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Frequently Asked Questions

Logo Campaign Rubbish

Our world has a rubbish problem, and it’s hitting people living in poverty the hardest. Multinational companies could make a big difference to this rubbish situation by taking responsibility for the plastic waste their products are creating.

1. What is the campaign about?

Two billion people in the world’s poorest countries are living and working among piles of waste, because they don’t have their rubbish collected. They have to burn their rubbish to get rid of it, or throw it in waterways, or live among it. That means they’re breathing toxic air, drinking polluted water and battling sickness. This leads to up to a million deaths a year: someone dies every 30 seconds. And each day the waste mountains are growing.

Multinational companies are making this worse by selling billions of single-use plastic products in countries where waste isn’t collected. Meanwhile, in Australia, it’s estimated that we create enough plastic waste to cover the surface of a soccer pitch every 5 minutes.

This campaign is about calling on companies to take responsibility for their plastic waste in poorer communities and reducing our own plastic use too.

2. Why does TEAR believe tackling waste is important?

TEAR is passionate about ending poverty. It’s predominantly those in the world’s poorest countries who suffer the negative effects of waste because they don’t have waste collection or they live in places where waste isn’t managed properly. This creates a major health hazard for the people TEAR serves, and up to a million people in the world’s poorest countries die each year from diseases caused by mismanaged waste. In cities in Africa and Asia (many of which lie in coastal areas), municipal solid waste generation is expected to double in the next 15–20 years, so this problem is only set to grow.

3. Why should I care about waste as a Christian?

God has blessed us with the gift of creation, and it is good. We are asked to look after it (Genesis 1:15) and treasure it. We see God reflected in all creation: it is a witness to his glory. When we care for and act to protect this gift, it is one way of loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, as Jesus taught us (Mark 12:30). In Romans 12:1 we’re urged to give all of our lives as worship, and being a good steward is part of that. When we throw away or do not value this gift, we not only risk being poor stewards of all that God has made, but our actions can bring harm too. We also know that our brothers and sisters across the world are struggling because of this waste problem. Jesus calls us to love them as ourselves (Mark 12:31). Taking action can be a loving act that cares for our global neighbours and honours God.

4. What can I do to support the campaign?

The first step is to sign our Rubbish Campaign petition to ask companies to take responsibility for their plastic waste in poorer communities. Add your voice by signing the petition online, or by signing one of our Rubbish Campaign action cards (which you can order by emailing us at [email protected]).

The second step you can take as part of the Rubbish Campaign is to make changes of your own in using less plastic. Making changes to the way we do things isn’t always easy or straightforward but there are steps we can take that move us towards a life that is less plastic and more of the abundance God intends.

Subscribe to join TEAR Action and keep up to date on issues of faith and justice, and how you can respond by taking action towards a more just and sustainable world.

5. What are you asking companies to do?

We are asking four companies – Coca-Cola, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever – to take responsibility for the plastic waste mountains their products are creating in poorer countries by making four 'Not Rubbish' Commitments:

Report, by 2020, on the number of units of single-use plastic products they use and sell in each country

Reduce this amount by half, country by country, by 2025, and instead use environmentally sustainable delivery methods such as refillable or reusable containers

Recycle single-use plastics they sell in developing countries, ensuring that by 2022 one is collected for every one sold. This means ensuring there are adequate systems for collection, re-use, recycling and composting in communities that currently lack these systems.

Restore dignity through working in partnership with waste pickers to create safe jobs

Many of us will be (or have been) customers of these companies so we have a powerful voice to urge them to do better. Their products include:

  • Coca-Cola: Sprite, Fanta, Lift, Mount Franklin and Pump water.
  • Nestlé: Nescafé, Nespresso, KitKats, Smarties, Häagen-Dazs, Nesquik, Perrier water
  • PepsiCo: Gatorade, Quaker Oats, Pepsi, and Smiths Chips
  • Unilever: Persil, Dove, Lynx, Jif, Omo, Lipton and Lux

6. Why are you targeting these companies?

Large, multinational fast-moving consumer goods companies are driving the demand and supply of plastic production (particularly cheap, single-use plastic). They’re selling billions of products in single-use packaging in countries where waste either isn’t collected or isn’t managed properly. The companies we are targeting all own multiple consumer goods brands and have significant influence. The reason we chose these four in particular is that they all have enormous revenues in developing countries and come up the most frequently in waste audits. If each made and fulfilled the four ‘Not Rubbish’ Commitments we are asking of them, it could transform the lives of millions of people in poverty.

