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Junking our way to extinction

Smokestacks and garbage  Bangladesh (MR Hassan)PHILIP FITZPATRICK

TUMBY BAY - Papua New Guinea kiaps who ventured into new areas, or areas that had only recently been contacted, became acutely aware of the value villagers placed on items that otherwise would have been thrown away.

These included tin cans, glass jars, bottles and cardboard boxes with brightly coloured exteriors.

The tins, jars and bottles were quickly snapped up for their utilitarian value while the cardboard was incorporated into people’s personal bilas and other decorations.

And it wasn’t just grass roots people who appreciated this bounty. On many occasions I shared a jam jar of warm claret with the odd European crocodile hunter or beachcomber.

In Australia I’ve eaten meals that have been cooked on the blade of a shovel and the lid of a 44 gallon drum, served on old metal hubcaps beaten flat.

Such experiences left me with a lifelong aversion to tossing potentially useful items into the rubbish bin - and an accompanying abiding irritation at our modern throwaway society.

I take perverse delight in salvaging stuff that has been thrown away and then repairing and restoring it. This includes little stuff and big stuff, from penknives to old LandRovers.

Others also who share this passion. Out here on the west coast of South Australia there are hordes of farmers’ wives repurposing glass jars for pickles, preserves, jams and chutneys, and growing herbs in tin cans with holes punched in the bottom for drainage.

They are not mean or miserly; they just know about hardship and the value of things. Like me, can’t abide waste.

Unfortunately we frugal people are a dying breed. And frugal manufacturers.

We now have companies that consider making things that don’t last or can’t be repaired to be a good business model.

Apple, for instance, now deliberately makes mobile phones that don’t last long and cannot be repaired.

This wasn’t always so. Once upon a time manufacturers took seriously dependability and the repurposing of their products. It was a matter of pride.

In the 1960s and 1970s most households in Australia had drinking glasses in their cupboards that had originally been bought as containers for jam and other products. Most of these containers were designed to be reused.

Up until a several years ago, Nescafe in Papua New Guinea sold instant coffee in glass jars with handles so they could be later used as drinking mugs. Nowadays Nescafe sells red mugs with their label on it as separate for-profit items.

While planned obsolescence and abandoning reuse features may be a good business model because it means more stuff can be sold, it has a decidedly damaging impact on the planet by chewing up finite resources at an alarming rate and doing great environmental damage in the process.

People nod sagely when this is explained to them and then go out and buy something they’ve already got but not in that colour or style or shape.

And after a few months they will ditch it for an identical but slightly newer version.

What a horrible irony, the more we spend on stuff we don’t really need the closer we bring the planet to destruction.

That new bells and whistles smartphone you’ve just bought, which will be obsolete in a year or two, is progressing our own and many other species’ extinction.

Sacrificing the long term health of the planet for short term profit is the one thing that stands in the way of a better future for our children and their children.

Corporations and big business know this but are addicted to the profit motive. It is like a drug but is infinitely more dangerous.

Comments

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Jim Moore

A report on ABC News today ("What the global shortage of computer chips means for you") claims that it takes up to 8,000 litres of water to make just one computer chip.

At that rate, the world really will be reduced to drinking just wine, except there won't be any water to irrigate the vines.

I remember an ABC TV comedy sketch years ago. Three women, first very, very posh, says, "We only drink from the very finest crystal".

Second, middle class, says, "We drink from the finest Polish glassware".

Third, real Strine bogan, says, "We can't eat Vegemite fast enough".

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