Yes, there are a lot of articles about the dangers of our capitalist agenda, which is unashamedly hell-bent on the promotion of over-consumption. And yes, this is another one, because no matter how many social media ‘likes’ these articles get, it seems that the penny still hasn’t dropped.
This week I went to Sydney’s Moonlight Cinema with some friends. It was great: wine, cheese, nibblies and the like in the park as we watched a film on a big open-air screen. However, at the end of the film, as the spotlights came on, all I could see was the product of excess: cheese with a wedge taken out of it? In the bin. Opened packets of crackers and chips? In the bin. Plastic plates, cups and cutlery? In the bin.
Not even mentioning the fact that some patrons had trouble being bothered to pick up their rubbish to actually put it in said bins (which were next to the exit), this scene really highlighted the ‘neighbour effect’, which Lee-Ann Wilson talks about here.
People were throwing away this stuff, not because they consciously wanted to show off their affluence, but because it only took a couple of people to create that as the ‘norm’ in each group for everyone else to feel awkward or guilty (read: a ‘scab’ or ‘tight’) for not doing the same.
I’ll start with the food issue. I’m going to use that well-worn line, which comes with an eye-roll and a groan from whoever it’s said to: There are children starving in developing countries who would do almost anything for that food. The question might be asked, ‘how can personally saving this block of cheese affect someone on the other side of the world?’ Well, I have an answer for you. It may not be the best or brightest, but it’s what I’ve got (and it’s certainly better than the ‘don’t talk back to me and eat your dinner’ response that many parents use when backed into this particular corner by their puzzled children).
Think of everything you throw out just because you don’t feel like it: half-eaten cheese from a picnic, second-day bread, the remains of some takeaway- and roughly calculate the monetary savings you would make if you actually saved and ate that food rather than replacing it. Over a year, that could be anywhere between $50 and $500, depending on how willingly you turf your leftovers. Now think of what that $50 means for someone in Bangladesh, where the average hourly wage is somewhere in the vicinity of US$12. You could take your calculated savings, and donate it. You will feel all warm and fuzzy because you were charitable with your money, at the same time knowing you are not as responsible as you could be for appalling statistics like this.
Secondly, what’s with our love affair with one-use-only plastics? It’s not too often we see Styrofoam takeaway containers anymore, which generally can’t be recycled (and may be carcinogenic anyway), however plastic plates and spoons designed to be thrown away instead of washed are still all the rage.
I’m sure many of you have already seen this poster, which did the rounds a few times on social media during the past year. Everyone ‘knows’ that throwing away plastics after one use is bad. But denial runs rampant as soon as convenience comes into play.
I’m not saying, don’t buy plastic. Sometimes you don’t want to bring your good cutlery to a picnic in case it gets lost or goes home with someone else by accident to become part of their ‘creatively mismatched’ collection. What you can do, however is buy some sturdy plastic cutlery that can be washed and re-used over and over. Or, better yet, go to the local Vinnies or Salvos and start an inexpensive collection of your own.
It’s time to wake up and think about this stuff, not just when it’s convenient, but all the time. Eventually the ‘doing’ will become second nature, and you’ll realise it’s really not that hard to affect positive change. Who knows, maybe your neighbours will start to follow suit.
Incidentally, ‘waste not, want not’ as a proverbial saying had an early version first recorded in 1576, willful waste makes woeful want. After more than four centuries, I guess we are pretty slow learners on this one. From The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.