Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Global Warming & Packaging - first tackle what goes on in your own back yard.

The poorest peoples of the world can still teach us a thing or two. They have not got a lot of anything but make as much as they can of the little they have. We, on the other hand, have stuff coming out of our ears. Packets of it. Bags of it. Sackfuls of packaging.

Packaging was minimal up until about the 1980’s. Sweets (a treat) had been sold loose and put in a paper bag, as were vegetables and bread. Paper bags could be put on the fire or left to bio-degrade. Milk was sold in reusable bottles and butter in greaseproof. Old butter papers were kept to be used to grease cake tins of cover the joint as it roasted. Re-cycling was a natural thing.

If you saw the excellent television programme on Andy Warhol’s art the other night you would have been reminded quite graphically of when packaging became a …well, an art. Boxes of brillo, packets of crackers, tins of soup. And he made his point by reproducing the images over and over again. A whole wall of tins of soup. Like a whole shelf full in the supermarket. The trouble is, there’s even more of it now in our consumer society.

Borough Councils are finally trying to save money and reduce landfill by collecting less waste. Quite right, but if people didn’t consume we wouldn’t have an economy. So, come on government, stop putting all the blame on the consumer – it is time the producers paid up or put paid to unnecessary packaging. This is the stuff that takes enormous amounts of energy to produce and then more to dispose of. Crazy.

Every household item we buy seems to be covered in acres of plastic and mountains of polystyrene. And everything is chucked in the bin. Bring back cardboard and straw, that’s my Green answer. Or don’t throw anything away – aha – you’ve found me out: I’m a hoarder. And, hoarder that I am, child-of-the-war-generation hater of waste that I am, I wonder at how much we squander not only of our resources but our creative powers too (note: keeping to the arty theme with the photos – sorry, images).

Those of us who had parents born before the Second World War were brought up not to chuck stuff away. There wasn’t so much to chuck for a start. But also, the privations of war made our parents only too well aware of finite resources, lack of products, the need to protect and preserve what they had. ‘It is wasteful’, was a common phrase. Make Do And Mend.

Just after the war – when timber was at a premium if available at all - my father built chicken houses from scrap. Every piece was measured out to the last half inch, all of it saved from tips or begged and borrowed. Similarly, when I see those shanty towns made out of old corrugated iron sheets and bits of wood - in Africa or India or in the furthest, poorest corners of the world - I think of the ingenuity of those forced to use them.

To see a little boy with his home made car made out of old bits of metal - something made out of nothing – is to marvel at his creativity. This is recycling at it most basic. And these are not the people responsible for waste or global warming. It’s us, with our smart homes and supermarket trolleys, that should be putting our creative powers to much better use. Saving resources and recycling begins at home.


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