It’s a “green thing”!

“This is all old hat”, as my grandmother would say. Actually, my grandmother could have figured in the following exchange – apocryphal or not – which, having already done the rounds, is being recycled here.

Checking out, a young cashier suggested to my grandmother that she bring her own grocery bags because plastic bags weren’t good for the environment. My grandmother thanked her and said, “We didn’t have this ‘green thing’ in my younger years.”

The cashier responded, “That’s our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save the environment for future generations.”

She was right – my grandmother’s generation didn’t have the “green thing” in its day. Back then, they returned milk bottles, soft drink bottles and beer bottles to the shop or pub. The shop/pub sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so they could be used over and over. So they really were recycled. But they didn’t have the “green thing” back in their day.

Grocery stores bagged groceries in brown paper bags that were reused. Memorably they were used as book covers for schoolbooks. This was to ensure that public property (the books provided by the school) was not dirtied and defaced. Names could be written on the brown paper bag covers. But too bad they didn’t do the “green thing” back then.

People walked up stairs, because they didn’t have a lift or an escalator in every store and office building. They walked to the corner shop and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time they had to go two blocks. But my grandmother was right. They didn’t have the “green thing” in their day.

Back then, they washed the baby’s nappies because they didn’t have the throw away kind. They wrung out clothes and dried them on a line, not in an energy-gobbling machine. Wind and solar power really did dry clothes back in those early days. Kids got hand-me-downs from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing. But that cashier was still right, they didn’t have the “green thing”.

Back then, they had one TV, or radio, in the house – not a screen in every room. And the TV was the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not the size of the State of Queensland. In the kitchen, people blended and stirred by hand because they didn’t have electric machines to do everything. When they packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, they used wadded up old newspapers to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.

Green-cartoonBack then, they didn’t fire up an engine and burn petrol just to cut the lawn. They used a push mower running on human power. They exercised by working so that they didn’t need a health club to run on treadmills operated by electricity. But she’s right: they didn’t have the “green thing” in those far off days.

People drank water from a fountain when they were thirsty, instead of from a plastic bottle. They refilled pens with ink (what?!) instead of buying a new pen, and they replaced razor blades instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull. But they didn’t have the “green thing” back then.

Back then, people took the tram or a bus and kids walked or rode their bikes to school instead of turning their mums into a 24-hour taxi service in the family’s $45,000 4wd, which cost what a whole house did before the “green thing”. There was one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And they didn’t need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 23,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest hamburger shop.

The world has changed, for better or worse, and it’s not the same. Could it really be that we didn’t have the “green thing” – back then?

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