On Waste

I’ve been dwelling on waste since around the time I was born. Not in an academic way, merely as a reflection on the steps my parents took to minimize our impact on the earth. There were many things we did when I was kid that I took as commonplace, that now resurface as perhaps being a little odd, but the acorn seldom falls far from the tree. In my ongoing desire to understand who I am, I start to note the things I do that others could possibly point to as eccentricities. My foibles becomes follies, exaggerating as I age.

There were the ‘standard things’, character traits that probably point to Dad’s working-class upbringing: keeping a toothpaste tube far beyond the point where you could squeeze any toothpaste from it, then chopping the end off with a pair of scissors to gouge at the creamy inside. Tie this in to the two or three jars of Vegemite left in the cupboard, each with the tiniest scraping of Vegemite down the sides. The rest of the family would feast on the shiny new jar of Vegemite while Dad would keep eking out meal after meal from the previous jar.

There was the re-use of every possible household item, efforts to save plastic from landfill. Most people would have an empty jam jar or two at home to keep their pencils in, but we were happily reusing yoghurt containers as veggie planters and watering the garden with water saved from the shower in a plastic bucket that Dad rehandled with a coathanger when the original one snapped off. Every so often I’d walk in to the garage to find my brother cutting strips of plastic from an icecream tub to create a locking system for the pigeon aviary and I’d wander back inside to read my book and find that I was using a strip of plastic I’d cut from an icecream tub as a bookmark.

I field questions from a staff member at work who notes I’m microwaving a yoghurt container. It turns out I’m not actually microwaving my yoghurt, but instead my leftover curry from last night. Like any good Italian nonna, most of my pantry is filled with empty glass jars ‘for pickling season’ (which arrives once every five years or so for me) and the bottom drawer in the kitchen is overflowing with a mixture of a small amount of Tupperware and a large amount of containers that used to have something else entirely in them, be it hummus or feta or Turkish delight. I vaguely worry about the concept of ‘free radicals’ (talking molecules not politics) and that perhaps I’m killing myself one delicious microwaved curry at a time. My Year 6 Science teacher instilled a lifelong fear of plastic when he told me to stop chewing on my pens because the free radicals would get into my body and giving me cancer (probably true). I was on the path to giving up pen-chewing anyway due to the time I bit down a little hard and got a mouth full of splintered plastic and ink. I moved to chewing pencils instead, part of an ongoing fixation with the feeling of biting.

I’ve never held much stock in the way I dress, although I’ll admit in the last ten years or so I’ve made a vague attempt to look ‘decent’, or at least good enough that no-one is muttering about my dress sense behind my back. I do have to note there was a long period (ie. till at least age twenty-one) where my dress sense was heavily hampered by a complete misunderstanding of contemporary cultural norms. Put it down to whatever you want, but it was probably not helped by my ‘shopping’ habits in highschool.

My boarding school had a laundry that serviced the entire school. All your clothes would have a name tag sewn into them (I still have one towel from high school that proudly declares my FULL NAME in BOLD LETTERS, amazing that that one particular piece of linen has travelled the world with me for over fifteen years now). You’d drop them off before school, then return to pick them up after school. Invariably a lot of students (or more likely their mums) would forget to sew name tags on to various things. Sometimes the name tags would fall off. My room-mate Joe and I used to go to the school laundry at the end of each term and ‘shop’, ie pretend to look for clothes we might have lost, instead returning to our dorm with a selection of clothes that vaguely interested us. A victimless crimes in our eyes, for the original owners didn’t even know they’d lost the shirts in the first place, plus by virtue of us wearing these clothes around the campus there was a slight chance the owner might notice it and be re-united. I was never stopped by anyone claiming I was wearing their shirt, but my fashion sense suffered for years after that.

It struck me in writing about this that a lot of the environmental concerns that I employ in day to day life tie neatly in to character traits for people low on the income scale (re-using household items, making food staples last for as long as possible, handing down clothes etc). Habits that I formed in childhood were solidified in my uni years when I wasn’t earning much at all, and have neatly woven themselves in to my overarching desire to do well by the planet. A symbiosis of ideals and needs and nurtured beliefs combine into a neat little meaty package.

I’m vaguely thinking this week’s musings might turn in to a couple of week’s worth of thoughts.

Last week’s Fridays with Friends (Episode 7!) features the amazing Clancye. She’s such a bloody legend and such a good friend.

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