The Poly-cycling octopus

From Voices, 7:00 am on 9 September 2019

Pacific people in Aotearoa New Zealand are getting their kicks out of Poly-cycling* and aiming for a zero waste future.

While there are many different local community initiatives with unique ideas around "reduce, reuse and recycle",  Pacific Vision Aotearoa (PVA) has a particularly novel approach - which involves an octopus or feke.

A key driver for this community group is getting future generations on board.

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Therese Mangos

Therese Mangos Photo: Therese Mangos

At this year’s Polyfest event in Auckland, PVA set up a big metal octopus right outside their stall and gave anyone who returned trash some cash.

“We’ve got a beautiful feke (octopus) at the front of our entrance. It is an octopus and its being filled up at this year’s festival to show all the trash and that unfortunately, this is what is what we do,” said PVA member Kathleen Ng Shui.

It's a new spin on an old idea.

“Like 30 years ago we used to pick up the bottles, take it back to the store and we’d get a few cents for it and so we just want to bring that back.”

The octopus is a structure that helps people to visualise the amount of rubbish we consume and also consider the impact of our plastic and trash on our island environment and the ocean.  

Many Polynesian communities grapple with this issue because often they have large gatherings that require catering for big crowds and can be big consumers of single-use plastics out of convenience.

“We see photos of it unfortunately filling up our oceans with trash and we don’t want to hide our rubbish away.  We want them to see it and find out how it affects them and then ask them what they think when they see this,” said Kathleen.

The group also set up a series of stations for people to go through from bringing in plastic waste, to washing it, squashing it, and putting it into the octopus. At each station, they are told the reasons why we should reduce, reuse and recycle.

“And as they go through the Polycycle system we wash and squash and sort it and we find out what it is made from and where it is from.”

Pacific Vision Aotearoa's Feke Octopus at Polyfest 2019.

Pacific Vision Aotearoa's Feke Octopus at Polyfest 2019. Photo: Therese Mangos

“A lot of the kids are quite shocked to learn that plastic products come from oil and all our aluminium comes from a rock called bauxite and our compostable plastic packaging comes from plants.”

Kathleen, whose father is Maori, and mother is American Indian, says she hopes people will make more of an effort to bring back what our ancestors used to do.

“Bring back what grandma used to teach us in how to be resourceful and how to not just throw stuff away,” she said. “We take a lot from the land but we need to think about giving back to the land.”

On show were bags made out of jeans, tee shirts and lolly bags as examples of reusing everyday items and tells me the backstory of an old woven kete or flax bag alongside a countdown bag, cotton bag and paper bag.

“This was my dad’s. So, it’s over 80 years old,” she said.

“The kete wears the gold medal because when I am finished with it, you can cut it up and put it back to the land and it will actually feed back into the soil and break down as it intended to."

"We want our young ones to celebrate and see how our cultures do this.”


Poly-cycling Photo: Therese Mangos

PVA’s Therese Mangos is also passionate about reducing, recycling and reusing. Her ancestors whakapapa back to the Cook Islands on her mum’s side and on her dad’s side to Greece, England and Ireland.

“What people don’t realise is that a truckload of plastic pollution enters our ocean every single minute,” she said. “We are the ocean and the ocean is us - so, if we are the ocean why are we polluting ourselves?”

Therese hopes the octopus structure helps demonstrate visually the impact of plastic waste on our island environments and sea life. The group would love to see poly-cycling done everywhere.

Their mahi , or work, matched the Otara Papatoetoe Board's priorities to look after the environment and promote community-led solutions.

In an email, board chair Lotu Fuli said poly-cycle seemed like an innovative way to encourage young people and our Pasifika families to learn more about recycling and zero waste generally.

She said it also was a fun way to engage young people and giving some funding back to our community for doing something positive was nice.

PVA has plans to take part again in Polyfest 2020 - but at this stage Therese said they will probably go with more of a plastic free theme and promote items like reuseable cups.


But in the meantime, there has been interest in their work from others, including the health sector, where PVA has been asked to look at a "healthy planet, healthy people" promotion.


It is just one of so many local initiatives around Aotearoa who share a common vision.


That is, if we are all mindful of our carbon footprint and impact on our own environment, future generations will thank us long after we’ve all gone. Then hopefully more of us will be inspired towards change - just like the octopus.

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Photo: 123RF

*Poly-cycling is a Polynesian take on the 'reduce, reuse, recycle' concept.