What does my KiwiSaver have to do with plastic pollution?

Remix Plastic is a sustainability education project that engages people in a conversation around reducing their consumption of single-use plastic. We share practical skills to help people avoid plastic such as making shampoo bars, household cleaners and beeswax wraps. This is where most of the conversation around reducing plastic is focused - individuals trying to live low waste lifestyles. But in a system that is set up for convenience and disposability, this is a hard road. 

Often, we think, “what can I do to have the biggest impact on reducing plastic pollution? Should I stop buying packaged snacks? Do I have to make my own shampoo bars?” Imagine if you had $20,000 to invest in reducing plastic pollution - would you then feel like you could make a difference?

The average KiwiSaver balance is $20,195. Obviously, this money is invested for when you retire, so what does it have to do with reducing plastic pollution?

Nearly all plastic is derived from fossil fuels. The chemical processes (extraction and refinement) that make raw fossil fuels suitable for energy use (for example as petrol in our cars) creates waste. This waste is used to manufacture cheap single-use plastics - the main culprit of plastic pollution. The more fossil fuels we consume, the more ‘waste’ materials are available to make plastic. If we reduce our demand for fossil fuels, the production of single-use plastic becomes more expensive and therefore less attractive to manufacturers.

The majority of banks and pension companies who are investing money on your behalf are investing in fossil fuels. Between 2015-2017 ANZ, ASB, BNZ, Westpac have collectively loaned over $20 billion to fossil fuel projects releasing 7,421 million tonnes of CO2 emissions through their investments. These four banks alone have over 207 direct fossil fuel investments in their Growth KiwiSaver funds.

Half of the money invested in the world is pension money. Before 2017, at least $3 billion of NZ superannuation funds were invested in fossil fuels. The government has since removed this funding and banned KiwiSaver default funds from investing in fossil fuels. However, default funds only make up roughly a tenth of the total Kiwisaver funds, so this ban is just scratching the surface.

Do you know where your KiwiSaver is and what it is invested in? To find out visit https://mindfulmoney.nz/

For most of us, our KiwiSaver is often one of the biggest assets we have. If it is being invested in fossil fuels, which in turn are contributing to the production of single-use plastics, then our efforts to reduce our household plastic waste becomes somewhat insignificant.

Reducing plastic pollution can be a three-pronged approach. First, we can refuse single-use plastics to force companies to rethink their packaging and so we’re not contributing directly to the amount of plastic in the environment. Next, reducing the demand for fossil fuels means there is less ‘waste’ material available for plastic production, this will force plastic manufacturers to bear the full cost of plastic manufacturing. And lastly, we can cut off our funding to fossil fuel companies by choosing a bank and pension provider that doesn’t invest in fossil fuels.