RIO Tinto is facing criticism after giving plastic-filled goodie bags to school pupils.
The company, which owns the Tiwai Point aluminum smelter, recently donated plastic drawstring bags to Bluff School pupils which contained plastic drink bottles, plastic straws, lollipops and balloons.
The move sparked an outcry online, viewed by many as a slap in the face from a company already under scrutiny for the management of waste from its plant.
Broadcaster and Invercargill city councillor Marcus Lush took to social media saying it “pretty much summed up their [Rio Tinto’s] attitude to the environment and community”.
Cr Lush said he was “incredulous” a community which depended on fishing for its food source and income had been given so much plastic.
“I’m no Jacques Cousteau, I’m no eco warrior, I’m nothing like that, but I thought, what could’ve Tiwai done for the school that was worse?” he said.
“That was the question I found really challenging. They basically could have just given all the kids a vaping kit or something.”
The mining conglomerate is in the spotlight for environmental concerns at its operation, including how it plans to clean up its site after it closes.
Earlier last month, it was revealed there were tens of thousands more tonnes of toxic spent cell liner waste stored at Tiwai Point than previously reported.
More recently it has been announced smelter staff have been working with Ngai Tahu and the Government on dealing with remediation and the clean up of its waste.
Despite the backlash, Bluff School principal Geoff Folster was grateful for the gifts.
“Some of our kids don’t have drink bottles, so they can reuse those. We’re happy for our kids to get something,” he said.
Bluff is also home to Catholic school St Teresa’s, but teacher Rosi Coyle said her pupils were not offered anything.
She thought they were overlooked because of their environment school status.
“We wouldn’t accept it and that’s probably why they didn’t bring it [the goodie bags] to us,” Ms Coyle said.
“The world is trying to get rid of plastic and there are alternatives. Give us something made of aluminum!”
She said it had been hard to secure funding from Rio Tinto for school-related projects.
A Rio Tinto spokesman said it valued its relationship with schools and the community.
“As well as donating swimming bags to Bluff School containing a reusable drink bottle and straw, we also recently donated $5000 for the school to upgrade IT equipment and to provide breakfast and lunch for those kids who arrive at school hungry.”
It was planning to give swimming bags to St Teresa’s.
- Matthew Rosenberg is a Local Democracy Reporter