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  • renitasathasivam

Take Away My Madness

Updated: Jun 3, 2020

I spent the morning surreptitiously photographing various sections of my local fruit-and-veg store, weighing cucumbers and spying on ready-cut vegetables that begged to be rescued from the Reduced section of a Woolworth branch, and finally, almost buying a bag of onions at another supermarket whilst loose ones stared, witnessing my unnecessary quandary. I felt good that I was making real progress on my research on how to choose vegetables. Moving forward, I have a few ideas to write to the big super-markets here in Australia and Malaysia too.

Today though, I was trying to make peace with the fact that some items are indeed difficult to purchase whole: watermelons, pumpkins, and cabbages to name a few. When cut, there seems no choice but to wrap them in cling film. These types of items are sadly unusable by most food rescue agencies, if they are not purchased, before they lose their ‘looks’.

But, the real garbage gossip for today, is that after all my good intentions, I felt the usual pangs of hunger that call at midday. A quick check of my local fish-and-chips shop made it clear that I would not be having any paper-wrapped meals, and as I walked past the hot-food section at the nearby supermarket, plastic bowls of teriyaki chicken and tempura prawn meals beckoned. Without hesitation, I happily and hungrily carted these back home.

Takeaway meals are commonplace and recently, even Masterchef Australia featured a challenge where contestants had to cook a dish that could withstand the packaging and time it took to deliver a dish to a location 20 minutes away. Right now, with the Covid-19 pandemic breathing down our necks, takeaway meals are almost considered an essential service. Here in Australia, TV ads are imploring consumers to support local F&B businesses. One side of me is freaking out at the exponential growth of plastic waste occurring just from discarded PPE materials and takeaway packaging alone. The other side is thinking about when to order my favourite Thai meal and support a restaurant I love.

In the song Mad World, Roland Orzabal writes: when people run in circles, it is a very, very mad world...

Eight days and several takeaway meals later, still in the embryonic stages of self-auditing my plastic consumption, I have finally broken through the surface of guilt. Reluctantly, I drag myself back to my research. What next? This zero-waste thing seems like wishful thinking. Living a green and sustainable lifestyle appears to be a full-time job. Do I make my own noodles, never buy tofu or eat another packet of chips? Cooking at home does not automatically equate with zero plastics, said my bin.

Well, at most of Melbourne’s Woolworths and Coles supermarkets, there are soft plastics collection bins and I religiously used these until recently. And then, this. MALAYSIA TO SEND PLASTIC WASTE BACK TO AUSTRALIA AND OTHER DEVELOPED NATIONS. That was the heading of an ABC online news article on the 29th of May 2019. Then, in August of the same year, the state of Victoria faced a massive recycling crisis when major recycler SKM was hauled to court for large debts, and warehouses were discovered swelling with mountains of recyclable plastics that would end up in landfills unless a solution was found. I choked. Instead of researching where Woolworths and Coles were sending their collected soft plastics, I just assumed it was a PR stunt to strip away the guilt of consumerism and that these ominous layers of plastics were headed west to devastate the landscape of some developing nation’s countryside. I stopped recycling them altogether.

Luckily, I was completely wrong. As it turns out, these plastics are collected through the REDcycle Program, an initiative collaborated by the RED Group together with partners Replas, Close the Loop and Plastic Forests, all companies which recycle plastics into items such as furniture, signages, asphalt additive for road infrastructure and other useful components. Phew?

Well, not exactly. Firstly, this should not be seen as an invitation for more consumption. The mindset should always be about reducing, reducing, reducing. Secondly, we have to consider the outcome of a scenario where the supply of these plastics exceeds the demand for the products being made by these innovative companies. If that is even possible, then what? More research.

As Roland said, mad world.

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