To find out more read the Rubbish Campaign report – No Time to Waste: Tackling the plastic pollution crisis before it’s too late.

7. How can I get my church involved in this campaign?

We’ve got lots of resources to help you get your church involved in the Rubbish Campaign. They include All-age Rubbish Activities with loads of creative ways to engage your whole church in our campaign, including a waste walk, plastic-free picnic and Church Plastic Pledge. These resources will be available soon – contact [email protected] for more details.

Find out more about our training and ways you can lead the conversation on faith and justice within your local faith community.

8. What is single-use plastic?

Single-use plastics are plastic materials that are disposable and generally used only once before they are thrown away or recycled. Plastic water bottles, plastic cups and plastic bags are the most common single-use plastics in Australia. Many high-income countries – despite having more developed waste management systems than low- and middle-income countries – have exported their waste to poorer countries as a key strategy to deal with domestic post-consumer waste.

9. How can I reduce my own plastic use?

The first thing we can all do is to reduce our use of single-use plastics such as plastic bags, coffee cups, plastic plates, cutlery, bottles of water and soft drinks. We can also use products without plastic packaging, such as bars of soap or shampoo bars. Reducing our use of single-use plastics will make the biggest difference. Sometimes, this can mean just going without them or choosing non-plastic options, or if that’s not possible we can use reusable products instead. If you can’t reduce or reuse, then recycling your plastic is the next best thing you can do.

10. If I reduce my plastic use, what impact does that have on people overseas?

We live in a world that is driven by consumption. As Christians, we are called not to conform to the patterns of the world, but to be transformed through the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). Our personal efforts to reduce our waste can be both an act of worship and a powerful witness to a different way of life – one where our God-given resources are valued and preserved.

When we demonstrate by our actions that we want to live in a less wasteful world, we are also sending a powerful signal that we want decision-makers to act. We have the opportunity to use both our voices and our choices as citizens and consumers to urge governments and companies to make changes that will help people in poverty.

And our actions do have an impact. Each single-use plastic item we save is one less thing in a landfill site, ocean or incinerator – or one less thing shipped overseas for another country to dispose of. By choosing longer-lasting products rather than disposable ones, we are saving precious resources.

If we act, and encourage our churches, local communities, businesses and political leaders to act, together we can create the right environment for people in poverty to flourish.

11. Is it true that plastic ‘recycling’ from Australia gets shipped abroad and dumped?

Australians used 3.5 million tonnes of plastic in 2016-17, with about 180,100 tonnes reprocessed in Australia and 235,100 tonnes sent overseas.

Australia creates enough plastic waste to cover the surface of a soccer pitch every 5 minutes (or 12 pitches per hour)!

Many high-income countries, despite having more developed waste management systems, have exported their mixed recycling to poorer countries to deal with domestic post-consumer waste. For the last 10-15 years, Australian companies sold and exported our materials predominantly to China because there was a market demand for the resources and labour to separate and clean the materials was cheap.

Since China closed its borders to other countries’ recycling waste and resources in January 2018, Australia has exported plastic waste to other countries in Asia, who in turn also closed their borders.

At present, there is no mechanism for source countries to be held accountable for the impacts of plastic waste exported for recycling to other countries.

We believe that high-income countries must ensure that export of domestic waste from their nations is minimised. Where any residual plastic waste is exported, we believe that source countries must ensure appropriate recycling facilities and conditions are in place in the receiving countries.

To find out more on circular economies and waste read the Tearfund UK report – Why Advocate on Waste and a Circular Economy.

