What are we going to do about our rubbish problem?

I've been at the beach for a week. It's been glorious. Blue skies, crashing waves, pristine sand.

Oh, and the rubbish.

One morning while following my four year old around the lagoon area (my usual occupation, I have to admit... can't wait until she's older and wants to surf like the rest of us) I picked up two tin cans, a beer bottle, two plastic water bottles, multiple plastic bags and, the most ubiquitous evil of all, tiny snack bags. (One or two had some tiny snacks left in them. I emptied them onto the sand for the seagulls.)


It was all brought into sharp focus when I went to the opening of my friend's exhibition in the middle of the week. Jo, the graphic designer who did two of my book covers, has been working towards her masters of creative arts at Wollongong University. But rather than just paint pretty pictures or do cool sculptures, she focused on how design can help solve the world's rubbish problem. 

I know. They don't call it a masters of creative arts for nothing.

I would have gone to the opening to support her anyway, but I had an extra incentive for being there. You see, I contributed to the installation. Jo collected 10 families' rubbish for one week as part of the exhibition. And our family was one of them. 

Here's Jo, and the rubbish. Much of which came from my house. Can you spot lactose-free milk containers? Yup. That's us.

Look, I know you're supposed to recycle and all of that, but even so, my eyes were opened. Even just the very act of helping to sort some of this out on the night made me aware of what it was, what it consisted of. What was going to happen to it.

And then there were the numbers. 


One third of all waste in Australia comes from domestic households. There are 10 million Aussie households. One weeks' garbage from 10 of those was pretty impressive. Imagine a years' worth. And I can't even conceive of this: in 2011 Australia generated 62 million tonnes of waste.

Jo asked people to make a pledge at the exhibition. I couldn't do it first. I wasn't sure what I would do differently, if anything. I had to think about it. But now, having been at the beach, I've decided on three things.

Number one, small packets of snacks will have no place in my life any more, or in my children's lunch box. If I buy snacks, they can be divided up into containers. I can't bear the thought of those packets ending up in the ocean.

Number two, there will be no more single use plastic drink containers in our lives. I will purchase good quality metal drink bottles and use and keep them.

Number three, I'm going to investigate how to buy my basic footstuffs in bulk, and preferably in paper.

We have to change this. We have to consume differently, recycle better, not use what we don't need. And not make our convenience and short term pleasure the greatest priority in our lives. 


I really recommend Jo's project. It's showing all month at the University of Wollongong Technology Campus and you can be part of the conversation on her facebook page. Not only is it great art, but it's important too. 

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