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Blinded by the Light

Customising our journeys to sustainability should be a positive and rewarding idea. So why have I been feeling such trepidation? The blank stare of this endangered yellow-cheeked gibbon in the darkness of the Cat Tien National Park in Vietnam encapsulates how I am feeling right now.

Almost 3 weeks after my last post, I am drowning in a sea of vague directions and unanswered questions. I have to keep reminding myself that the purpose of my blog is to navigate through the endless stuff and formulate a plan to reach our goal of reducing plastic and other waste. Whilst I was learning so much over the last 18 days, the clarity I gained was clouded by the discovery of policies and practices that reflected selfishness and greed, stupidity, laziness, fear, or short-sightedness.

Things got off to a great start with ABC’s 2017/18 documentary War on Waste. If there is one person who can incorporate joy with purpose into how we handle our trash, it is Craig Reucassel. Episode after episode, he juggled serious and unpleasant topics with witty wisdom. Along the way, I learnt about so many inspiring individuals and organisations that I was eager to read up about. Among them, Ballarat recycler Dennis Collins, Ocean Crusaders, Yarra Riverkeepers Association and Tangaroa Blue Foundation, just to name a few.

On the personal front, whilst defaulting once during Week #2 of the Watertree Planet-safe Challenge of no plastic takeaway containers, I was uplifted by some positive responses by restaurants willing to let me bring in my personal containers. Up till now, neither of the measly emails I had sent to OMI or Grill’d, had received replies, but several other restaurants gave me a firm yes when I asked them up front. These were GO Noodle House on Exhibition Street, Jonker Street Restaurant in Jackson Court, Doncaster and my local Indian grocer, Bombay Grocer off Middlesborough Road in Boxhill. I was also thrilled to learn that my local seafood shop Fish Pier Grill and Oyster Bar was willing to let me bring my own containers to shop.

Week #3 came fast and I only realised what the challenge was, after I bought a takeaway coffee. Oops! Luckily, I was able to somewhat redeem myself by dropping it off at a 7-Eleven on Brunswick Street in Fitzroy, Melbourne. The documentary War on Waste had featured the collaborative efforts of Simply Cups and 7-Eleven to promote paper-cup recycling by offering drop-off locations in 5 Australian states and these cups would then we recycled and used to make things like roadside kerbing and car park wheel stops. More of this in a future post.

Week #4 was a no-brainer: plastic bags at supermarket checkouts are possibly everyone’s first step in reducing their plastic count. I remember receiving the famous Anya Hindmarch “I’m not a Plastic bag” bag as a gift and since then, reusable shopping bags have flooded the market to the point where the production of these bags themselves would have caused a negative impact on the environment. On the plus side, I discovered that they make great fridge blankets for lettuce and other greens.

As Week #5 approached, I realised how valuable this practice, of setting specific and achievable goals, had been in my journey to eliminate my contribution to single-use plastic waste. Abstaining from using cling film will be a walk in the park but I am still succumbing to weekly takeout meals from McDonald’s. Still, the trash tally is showing significant reductions, thanks to my resurrected attempts at composting and redirection of soft plastics through the REDcycle collection program.

So why then, this cloud of misery that chokes me? Well, for one thing, Daniel Coleman’s 2009 book entitled Ecological Intelligence is giving me sleepless nights. On page 34, he writes, “Our brain has been exquisitely tuned to notice changes in light, sound, pressure, and the like within a narrow range – the zone of perception that tigers and reckless drivers come in. These trigger our get-out-of-the-way system to react in milliseconds; we sense these familiar threats as clearly as we see a match light up a dark room. Ecological dangers, though, we notice as poorly as we see the difference that a lit match makes in a well-lit room.”

Consumer watchdogs allowing advertising and promotions that propagates single-use plastics and wasteful decadence; governments condoning fragmented and disconnected recycling systems worldwide; ministries and councils neglecting to swiftly disseminate critical information to citizens; disjointed efforts by exhausted yet hopeful volunteers, corporate juggernauts with big egos and pockets to sway and influence policy makers and world leaders that have betrayed our trust and left us and Planet Earth out to dry up and burn.

These are the things that are lighting up the ‘room’ and it is mind-blowing, confusing and scary that it is allowed to go on despite all the critical information made bare to decision makers for the last 20 years and more. Bruce Springsteen’s 1973 song Blinded by the Light features the lines, “…Well, I unsnapped is skull cap and between his ears I saw a gap but figured he’d be all right. He was just blinded by the light…Mama always told me not to look into the sights of the sun. Oh, but Mama, that’s where the fun is…”

For once, I am not afraid of the dark.

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