Waste is an issue frequently canvassed in the media and we all appreciate the environmental consequences of our wasteful lifestyles. It is difficult to imagine that anyone today would not be aware of the amount of waste each one of us generates or the difficulties associated with its disposal – the fact that waste is a serious environmental issue would not be news to anyone – but were you aware that 79 per cent of red bin waste could have been avoided, reused or recycled?
Over recent decades we have seen Australian governments at all levels attempt to address the problems associated with waste in various ways, including efforts to recycle and to reduce non-recyclables. Unfortunately these efforts have been inadequate. We only have to examine the packaging of our food products, from large and small outlets, to see that most of our food and drinks still come delivered in single-use and often non-recyclable plastics.
More recently, China’s Green Sword Policy, which bans the importation of foreign garbage, has caused our governments to once again focus on improving our generation and disposal of waste.
There are many people in our community who would remember times when waste was more limited. Members of my family proudly recall the purchasing of bulk items at the Sullivan’s and Teasdale grocery stores in Clovelly in the 1950s and 1960s, where they returned their glass jars and had them refilled, and where biscuits, flour and other products were sold in paper bags, all home-delivered in a cardboard box. They nostalgically recall washing plastic bags, drying them on the clothes line and reusing them – great stuff!
Before the responsibility for waste and the environment is thrust upon the young, let us please recall the incinerators that adorned many Eastern Suburbs backyards, at least until the 1970s, providing countless hours of family entertainment as anything that could burn went up in flames. I am told that my grandmother objected to the burning of old tyres on the backyard incinerator because it dirtied the clothes hanging on the Hills Hoist and upset the neighbors. Nothing wrong with billowing clouds of black tar, but you can’t dirty the clothes!
Many locals would be personally familiar with the mountains of garbage buried in backyards, including old fridges and even cars. Have you ever tried to dig a hole in an Eastern Suburbs yard and not come across some sort of hidden treasure? The home where I spent my childhood was in Hewlett Street, Bronte. I recall my family wanting to level the yard, only to find a hillside of buried garbage including jars, cans and even an old stove.
Put simply, environmental damage is something that generations of Australians have excelled at. While waste is not a new phenomenon, it is pretty obvious that modern lifestyles are adding to the problem. Take the modern drinking straw, which arguably facilitates a more convenient consumption of beverages, for example. While they were originally made from rye grass, during the 1960s plastics enabled fast and cheap manufacturing and the trend took off. Today, in the United Kingdom and in our own back yard, they are now seriously considering the banning of plastic straws. In the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney community groups like Plastic Free Bronte and local councillor Paula Masselos are working hard to eradicate single-use plastics.
In order to address our trash troubles we need coordinated efforts across all levels of government. Consider the NSW Government’s container deposit scheme – great idea, poorly executed. There are currently a measly six machines that have been installed to service more than a million people across Sydney’s Inner West, North Shore and Eastern Suburbs, where residents consume around 40 million bottled and canned drinks every month on average (a Return and Earn reverse vending machine is currently being installed behind the Bondi Pavillion for a 3-month trial). Additionally, most machines fail to take any more than 100 containers at a time, meaning that the most a consumer can recover at any one time is $10, the equivalent of two soy lattés at your local.
But, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. Companies like Thread International have set out to produce the most responsible fabrics on the planet and are now using plastic waste to produce shoes in collaboration with Timberland. Nearly every day we see wonderful items for sale at next to no cost, which is fantastic, but so much more needs to be done in a society that appears to value the new above all else.
So, if trash excites you as much as me, please feel free to say hello and have a yarn. You’ll often find me at Vinnies on a Sunday afternoon swapping my old stuff for someone else’s.
Dr Marjorie O’Neill is a Waverley Councillor. The views expressed here are her own, although we generally agree with them.