Leaving No Trace in New Zealand

Megan and I spent the last 2 weeks traveling across both islands of New Zealand. I’m going to talk about different aspects of the trip over the next few blog posts, starting with one of my favorite things about the country: It is environmentally clean in a way that I haven’t seen in any other country.

Now, I love living in an environmentally friendly way for the greater good. If that’s important to you too, New Zealand is awesome. Whenever a cafe gave us straws, instead of plastic, they were paper straws (and once even metal). Every coffee shop we visited had a discount if you provided your own mug, and most allowed you to buy a reusable mug there and get a free coffee inside. Every power outlet had a switch on the outlet (I think this helps conserve electricity), and every toilet had a “small flush” and a “big flush” option.

That’s all great, right? Those are all little things that add up to make the world a better place. I was happy to see and use every one of them.

But humans–including myself–like things that impact us immediately. Sure, the oceans may rise 20 feet over the next 20 years, forever changing the ecosystem and the economy…but what about today?

Here’s the thing: The New Zealand I saw–and I saw quite a bit of it–is nearly litter free. Not just big, obvious litter. Megan and I could literally count on 1 hand the total amount of litter (big and small) we saw over a 2-week period. I think I saw 1 cigar butt, 3 aluminum cans, and one napkin. That’s it.

No litter means more beauty everywhere. No litter means better Instagram photos.

There are signs asking people to “leave no trace,” but it’s amazing that an entire country of people actually buy into the idea! It’s incredible. Especially with the number of tourists there.

It made me happy to see so many people taking responsibility for the earth, and it gave me hope that others will follow, even if it’s for selfish reasons. I certainly want there to be an ozone layer for my nieces and nephews when I’m long gone, but it would also be great to walk down the street tomorrow and not see just as many cigarette butts as blades of grass. There’s hope.

What types of things does your country do to keep it clean and beautiful?

3 thoughts on “Leaving No Trace in New Zealand”

  1. Yeah the switch on the power outlet is an NZ/Aus thing as is the big flush and little flush.

    But NZ is most certainly cleaner than Australia. Everything is in better condition, especially their roads compared to ours.

  2. Hi Jamey,

    I’m delighted NZ put on its best face for you and that you enjoyed your time here.

    However, I fear your piece contributes to a common narrative of NZ being this heaven on earth–frequently when Americans get fed up with US politics or life, they threaten to abscond here and in fact, we’ve already attracted climate change-evading millionaires/billionaires building a bolt hole in the Southern Hemisphere. (Eye roll)

    In actual fact, just today I saw that NZ is on the top ten list of contributors to pollution per capita. We have too may cars, too many cows, many of our waterways are badly degraded, and we have well over 2500 endangered species, most of which can’t be found elsewhere on Earth.

    On the social side, like the other English-speaking nations, NZ embraced neoliberal politics in the 1980s and has yet to relinquish its narrative of scarcity/austerity and government being an ill influence. You say you saw no litter; I am wondering if you noted our homeless population. (A year or so ago, an American friend of mine popped into Auckland for a brief visit, including bus tours outside the city. We met up for dinner and she remarked she hadn’t seen any homeless people. This amazed me, because she certainly would have had she walked down from her accommodation at the glitzy Sky City hotel, along the CBD’s main drag, Queen Street, where you can take in the shameful site of homeless people of all ages, some of them even encamped paces away from wealthy tourists lining up outside the Gucci store.)

    Yes, of course, some things are better here, which is why I came and stayed. I suspect if you’d stayed for longer and explored even more, the rose-colored glasses would’ve popped off eventually.

    • Definitely! I’m not saying New Zealand is perfect–my post was purely about the positive steps I saw NZ take towards improving the environment and the lack of litter. There is much more to New Zealand than that, but that wasn’t the topic of this blog post. 🙂


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