Nostalgic reflections on waste

I was thinking back to when I was growing up in the 70’s and getting all nostalgic about our “garbos”, an Aussie term applied to those stoic guys (and sometimes gals) who would hang off the back of garbage trucks, risking life and limb by jumping off while the truck was still moving to grab our bins and empty them.

Every year towards Xmas, it was tradition to leave a six-pack of beer for these heroic sanitation engineers. I remember a garbo I knew used to fill up his car with cans and bottles of beer as a result of these annual gifts.. not just a trunk load, but to the roof inside the car too.

Anyhow, back then recycling was something that only hippies did. For most families, everything went into general trash. We were allowed two 45 – 60 litre (10 to ~15 gallon) bins a week.

So much has changed. We now have general trash collection each week, recyclables collection each fortnight and monthly green waste connection. It’s great.

However; while we are only allowed 1 bin for each, the trash bin is 140 litres and the recycling bin is 240 litres; so let’s say the recycling bin is 120 litres a week. Most suburban families would use this all too.

140 litres trash and 120 litres recycling = 260 litres all told.

So, we’ve gone from cranking out 120 “litres” of trash a week to 260 since the 1970’s. While nearly half that is separated recyclables, it still takes energy and resources to recycle those materials and the proportion and volume of stuff we are sending to landfill that won’t break down anytime soon has increased.

It drives home the point that we have made no progress in reducing the amount of waste we generate, only with how it’s dealt with; shutting the gate after the horse has bolted so to speak.

I’ve been digging back in my rather fuzzy memory to try and figure out why it’s come to this – thinking about the non-recyclable garbage then vs. now and can’t put my finger on anything specific other than we’re just generally consuming far more stuff than ever – and yet we got by pretty well back then. Impulse buying probably has a lot to do with it, as does the general quality of goods these days and the manufacturer’s love affair with packaging.

“Reduce, reuse, recycle” is in that order for a reason. It’s something to think about.

Before you make your next purchase of a non-essential item, ask yourself – “Do I really need this?” This doesn’t necessarily mean a terrible life of denial – the money you save can go towards a better (and hopefully greener) treat!

Rage Against The Consumption Machine! :)


Planned obsolescence
Concentrated products