Wasted

Wasted: getting really drunk and (probably) making a fool of yourself.
Wasted: something you could have used but didn't.
Wasted: disappearing.

Wasted. Time. Wasted. Money. Wasted. Opportunity. Wasted. Life. Wasted. Food. Wasted. Health.

Have you ever noticed that when you look at a word for long enough, it stops looking like anything. It's hard to be sure you've spelt it correctly. Looking at one word for long enough, you start to realise words are just shapes on paper. Pixels. That convert to something useful in our head.

What have I wasted?

I was listening to TedxSydney 2011 yesterday...listening to amazing speakers shed light on a number of pertinent world issues. Their insight was inspiring and thought-provoking, as it should be. I was taken by the idea of wastage and sustainability. It's a topic that frequently piques my interest, being that I grew up with such environmentally-conscious parents (yes, Dad was a hippie). I started to think about just how much I waste. In terms of resources, in terms of money.

The answer: quite a lot. Each fortnight, money magically floats into my bank account. I'm not really sure how. I do a whole bunch of reasonable boring things for a very long time and some electronic figures on a screen change their shape as a result. I then go use a bit of plastic to pay for some tasty things, or some pretty things, or to get some thinner, longer bits of plastic into my greedy little hands (Australian bills are plastic, for the uninitiated). To buy things. It's very nice that these magical bits of plastic work. When the numbers on the screen increase, I am pleased, and when they decrease, I'm disappointed. Without a tangible concept of money, though, it's very difficult to be conservative with my cash.

Sometimes I go out, intending not to spend a cent. And I come home with a new dress. I was just planning on going to uni and coming home....and somewhere in the middle convinced myself that I needed a new item. Immediately. And there must be something available. And then I feel guilty that I've tried stuff on and don't buy anything when the sales assistant has worked so hard to be helpful. And I REALLY like that blue garment. The one with the little silver stitches and the cute pockets.

Only to get home and realise I already have a blue dress that looks almost identical, except the stitching is also in blue. And that I really didn't need to buy the dress. And I have a bill to pay that costs as much as the dress. And need to buy potatoes. Oh dear. The numbers are going to go down again.

The things that I buy...they get wasted too. It's not just the dresses that look exactly the same and therefore each get worn half as much as they could. It's the piles and piles of clothes I've worn once (or never worn at all) because I didn't like them that much. Or they didn't work in with anything else I owned. Or because it's actually too big, now that I think about it. And why did I try the shirt on OVER my woollen jumper (sweater, for you North Americans), again? It's the food I buy that I didn't need. It's getting that muffin when I'm out because I'm hungry NOW even though I'll be home in an hour to munch on something there. It's the hot drink I buy because I'm cold, only to realise it'll go cold before I get somewhere warmer anyway.

But that's not the worst of it.

What really bothers me, what really, really bothers me, is the enormous amount of material that I send to landfill each year. I don't have a compost bin because I have no garden (our back yard is paved) and there's nothing I could do with my decomposed food scraps. So off they go to the garbage bin. It's the way the soap comes individually wrapped, in a big five pack. It's the way everything comes in plastic. And that those 99c 'enviro' bags are only environmentally more friendly than your average plastic bag if you use them every week for two years (or 104 times, I suppose) or more. That I have to get juice in bottles. That my juice comes thousands and thousands of miles in a truck, after trucks have carted the oranges and apples from all over the country, if not another nation altogether, to a place where the bottles have also been driven for packaging the two together. That the apples I buy are sometimes flown overseas to be waxed and then flown back for freezing before eating. I didn't request that my apple be waxed. I just want to munch on it.

It upsets me that it is difficult to control a lot of the aspects of wastage. I can do little about the trucks being used to cart my food around. I can buy food at local markets and I can buy the least packaged items. But they still have to get from the farm to my door. I can take public transport and walk but I can't stop other people from driving around. I can't plant trees in my concrete garden in order to eat the fruits (literally) of their labour. It's difficult to source Australian-made clothing. As they say, it's not easy being green.

I remember in one of my Med tutorials, we had to use a sterile pack to clean a wound. After that one little exercise, I was overwhelmed by just how much wastage there must be in hospitals. Plastics thrown away by the thousand. And I wonder how the medical profession could tackle this while remaining safe for patients.

And I wonder how many other industries waste away valuable resources.

I was talking to my wonderful housemate yesterday about the value of materials and how we treat them these days. We pondered yesteryear. The good old days. When our grandparents were little and people respected their items. And I thought about just how differently we could live.

I spend a lot of time pondering our predecessors and their possessions. Most of this pondering belongs in another blog post (probably also of mammoth proportions). The relevant part to this blog, however, is that our grandparents only owned a few things. They had one pot and one pan to cook in. They had two pairs of pants - one for church (or Temple or 'for when the Queen comes for tea') and one for everything else. The 'everything else' pair would be more mending than original pant. Our grandparents respected materials.

I wonder why we don't do that anymore. These days (these horrible, comsumeristic, good-for-nothing days) value having things. And not just any thing. It has to be new. Shiny. The latest edition. Call it the Apple theory. The 'your iPhone 3GS has been superceded so you're no longer cool' theory. The 'you have a top-loader not a front-loader washing machine' theory. It's just unacceptable to be using those water-wasting old models. We would rather waste the perfectly good washing machine than waste all of that precious water. Haven't you heard we're in a drought, dear? Our priorities changed somewhere along the way and we forgot how to value all of the work that goes into everything we own. Our values became plastic.

And yet. There's this great theory of mass and energy conservation. Created by some French guy called Lavoisier. That's what I thought in Year 10. Some French guy. He's actually an amazing Alchemist, biologist and qualified lawyer who contributed many discoveries to modern Science. This 'guy' discovered which two elements came together to make water, how metal rusts and began the concepts of unified chemistry that we use today. Anyway, I digress. The theory of Mass Conservation tells us, in a nutshell, that everything that exists has come from something else that existed and will be something that exists in the future. Matter cannot be created or destroyed (well, until you get into a much more complex area of physics that tells us matter can be turned into energy). This theory means that everything we magic up from mines in the ground will not magically replenish itself. Everything that goes into landfill will stay in landfill until it evaporates its decomposing vapours into the air. We cannot go living like this forever.

How do we harvest the resources available to us sustainably? Well, there are a lot of options. Start small - do the things that YOU can do. Buy slow-foods (those that are grown within 100 miles of your home). Failing that, buy foods that are very low in packaging. Buy in bulk. Re-use your plastic bags. Lots. By clothes made in your own nation. Better yet, buy used clothes and support a charity in the process. Give stuff you don't like any more to your friends or to the charities from whom you buy your 'new' things. If you want something new, put off the decision for an hour or a day. Ask yourself how much you need it. If you still really need it, then buy the 'greenest' option you can afford.

What is the most important thing in your world? Mine, it's not my phone. It's not my computer. Or my top-loader washing machine that's actually older than I am. The most important thing in my world is my brain. The fact that I can write this (ranting as I do) and learn new things and speak to my (amazing) friends as a result of my functioning tĂȘte. The fact that my brain lets me learn other languages. My pre-frontal cortex is going to have its work cut out controlling that dang reward-seeking limbic system in the future. Hopefully my bank account will thank me. And hopefully I'll feel less wasted.

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