We never had to recycle in Ireland. We lived a life of relatively little waste. Our four acres supported a huge garden of potatoes and tomatoes, beans and peas, squash and vegetable spaghetti, raspberries, strawberries, brussel sprouts and courgettes, bushes bursting with gooseberries, blackcurrants and redcurrants, and trees filled with apples and plums. My mother canned and froze produce, and our hens lay eggs which I gathered daily. For several years we got milk from a cow down the road. I’d carry a bucket down to the farm, and my friends would milk Polly straight into the bucket. My mum made butter and cheese and ice cream from the cream that she skimmed from the top of the bucket. We’d dip ladles into the fragrant white liquid in the bucket and drink it at dinner. The “milk” I buy here in the U.S. has never come close to tasting like Polly’s milk, which was subtly flavored with the sweetness of buttercups and clover, or sometimes the taste of wild garlic.
Even after Polly was gone, our milk generated little waste, only the tiny foil caps that topped the glass milk bottles the milkman brought daily. If we didn’t get them inside right away, the birds would peck through them and drink the cream at the top. Mum always poured the cream off and collected it for ice cream and my dad’s coffee. I remember now that Zeke has never seen the way milk and cream separate naturally, the way the cream rises to the top, a creamy yellow, while the milk below is white.
We got meat from the butcher, chopped right there on the block before us off the hanging carcasses of the animals. He wrapped the cuts in butcher paper. No styrofoam and plastic packaging for us. Afterwards we burned the bloodied paper, along with the cereal boxes and other paper products our lives created.
It’s different in Ireland now, of course. Individually packed packages of fruit, “homemade” soup in plastic containers, meat from the supermarket and milk in cartons. The difference is that food is not over-packaged there, and that you pay for every kilo of garbage the garbage truck hauls away. Paying by the kilo for one’s garbage is an incentive to reduce waste, to recycle, as is the fundamental world view that seems to be lacking in general over here, that the earth is precious and that we must protect it. In Ireland, if you were to step into a grocery store without your own sack, you’d be laughed out of it — or at least looked at as if you’d stepped off another planet. And you’d be charged for every flimsy plastic bag needed to pack home your groceries.
Here in my town, recycling is difficult and limited. I haul much of my recyclable waste to my father’s house in the big city three hours away. My hallway is cluttered with boxes of it, aesthetically hideous, but better than tossing it.
I write this because today is Blog Action Day, and I want to contribute. Maybe, in the not-so-distant future, I won’t feel like an alien when I walk into the grocery store with my canvas bags. Maybe the real objects of disdain will be those who expect free plastic bags with their groceries, with never a thought for landfills filling up and filling up, spreading their poisons into the earth and the water, destroying what we and multiple other species need for life.