Are eco-friendly products met with a not-so-friendly reception when travelling through customs?
During the inter-semester break I travelled to Colorado, the land of 14 thousand feet mountains, aspen trees and buffalos that daredevil tourists like to take selfies with.
I’ve visited Colorado quite a few times before and never experienced high levels of stress and anxiety at customs, apart from when the guy behind the counter starts asking all those generic questions at rapid fire. It just becomes way too much, I start to question whether I did just get off a plane from NZ and if I really do have two siblings and a dog. All those times before however, never involved mass amounts of products containing a bunch of natural ingredients that are almost always frowned upon when entering a country.
Before leaving New Zealand I debated whether or not I should just leave my environmentally friendly products behind, such as my cardboard deodorant containing beeswax, my tattoo balm containing manuka honey and all the bars from shampoo to shaving that contain copious amounts of natural oils and bits of plants and seeds. Life seems to get a bit dicey when you tick yes to all the questions you should really tick no to. So I considered it, I considered going out and buying a new, shitty plastic deodorant and shampoo to avoid the possible unpleasant troubles at US customs. But then I had that moment, like in the Emperor’s New Groove when Kronk’s evil self and good self stand on his shoulders, It went something like this:
Evil me: “Just buy some normal plastic toiletries then you don’t have to worry”
Good me: “No Ellie, think about how that plastic is going to stay on the planet for hundreds of years!”
Evil me: “It’s just for this trip, it’s not going to happen again”
Good me: “What about when you you’re done with those bottles? You put them in the recycling bin thinking they are going to be made into something new but the reality is they won’t be. So what if those bottles and plastic deodorants find their way into the ocean and a whale swallows them and then dies because you were too selfish and only thought about your own convenience. What then?”
The Good me definitely won this one.
So there I was, on the plane to the LAX airport with all my hippie toiletries waiting to be judged. But by the time the arrival form was handed out and I had skimmed through the questions, none of them mentioned honey or seeds in products, only fresh vegetables, meats, firearms, bullets, weapons, insects, goods to sell or used camping gear (all those usual family items…).Turns out I didn’t need to worry about bringing in all my funky bathroom products because America really doesn’t care. So if you ever end up in my position, don’t panic.
Shortly after I arrived in Denver and was picking up some eggs and milk with my friend at one of the general supermarkets, King Soopers, I decided to do some enviro-freak detective work and see if American supermarkets provided products that care about the environment. I started scouring the aisles for anything and everything, pacing up and down, reaching high and low. But my search didn’t last long. If there was an eco option, there was only one, and all of the cleaning products with less chemicals that claimed to be environmentally conscious were still in thick plastic bottles. The cherry on top was when we got to the checkout. Waiting for every customer, for his or her convenience, was an endless supply of free plastic bags. I think I might have left the store with that crazy person eye twitch.
The next day when the sun was shining at 5:52am and the 35-degree heat was blazing, my eye was still twitching with tree hugger rage. I stepped outside and breathed in the dry, scorching air and noticed that everyone’s bins were out. I decided to take a little look, see if their bins were any different from our classic Auckland Council yellow and red lid bad boys. What I found was worse than lack of colour; both bins said ‘landfill’ on the side. In my moment of horror I ran into the garage to see if maybe the recycling bin was just waiting for its turn, but nothing. NO RECYCLING. I was lost for words at this point. I didn’t understand how such a massive country with so much responsibility didn’t do weekly, or even fortnightly recycling. I started thinking about every single item that is thrown away every week, how two massive bins full of ‘rubbish’ were just being taken to landfills- just from this one house. Looking around at all the houses both on the street and the ones we passed while driving to lunch made me utterly sad and disappointed.
Cafes and restaurants were not that conscious of our climate crisis either. With every drink accompanied by a straw, with every meal too big for the consumer came another plastic box to take home with them. It was clear that bringing your own containers and making the customer ask for a straw rather than just giving them one is something that hadn’t caught on in the States.
When I left America with sore eyes from twitching too much and dry, flakey (ew) hands from the lack of humidity, I started contemplating how New Zealand is really showing the US what’s what (not that they are listening). Sure, New Zealand has a lot of things to work on. But when you stop and think about it we are doing a hell of a lot more than other counties. We banned plastic bags, we have put in place the Zero Carbon Bill, we have so many people who are passionate about change and about helping others take on a more environmentally friendly lifestyle. Even our airlines are ditching plastic and thinking more sustainably. It’s safe to say a lot of New Zealanders are people who care, who want to make change, and are willing to put in the effort to get it.
So when the arrival card for New Zealand was handed out I was reminded again how much New Zealanders care; the checklist was looong. I had to tick yes to a lot of those questions since I’m basically rubbing bird food in my hair and honey on my armpits. It was scary having to explain all my items containing the frowned-upon ingredients, but once I mentioned they are commercially made everything was totally ok and the inspection guy was even impressed with the great cleaning job I did on my hiking boots. Whatever you do though, always trick yes if you have the items listed on the form. Failing to declare can get you a fine ranging from $400 to $3000!
Whether you’re a traveling hippie like me with your seeds, oils and honey or just the usual peep, be proud of NZ’s progress and don’t forget to throw a little shade at our neighbors… maybe our judgement will be their motivation.