Today is the International Day of Families, themed in 2019: Families and Climate Action: Focus on SDG13. The emphasis is on education, awareness and sustainability for both family and State.
I saw this meme and it got me thinking. I remember while growing up, the average Trinidadian household had a tradition of reusing anything that could possibly be reused: plastics bags were kept in a drawer (or in another bigger bag) for future use; brown bags often became covers for books during the school term. Glass bottles were kept for use for freshly made seasoning, or sorrel and ginger beer at Christmas. Paint buckets and sundry other plastic containers were used for water (possibly still happening in Trinidad, such are our water woes). I remember my mom taking jeans that we had outgrown and making gorgeous denim schoolbags out of them. I painted abstract patches on mine, and it lasted me a long time. She also had a bottle of buttons that she kept from dresses and tops that were no longer used. I was fascinated by the assortment, and loved sneaking into the room with the sewing machine, opening the jar and pouring them out just to run my fingers through them. A friend in primary school used a Colgate toothpaste box as a pencil case once and I thought it so cool so I walked with my own the next day—and only that day.
As I talked to my colleagues, other items were brought up: piles of newspapers kept to clean windows; old toothbrushes to clean the grout in bathrooms; gift paper that was reused; ice cream containers and peanut butter jars that would be used to store leftovers; foil would be used again and again… we were a nation of re-users and imagination. Most things had a potential use beyond what they were bought for. I’m not sure we still do that. We were, I think, a minimal waste society.
Given that the family is the bedrock of any society, changes have to begin within this unit. Authors of a report by the Center for Environment Law state that the effects of plastic production and disposal to climate change have been largely hidden. “At current levels, greenhouse gas emissions from the plastic lifecycle threaten the ability of the global community to keep global temperature rise below 1.5C,” the report says (‘Single-use plastics a serious climate change hazard, study warns’, Guardian UK. May 15, 2019). The report was released, February 19 of this year.
Lauren Moore, one of the authors of the report made this observation:
“What’s toxic for the planet is just as toxic for human health. Why risk exposing our bodies to the thousands of chemicals found in plastic packaging when we have reusable options that do not pollute our health or the environment? When it comes to the safety of our families and our planet, reuse wins every time.”
June 2013 was the first time that Pope Francis used the term ‘throwaway culture’, which I wonder hasn’t become a throwaway phrase now. In his address at St Peter’s Square, the Pope says: “I would therefore like us all to make the serious commitment to respect and care for creation, to pay attention to every person, to combat the culture of waste and of throwing out so as to foster a culture of solidarity and encounter,” he said.
One website gives some good advice on how to begin both looking at personal patterns with regard to waste as well as combining stewardship of the planet and people:
◗ Look at your shopping habits, your pantry, your clothes closet and begin to notice where you buy beyond what you need. Can you donate things to a thrift store, church or nonprofit group? Can you change your grocery shopping habits so you don’t end up throwing away wilted lettuce or moldy bread?
◗ Turn off the faucet when you brush your teeth. Use grasses and plants native to your area so you won’t need to water so often. Catch rainwater and use it in your garden.
◗ Take any money you save by cutting back and find a charity that could use it to serve the poor, whether at home or abroad.
◗ If you don’t have a lot of financial resources or material goods to donate, look in other places. Maybe you have skills that could benefit a local charity or parish. Can you write press releases, raise funds or organise mailings?
◗ Maybe your gifts and talents fall into the spiritual category: Have a cup of coffee with a neighbour going through a hard time; fast once a week on behalf of world peace; visit the sick or sign up to assist the caregivers of an Alzheimer’s patient.
I once did a minor experiment that had a big impact in my own perception of my disposal habits. I kept everything plastic I would have usually thrown away over a period of two weeks. I was horrified at what my little household had produced. Perhaps you can begin like this to monitor your own use and disposal to understand your household’s contribution.
Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.