12. Is it worth bothering recycling at all, given Australia's recycling crisis?

Individually and collectively, we should take responsibility for any waste we generate. These are resources that have been extracted from the earth to make the products (or the packaging) we consume. Put simply plastics come from oil, a fossil fuel that has taken thousands of years to form. If we take a single-use plastic item like a straw or a plastic cup, we use it for a few minutes before it is discarded. This is clearly an unsustainable use of resources.

In the waste hierarchy, (Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) we see that recycling is the least preferred option, just before landfill. As part of our shared responsibility, our first consideration should be refusing many items we consume daily.

After refusing and reducing our purchase, use (and re-use) and subsequent disposal of plastic (and other materials/resources) we then need to consider recycling.

In a circular economy we should be harnessing these resources locally. Reuse, Upcycling and Recycling are actions within a circular economy.

While the current system is in crisis mode, solutions are coming. Part of the solution is our choices and behaviours.

13. How does waste impact on climate change?

In developing countries, a lack of proper waste management leads to large amounts of waste being burnt in the open air. This is one of the largest sources of carbon emissions from poorer countries, and the amount of waste these countries produce is expected to double over the next 15 to 20 years. So the problem is set to grow.

Meanwhile, global plastic production emits 400 million tonnes of greenhouse gases each year. If the growth of plastic production continues at the current rate, by 2050 the plastic industry could account for 20 per cent of the world’s total oil consumption.

The problem of emissions does not end once the plastic is produced. Plastic waste is also contributing to climate change, as it comprises a growing proportion of solid waste. According to the World Bank, solid waste was responsible for a further five per cent of global emissions in 2016 – about 1.6 billion tonnes of CO₂-equivalent emissions. These figures are expected to increase to 2.6 billion tonnes by 2050. The true figure may be much higher as there are several sources of greenhouse gases not included in assessments of emissions from waste. Emissions from backyard burning of waste are not included, for example, despite research revealing that in several low-income countries they dwarf all other sources of carbon emissions combined.

To find out more read the Rubbish Campaign report – No Time to Waste: Tackling the plastic pollution crisis before it’s too late.

14. How is TEAR involved globally to help communities campaign on waste?

TEAR is a leader within Renew Our World as a global campaign which has a mission to unite a global movement of Christians calling for a more just and sustainable world for all. Renew Our World has national campaigns in thirteen countries in the global south and north, as well as international networks with reach across the church. TEAR has a strong history of working with partners in catalysing movements of change, and the transformation through Renew Our World is an exciting expression of the global church working together.

As well as our advocacy work with local campaigners calling on governments and businesses to tackle the root cause of the problem, the communities that TEAR partners with in development in poorer countries are increasingly identifying waste as an issue that needs addressing.

To follow some of the incredible stories of Renew Our World advocacy around the world see:

15. What else do you tackle in the Renew our World Campaign in Australia?

TEAR leads the Renew Our World campaign in Australia. Our advocacy is about equipping and empowering you to bring about change as part of a movement locally and globally working towards a restorative economy.

Alongside our new rubbish campaign, we journey with you to take practical steps as you pray, live differently and speak out to those in power. If you’re ready to go deeper, we will help you to engage with your Federal Member of Parliament so that Australia keeps its Paris Promises to protect the poor from climate impacts and rebuilds aid to end hunger.

Find out more about our training and ways you can lead the conversation on faith and justice within your local faith community.

To learn more about a restorative economy read – The Restorative Economy: completing our unfinished millennium jubilee.

16. What steps is TEAR taking to reduce its own plastic waste?

In our head office, we recycle paper, cans, plastic, and we compost our food waste. We print very little in the office, and when we do we use recycled paper from sustainably managed forests. All our printed publications use vegetable inks which cause much less environmental damage. Our magazine TEAR Magazine now comes in paper packaging.

17. Media enquiries

TEAR CEO Matthew Maury, TEAR Head of Advocacy Jo Knight and TEAR Artist Ambassador Joel McKerrow are available for interview upon request.

Contact Greg Hewson, TEAR Australia Communications Manager – [email protected] or 0400819096

18. Who can I contact if I have more questions?

If we haven’t managed to answer your question above (we’ve done our best, promise), then feel free to contact us at [email protected] or by calling the team on 1800 244 986