It's in the bag

by Wanda Cowley / 31 December, 2005
When you look for ways to reduce household rubbish, the results can surprise you.

What did we do with our rubbish in the days before weekly collections and land- fill sites? I don't seem to remember much rubbish. We lit fires with used paper and kindling made from butter boxes. During the Depression, sugar sacks were used for floor mats and they made ideal raincoats when tucked corner to corner. Oatmeal bags were used to strain curds from whey or to line boys' trousers, which were made from cut-down coats. We cooked vegetable leftovers with mash for the chooks and gave the bones to our dogs. Kerosene tins had many uses, perhaps the best was to collect pipi to cook on the beach over driftwood fires. Our groceries were wrapped in newspaper or put into brown paper bags, then packed into cartons. At Christmas time, our corner grocer added a small box of chocolates. We used the silver wrappings to decorate the Christmas tree. We didn't need to be told how to reuse, reduce and recycle.

Recently, I was part of a pilot scheme to monitor the rubbish I put out for the weekly collection. We were given scales to weigh each item and a detailed form to record our contribution to the landfill. We attended meetings where we were given advice on how to reuse, reduce and recycle. We also shared our ideas and frustrations as we attempted to cut the kilos we popped into the council-supplied plastic bags.

When I totted up my totals at the end of the first month, I was amazed to find that over half the weight of my rubbish came from junk mail. This was easily attended to by sticking a "No advertising material: thank you" on my letterbox.

Next, I turned my attention to the less weighty, but extremely bulky pile of plastic bags. This included 52 of the red variety, which the council "gave" me annually. One of these would last me more than a month. Noticing that they were charged for in the rates and that each bag cost $3.50, it seemed that I would, in my small way, be helping the environment as well as my budget by calling the council and pointing out that all this plastic was surplus to requirements. The rather amazed telephonist at the call centre, after seeking help from someone higher up the chain of command, informed me that there was no possibility that I could receive fewer bags and a refund, but that if I didn't need them all I could donate the bags either to someone who had a surplus of rubbish or to some needy charity.

With that problem neatly sorted out by the helpful council, I decided to cut back on the springy mess of plastic amassed from supermarket shopping. I started my quest with a couple of cardboard boxes that I sometimes remembered as the checkout operator started filling the plastic bags with my weekly needs. When I was more organised, I found that the packing skills of the supermarket staff varied, with those at the lower level putting all the heavy items in the weaker carton that didn't stand up to the strain and would disgorge its contents outside my back door. There's something demoralising about having to ask week after week to have the weight of one's groceries evenly distributed, so I kept an eye open for an answer to my problem.

Eureka! I found it in two strong green canvas bags that cost 50c each. I also solved the problem of the potatoes, milk and pumpkin all going into one bag while the loo paper, tissues, cereal, etc went into the other; which had meant rearranging the contents before I could lift the bags out of the trolley. The solution was a cheerful, rosy-cheeked checkout operator who chatted as she packed and distributed all the items with the skill of a corner-store grocer. There was a minor glitch in that the queue to her bay was often a long one.

Am I ready for an ecology award? Well, not yet. You see, the council requires that all recyclables be placed in transparent supermarket bags and, you've guessed it, I've run out of them. Urban legend has it that any other containers will be left behind. The council, in its wisdom, has decided that recycling bins are not suitable for our island environment. So, we are left with nothing but a load of rubbish.


March of the Algorithms: Who’s at the wheel in the age of the machine?
102434 2019-02-16 00:00:00Z Tech

March of the Algorithms: Who’s at the wheel in the…

by Jenny Nicholls

Complacently relying on algorithms can lead us over a cliff – literally, in the case of car navigation systems.

Read more
IBM’s new quantum computer: The future of computing
102458 2019-02-16 00:00:00Z Tech

IBM’s new quantum computer: The future of computin…

by Peter Griffin

The Q System One, as IBM calls it, doesn’t look like any conventional computer and it certainly doesn’t act like one.

Read more
James Shaw: Capital gains tax key to fixing wealth gap
102456 2019-02-15 14:54:45Z Politics

James Shaw: Capital gains tax key to fixing wealth…

by RNZ

The week before a major tax report is released, Green Party co-leader James Shaw has again challenged his government partners to back the tax.

Read more
Jealousy, murder and lies: The killing of Arishma Chand
102448 2019-02-15 10:28:12Z Crime

Jealousy, murder and lies: The killing of Arishma…

by Anneke Smith

Arishma Chand was just 24 when she was murdered.

Read more
Top wine picks from Central Otago
102233 2019-02-15 00:00:00Z Wine

Top wine picks from Central Otago

by Michael Cooper

Tucked into small corners, Central Otago vineyards offer nuggets worth digging for. Wine critic Michael Coopers offers his top picks.

Read more
Ivanka and her tower of crumbs
102404 2019-02-14 10:33:12Z Arts

Ivanka and her tower of crumbs

by Preminda Jacob

For two hours each evening, an Ivanka Trump lookalike has been vacuuming a hot pink carpet at the Flashpoint Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Read more
Youth mental health is in crisis and NZ is failing to keep up
102393 2019-02-14 09:52:16Z Social issues

Youth mental health is in crisis and NZ is failing…

by The Listener

The introduction of a free youth mental-health pilot for Porirua, and later the wider region, is welcome news, but it's far too little, far too late.

Read more
Guyon Espiner: Year of delivery begins in defensive crouch
102387 2019-02-14 09:21:07Z Politics

Guyon Espiner: Year of delivery begins in defensiv…

by Guyon Espiner

For a government promising 'a year of delivery' it has begun in something of a defensive crouch.

Read more