use that piece of recycled plastic than it would be to produce a new product. That’s the reason why we work so hard to talk to people about actually doing things differently by avoiding them altogether.

What a lot of people don't know is that every single piece of plastic that's been produced, is still here today. Absolutely. It can be recycled three or four times if one is lucky, but you can't keep recycling the same product forever. At some point, the chemical molecular structure of that product breaks down and is compromised and can't be used anymore. So, at some point, they need to add new material to their product to make it into another product. Which means you're still using petroleum-based products to reignite the product. As mentioned, before it all contributes to increase in earth atmospheric heat and therefore climate change.


Due to Covid the increase in PPE use has created more 30% more plastic waste globally. There are 129 billion face masks used every month, globally. Can you imagine what happens with those face masks? They can't be recycled; they can't be reused. Where do they go? They end up in landfill or being burned. Or they do end up in the ocean. And we keep asking people to cut the little bands off the outside around your ears because they get stuck around birds’ necks and so on.

It's the most difficult and the most important challenge for humans so we must create a new wave of change with our habits. .

Plastic Oceans Australasia relies on the generosity of our supporters who donate the funds necessary to operate our education programs and community engagement campaigns.


Whether it's a one-time gift, a monthly donation, or the participation in one of our online events, every contribution big or small is received with gratitude. By getting involved and donating to our cause you are directly aiding us in change. Together, we can work to raise awareness and reduce the impact of plastic pollution in our oceans!