Julie Boulton

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like your old stuff better than your new stuff

14 November

It’s National Recycling Week this week. Woohoo. What are you doing to celebrate? My 7 year old is celebrating (every day is a celebration for her because she is 7) by making yet more things from the useful box (she announced on the weekend that all Christmas presents this year will be from the useful box and will involve one or more of our hundreds of plastic milk lids, some scraps of Who Gives a Crap toilet paper wrapping, and possibly also some random screws that she picked up off the floor in the Green Shed last weekend). I like her ingenuity when it comes to re-purposing.

This child, clearly, doesn’t need a recycling week to be encouraged to recycle things over and over and over again. Unlike a large number of Australians: recycling rates are no where near as high as I would have expected in Australia and with Australians also considered to be one of the worst waste generators in the world, it is something that we probably should look at fixing. Planet Ark, who started National Recycling Week in 1996, says this about recycling rates:

“As it stands, just 14% of plastic packaging used globally makes its way to recycling plants, a third is left in fragile ecosystems, and 40% ends up in landfill. Australia’s recycling rate is 65% across all packaging and 31% for plastic with rates starting to flatline. Plastic packaging waste represents an $80 billion loss to the global economy every year.”

I remember learning about recycling when I was in primary school. It was the ned 1980s and kerbside recycling bins had just been introduced in our hood and I learnt by my parents yelling at me to make sure the newspapers and bottles went into the new bin, not the old bin. I was in Grade 4, age 10. This is the same age as my middle child is right now. She was recently appointed an “eco-waste warrior” for her school. I could not be more proud, although the selection criteria for the job was based solely on the enthusiasm one demonstrated for wanting to watch “War on Waste”: while middle child likes waste, she also gets excited about watching TV, and, like anyone, she is also partial to being given a title. I’m taking it as a parenting win regardless.

Her first responsibility as the school’s eco waste warrior, was to visit four schools in the ACT: it was an exercise in comparison. Her job was to carry a clipboard (her younger sister and I were insanely jealous because who doesn’t love activities where you get to carry a clipboard) and to write down ideas that she saw that she wanted to bring back to her school to consider implementing.

This was a brilliant idea by her teacher. Nothing like an excursion to see what is possible - not just theoretical - to spark some new thinking. Middle child came home most excited by:

  • The school that had two guinea pigs, two chickens, two ducks, a worm farm, a compost bin and a baby cow;

  • The wild emu that had adopted one school’s oval (although we are yet to understand how the emu contributes to waste management);

  • The school with its own can crusher;

  • The school that had several blueberry bushes that were used to make blueberry muffins (the muffins may have been more exciting than the blueberry bushes themselves but it is excitement nevertheless);

  • The school that used one of its veggie garden plots to supply the canteen’s food and used the other as cuttings tat the kids potted into old cups and recycled plastic containers to sell at the school fair; and

  • The school that designates every Friday as nude food day - no plastic wraps allowed.

On returning from the excursion, (and after consulting her clipboard), middle child informed me that she intends to:

“make our school more recyclable, get some guinea pigs to eat scraps, bring in a baby cow, find a pet emu, turn the compost regularly, introduce bin monitors on the school oval and turn any trash cans into art work.”

She’s great. She’s also a mind to be manipulated - in a good way (only in a good way). Everyone knows that children have minds like sponges. They want to know things and they soak up all available information, (not like how I soak up a season of Brooklyn 99 in one sitting). So give them the information and let their minds go forth and imagine and identify the possibilities.

 a work in progress

a work in progress

Except for the baby cow and pet emu ideas, (both of which scare me although for different reasons), I love all of her ideas although trash art - the art of making something from your (or anyone else’s) rubbish - is the thing I love most. I’m a huge art from trash lover. Like huge. Surrounding me right now (I’m in my kitchen so I can type and cook dinner at the same time) is: a red chicken made from recycled plastic bags; Christmas angels made from Coca Cola cans; a tea-light candle holder made from strips of cans; and a light made entirely from plastic bottles. I’m such a fan of trash art that a few years back I forced my children to have a birthday party that revolved around rubbish: kids were forced to make posters only out of what they found in our useful boxes, which was things like milk cartons, milk lids, cardboard boxes, noodle packets, and colourful fruit packaging. I also taught a class at the girls’ school on how to turn trash into art (and why we should all do it). The results from both activities were beyond amazing. So yes, let’s trash art it up but…

The ACT has (finally) set up a container deposit scheme. It’s cash (10c) for cans and other bottles. This is super great and long overdue (South Australia has had one for years). The rationale is that the cash incentive will encourage greater recycling to take place. I hope so but what I don’t want to see happen at the same time is an increase in the overall consumption rate in order to up our recycling rate or, equally worse, a straight to the recycling mentality without stopping to think what other uses the item offers you. While trash art - especially the kind made from bottles and cans - might at first negatively impact increases in our recycling rates, it encourages creativity and imagination and, hopefully, makes us think more critically about how we can use what we already have around us to turn into something new.

So yes, of course, recycle for money and to increase our overall recycling numbers (which kind of desperately need a boost) but also think about not consuming in the first place and recycling old stuff into new stuff. In fact, Regurgitator’s song, “I like the old stuff better than your new stuff” should be the theme song for this week and beyond. It’s genius. Old stuff is awesome. If you are looking for inspiration on what to do with all of your recyclables, go to the ABC Education link below. It has some amazing ideas - the dude making plastic sea life animals is my favourite. And that’s what I’m planning on doing this weekend (Christmas presents for the grandparents from the kids coming right up).