War on waste

Just when I thought I knew enough about this…


waste cropped2

I’m not sure how similar your culture is to mine, but I’m guessing that most parts of the world have a strong emphasis on recycling and the dangers of plastic bags to our environment. I’ve been well aware of these issues for some time – in fact decades ago (the early 90’s?) Australians were first exposed to dramatic and detailed exposes of the desperate need for recycling and what we could do about it. But recently, to my surprise, I watched a 3 part series which rocked me now (and apparently much of our nation as well) almost as much as we were rocked back then.

More of that later. But for now, let me recount history as I remember it. It was only in the 1990’s that recycle bins came to be the norm here in Australia. Before then, all rubbish went into the same bins and into landfill. I’m not sure what was the groundswell behind it all, but I remember various documentaries that captured the nation’s attention. Everyone was talking about the needless waste of our planet’s resources, and, via TV, radio and newspaper, we were all exhorted to develop recycling habits. It was the era when recycled paper was born.

At first, if I remember correctly, we had elaborate suggestions of up to 5 different rubbish bins (or trash cans, as some of you might call them) – one for food scraps, one for glass, one for paper, and so on. Over time that has settled down to one normal bin for typical rubbish and one recycling bin for plastic, paper, glass and tin. I’m curious to know what recycling measures your country typically has in place.

Like most things, intensity of feeling can’t last for ever, and whilst recycling is a firm part of our modern agenda, the fervour that gripped our nation back then has settled into a more or less comfortable routine. But recently, the ABC aired a 3 part series called “War on Waste” – a fascinating and surprising look at the amount of waste that occurs in our Australian society. When Linda and I first decided to watch it, my feeling was one of interest but not much more. It didn’t take me long to become quite shocked all over again at the waste in our society.

The series is separated in 3 parts – the first episode deals with the waste of food, the second with the dilemma of plastic, and the third with clothing. And it wasn’t your typical sensationalist kind of documentary. The way the series was handled was simply brilliant (or maybe that’s just my Australian demeanour shining through). The presenter was relaxed, laid back, thoroughly non-fanatical but still sharp and to the point. No deep, dark music or disturbing “Star Wars” type soundtracks to remind you how ‘serious’ this all is, just a laconic, easy going Aussie who was a pleasure to listen to and even a bit humorous, whilst driving home lots of uncomfortable truths that most of us were unaware of.

For example , did you know that up to half (yes half) of our food is thrown away? It happens at the farms where produce that doesn’t ‘look’ just right is dumped and left to rot in piles; it happens at supermarkets where produce that is slightly damaged, or not moving off the shelves, or reaching its use by date, are dumped in bins; and it happens in our own homes, where food is bought, not consumed and then thrown out.

I don’t know if that’s news to you, but it was to me. In a prosperous nation like Australia, that ‘s an awful lot of food. Of course, there are charities and various groups at work to try and pick up this food before it spoils and redistribute it to the needy, but it is apparently still only a small percentage that gets meaningfully redistributed.

There’s a lot more to the series than just food, but I thought I would use that one issue as an example. I know that, depending on which country you are in, you may not have access to the series, but if you’re interested in checking it out here’s the link to it (not sure how long it will remain up for, but it’s there at the moment):


And just like in the 90’s (well, maybe not quite as strongly as back then) lots of people are responding to the show and it’s revelations. In our world of online participation, ABC websites are being inundated with requests and support for the various calls to action that are presented throughout the series.

So what effect has it had on me? Well, I’m not about to rush out and try and change the world (maybe that’s just my age showing). But in little ways, my wife and I are being challenged.

Though we were well aware of the dangers of plastic bags, we’re trying harder now to use even less, and are gathering up the ones we do have to deposit in special recycling bins available in select locations (apparently plastic bags and other “soft” plastics are difficult to recycle and require a different recycling treatment to normal hard plastics like soft drink bottles etc). We’re also seriously considering reusable coffee cups, as the disposable ones are not only very difficult to recycle but they are used in the tens of thousands every hour in Melbourne alone. I say ” seriously considering” because although we really don’t want to add to the waste problem, carrying around a reusable coffee cup is awkward, especially for us guys who don’t tend to use handbags. Apparently more coffee shops are accepting them now though, and I’m sure we’ll at least give it a go.

Apart from those specific things, we’re more alert to the issues and will see how that unfolds over time. Though there’s not much we can do about the waste in supermarkets and farms, we can choose to buy more of the ‘odd shaped’ fruit and veg available in some stores. Woolworths, for example, has an “Odd Bunch” line of fruit and veg that is exactly that – a deliberate choice to sell odd shaped produce, at a cheaper rate, that would not normally sell because it isn’t asthetically pleasing to look at. And though I doubt that we’ll join a picket line any time soon, there may be online petitions that we can add our signatures too, or politicians we might write to as part of a broader attempt to raise issues.

So that’s it for now. I’m pretty sure you can tell I’m no radical ‘save the world’ fanatic, but just a normal person who is being made more aware of just how ridiculous some things have become. I don’t want to see our food wasted, especially when there are so many starving in the world; I don’t want to see our oceans clogged with ever increasing levels of plastic; I don’t want to see clothing being worn once and thrown away (not quite so riveting to me personally, but an eye opening example of the incredible waste and misuse of resources in our throw away world).

