More lockdown reflections, and Ecobricks – again

Photo by Margot RICHARD on Unsplash

I keep seeing posts and memes on Facebook telling me to make the most of this lockdown period to reflect, slow down, think about what’s important in life. I must confess, in weeks 1-2 of lockdown, these posts made me feel pretty stabby. especially this poem:

And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.

And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.

And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.

It’s by a contemporary American writer called Kitty O’Meara, but it’s been widely and wrongly attributed to another poet named Kathleen O’Meara, supposedly writing during the 1860s cholera outbreak – I don’t even know if there actually was a cholera outbreak where she lived in France (although she was originally from Ireland). This annoyed me a lot – I felt like it was trying to attribute some sort of universal pandemic commonality of suffering across the centuries, when the reality of course is that not many Catholics in the 1860s would have been particularly into meditating, most people wouldn’t have had any books in their homes, and they most likely would have been more interested in preventing starvation and death anyway.

So I read this stuff, and raged about how tactless it is to celebrate being able to meditate when there are people dying alone in under-staffed ITUs, and people are losing their jobs and struggling to feed their families, and single mothers are being driven mental by small children cooped up all day. I raged a bit more about how bloody unfair it is that I haven’t got any time to read books and do puzzles and watch Andrew Lloyd-Webber musicals on YouTube (here’s the link for you lucky bastards who do have time – and if you can watch this without shedding a tear, you’ve got a heart of stone, dude).

Then my paid work finally all evaporated, and we got ourselves into a bit of a routine of sharing childcare and getting some exercise, and it all feels a tiny bit less awful now. Plus I also understand that boredom and loneliness are terrible things too, and people alone in lockdown with no toddler to distract them may also be suffering. I do acknowledge, occasionally, that it’s not all about me.

Then I wrote this post and realised that going back to normal isn’t an option afterwards; we have got to work harder on the eco stuff, or our way of life and all that we hold dear will slip from our grasp, and soon. Sorry, this is long already and I haven’t even starting talking about ecobricks. I will get on with it now.

I wrote this post quite a while ago about ecobricks and my various conflicts about them. There are definite pros and cons to the concept.

It’s incredibly hard to find a local project to donate completed bricks to and there’s pressure from within the Ecobrick movement away from “dropping off” your plastic and passing on responsibility to someone else for your waste. You’re encouraged to make something yourself or set up a local project in your community.. We still haven’t found a local project to give them too (although I may possibly have found one further afield that we can contribute to), and I have no enthusiasm for building something myself (the small one and I made a space hedgehog today out of spaghetti and play doh – picture at the bottom – you’ll see why I’m not confident of my abilities to make a planter out of bottles and mud).

(NB the idea of “shipping” bricks to developing countries to use as a building material is a common misconception, but it’s not at all recommended UK Ecobrick trainers and there’s no system to support it happening).

There are plenty of great examples though of people making the process work, making switches to reduce their consumption of plastic packaged goods, inspired into more mindful shopping by the volume of plastic waste they are having to process into an ecobrick and being motivated to reduce it. (There’s a side issue here which I find really interesting, which is that this more mindful shopping often involves visiting multiple shops and paying a “zero waste” premium, which assumes not only a certain level of income but also assumes time to shop like this, and maybe assumes there’s someone full time “at home” – probably a woman – who’s taking responsibility for this process. More on this one day.)

An empty landfill bin is an indicator of success in ecobricking, and the best brick you make is the one that you can’t fill because you’ve stopped buying plastic. So the idea that ecobricking encourages plastics use and the purchase of plastic bottles to fill is false. Aside from the slight concern I have that a lot of school projects involving ecobricks aren’t fully informed, I do think that teaching kids about ecobricks is likely to improve their awareness of the issues with single-use plastic, rather than encourage them to buy more of it to fill their bricks – mainly because the plastic harvesting is pretty boring. More likely, their parents (mothers?) will end up doing it for them when they get bored.

The most convincing criticism of ecobricking I’ve seen is that it’s guilt offset – people make bricks to make themselves feel better, and don’t make any lifestyle changes to reduce their plastic consumption. And this is where it gets personal for me. We basically haven’t made any major switches for ages and we are just bricking a load of plastic, and putting a load more into our Terracycle collection. Our Terracycle collection has been suspended at the moment due to safety concerns, understandably, so we would have to find somewhere to store it all. And it’s all loads of work washing and drying all the plastic, and we’re knackered with no childcare at the moment, and looking for things to stop doing to help us survive this time, so we talked about giving up bricking. Then I realised that the reason it’s so annoying is because we are, of course, doing it wrong by not making any further effort to reduce our plastic. The whole point of ecobricks is that they’re really annoying to make – the process is supposed to put people off making them so they look for ways to reduce their plastic. It doesn’t feel rewarding to us because it’s not reducing.

The various food chain issues we’ve all endured recently has also got me thinking. We are so far removed now from the production of our food. I don’t know where lentils grow (they do grow, right?) or where the plastic packaging they come in is made, I’ve stopped thinking about palm oil too and put a whole load of stuff in the “too difficult”pile.

So maybe now is not the time to make huge changes, because we can’t get to the zero waste shop or the market very easily and there’s limited options available in some shops round here still. But there is an opportunity to pause, maybe, and have a think about what’s going into the collection system for the bricks and Terracycle – we’re not giving up, we’re going to carry on suffering – and think about what we could do differently in the new world. I’m writing a list of what goes into each waste stream and have a vague idea of a post-lockdown action plan… (I’m not writing strategy anymore, folks, so I need an action plan of some sort in my life). Plus I’m going to find out if lentils grow on trees, or what…

Here’s the space hedgehog, just to remind us all why craft projects and me are not a great combination.

One thought on “More lockdown reflections, and Ecobricks – again

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