Of course, it’s up to you what you do. Maybe you knew all of this already. Maybe you didn’t, but you’re already waging an effective war on waste. Or maybe you are neither of those things, but somewhere in between. I’m posting this in an obvious attempt to motivate others in the same way as I have been. I hope it motivates you too.



Aaahhh coffee…


Flicking through my WordPress reader I saw a recent daily prompt, ‘aromatic’, and immediately thought of coffee. That tells you where my heart (and my tastebuds) lies.

Latte, cappuccino, espresso, ristretto, machiatto, flat white, affogato, short black, long black… these are only the most commonly known forms. Can’t say I like all of them. Capuccinos have too much foam for my liking, and although I respect black coffee I usually need some milk in mine.

Have to hang my head in shame and admit that I drink a lot of instant coffee. Although instant coffee is wwaaayyy less enjoyable than barista made coffee, it does have a lot less caffeine in it, and the best brands aren’t terrible (I hear some of you spluttering with indignation). Seeing that I drink quite a few cups a day, I’d be bouncing off the walls if they were all proper coffees. I even go Decaf late in the afternoon (half of you have just stopped reading right there) so that I don’t suffer from too much stimulant racing through my already somewhat energised body (I can be restless all on my own without the aid of extra caffeine thank you very much!)

Then there’s the different beans and blends. The two main contenders are Arabica and Robusta, Arabica being by far the more popular of the two. There’s a bucket-load of different blends. Experts tell us it’s better for coffee to have a blend of beans from different locations because one variety might bring more “mouthfeel”, another more flavour, and another might bring more aroma. The more variety, the greater the complexity of the coffee (within reason). Makes sense, but some purists disagree. I don’t know enough to have an opinion.

And of course there’s weasel poo coffee. Coffee that’s been ingested by weasels, and you guessed it, pooped out the other end. It’s supposed to be the best tasting coffee in the world, something to do with how their digestive enzymes have altered the chemical structure of the bean. It also has to do with the fact that the particular weasels in question only pick the best coffee beans to eat. Very discerning weasels.

If you’re like me, the burning question would be “How the hell did they first find out that weasel poo coffee tasted so good?” According to one site I read, in Vietnam (the source of weasel coffee), during the 1800’s farmers who grew coffee beans were not allowed to enjoy their own crop, but had give all it all to the French colonists. The only way they could imbibe was to pick up the weasel poop, which was apparently a block of coffee beans stuck together . That’s desperation for you, and testimony to the irresistible pull of coffee. See http://www.huongmaicafe.com/blogs/vietnam-weasel-coffee/ if you’re suitably tantalised by the story to know more.

Although there are countless blends of coffee available, to me the smell always seems much the same. True, some can be more bitter, some more pungent, but that unmistakeable smell of coffee speaks comfort and warmth to me.

Coffee smells intimate. I picture my hand enfolding a mug loosely, or a finger casually looped through its handle. I see myself sitting at a table in a cafe, usually a wooden one (the table not the café!), leaning over my mug, chatting with (hopefully) disarming intensity to a friend, colleague, relative, wife, while the sounds of the cafe create a background conducive to cosy intimacy.

I see myself on the couch at home reading a book, reaching over to have a sip from the mug that’s sitting on the aptly named coffee table, and once I’ve grabbed it I’ll place the mug between my legs (if it’s not too hot) rather than have to lean over to pick it up again less than a minute later. Minimum effort.

I see myself late at night sometimes sitting at our kitchen table alone, reflecting on the day, my cup of Joe keeping me company as my mind sifts through whatever’s on my mind, comes up with nothing (usually!) and then I finally head off to bed.

I think of busy streets, cafes stacked on top of one another, the aromas taking turns to assail my nostrils as I trudge past, part of me wanting to turn aside and order a take away flat white. But I usually resist, because, well, you can have too much of a good thing you know.

See, although I do drink a lot of coffee, I don’t drink barista made coffee every day, and not just because of the caffeine. I have this curious notion that if I made lattes and flat whites at home and at work, they would cease to be special, they would become mundane. I would rather savour the moment every time I buy one and treat myself to its milky foamy flavoursome richness.

I also believe the same about eating – that you can have too much of a good thing. If I snack all the time, (I have been known to do this) food tends to lose its taste, and becomes merely a product that most of the time I don’t need or really enjoy. But if I regulate my intake (and occasionally fast, for health rather than religious reasons) then taste gets more subtly enhanced, and food becomes so delightful it’s right up there again with the other sins of the flesh.

Have you noticed that coffee doesn’t always taste as good as it smells? A bit like hot chips – don’t they always smell great? Of course, it depends on how well the coffee’s been made, but also on what state my taste buds are in at the time (I think). Sometimes it will taste like liquid heaven, other times it tastes like coloured water, and of course it’s sometimes somewhere in between.

I’m blessed to be in a city that’s right up there in terms of its coffee – Melbourne. Great café’s and some truly gorgeous lanes and districts full of them (fantastic atmosphere). I’ve had great coffee in other countries, and I’ve had terrible coffee overseas as well. I’m sure there are some places in the world where the coffee is even better than Melbourne, but I haven’t found it yet.

What a wonderful thing to look forward to…