The Green Thing

This is a story, you may recognise it as your story, written from an email that came into my inbox, likely been around the world via the big wide web several times over, stored in people’s inboxes to reflect on, and I wanted to capture it for us here, on our blog page. Mostly written from the original email and supported by my experiences, I felt I was just a tad younger than the story sharer, and at the same time, put to rest the debacle of our planet, it was already in jeopardy when we as a populations shifted gear.

So here goes …..

Yesterday after shopping in our local supermarket, I was in the queue at the check out, and over heard when the young cashier suggested to the mature lady that she should bring her own grocery bags, because plastic bags are not good for the environment.

The lady smiled to the young girl and then sighed, “We didn’t have this ‘green thing’ back in my earlier days.”

The young check out assistant responded, “That’s our problem today. You folk didn’t do enough to save our environment for future generations.”

The mature lady said “Ahh yes you’re right, our generation didn’t have the ‘green thing’ in its day.” She sighed before continuing on …

“Back then, we returned milk bottles to the milkman, lemonade bottles to the shops and beer bottles to the ‘bottle O’. The ‘milko’ and shops then sent them back to the processing plant to be washed, sterilized and refilled, so those same bottles were used over and over, thus really were recycled. But we didn’t have the ‘green thing’ back in our day.

We would stand, (Manly) or if you were travelling through town, sit in the milk bar (Kent Street), and drink from metal containers with a paper straw or coffee from fine crockery (David Jones) that would be washed, dried and ready for their next customers. It was a real treat, once in a blue moon, celebrate a birthday and people had a job, a task, a conversation, a purpose, a heart, an exchange of real cash.

Bread and milk were delivered fresh every day, Monday to Friday, to your home, and didn’t have to stockpile plastic bags and bottles every week to be collected by garbage trucks or dumped into grocery stores’ bins doing it ‘green overseas’. 

I remember, oh wow (60s), when the soft drink truck came, it was sheer delight, bottles rattling away in their crates, clanking as they were man handled off the edge of the open truck, the empty bottles with higher pitch, carefully stored back up there. Not till some years later did we realise, sugar in those drinks, nah, not that good for us.

That is ‘real’ fresh, no wrapping, straight into your bread bin, full cream or no cream milk was our choice, silver or gold coloured tops, ready to eat and drink a manageable amount of food. Milk was served up daily at school. The food was consumed within the week, and if going slightly stale, bread and butter pudding to boot. We didn’t have the ‘green thing’ in our day.

I’ll chime in here …

grocery stores served our groceries into brown paper bags that we reused for numerous things. Most memorable was the use of brown paper bags as book covers for our schoolbooks. This was to ensure that public property, the books provided for our use by the school, were not defaced by our scribblings. Then we were able to personalise our books on these brown paper bag come covers. But, too bad we didn’t do the ‘green thing’ back then. 

Image: Carol’s school books from her childhood home, today!

I reused paper bags to take my homemade cakes, banana bread [link to recipe] is my specialty, as gifts to my friends and colleagues. This was so as I would arrive to give the receiver, fresh and ready to eat. A genuine gift from my heart, rather than a pre-packaged purchase on the spur of the moment, their response feeds me and continue to this day. Comment below if you’ve received one from me.

When plastic bags came on the scene into the fruit market, my mum (Oma) would wash each bag and hang out to dry and reuse, that is recycling and repurposing and reusing. But, then I was a ‘green thing’ before it was coined.

I remember how we walked up stairs because we didn’t have an elevator in our school or in the hospital I worked in. Elevator was used only for patients, or my Dad’s office building in the Surry Hills. I walked to the grocery store and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go 100 metres or how my Mum walked us to the beach and back, 5 kilometres each way. But the young cashier in this story was right, we didn’t have the ‘green thing’ in our day.

Back then, we washed the baby’s nappies because we didn’t have the throw away kind my Mum said, that was about me. I too continued on the tradition and washed cloth nappies for my 3 children (circa 1992, 95, 01). Today those cloth nappies (that is my kids’ ones) are used as window cleaning rags, 25 years later … but heh! Too bad we didn’t do the ‘green thing’, to this day the earth would not be struggling as it is to digest those throw away kind for another 70 years.

Image: Nappies on the line

We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy-gobbling machine burning up 220 volts. Wind and solar power really did dry our clothes back in our days, and continue to do so to today, hey unlike those machines breaking down within 1 year, but spend a little more and get a customer service card for 5 years.

My mum and Tony’s mum used to wash their family sheets and nappies in hot coppers filled with boiling water. Wow, their method really killed bacteria and germs, and so you can use it to wash sheets and dirty nappies. Today, our copper lies idle in the corner of the laundry, where it completed its last wash.

Image: copper in laundry

Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers and sisters, from friends with older children, not always brand-new clothing, shipped in from another country, wrapped in plastic multiple times. Our clothes lasted years, not a put on and throw away due to the washing machine killing it or the threads are poorly sewn. But that young lady is right; we didn’t have the ‘green thing’ back in our day.

Back then we had one radio and one TV in the house, not a TV in every room. And if anyone did own a TV, we did when I was about 5, it had a small screen the size of a handkerchief, remember them? not a screen the size of a football pitch. And Dad read the newspaper, we played cards, board games, listened to the radio,  playing cubby houses outside, home before dusk and not sucked into energy deficient devices, electronics, computers and tech games reliant on electricity and emitting microwaves 24/7. Too bad we didn’t do the ‘green thing’.

When cooking we blended and stirred by hand coz we didn’t have electric machines to do everything for us. That is where the story started for the older lady and for me, Mum did have an electric mixer, oven and cook top, kettle and toaster, a copper to boil clothes and a washing machine, vacuum cleaner and fridge, enough to keep us healthy, and oh yeh, we didn’t do the ‘green thing’.

When Tony packaged a fragile item to send by post, we used layers of old newspapers to cushion it, piece of string to wrap it (I cheated using a thin sticky tape) not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap or copious amounts of wide sticky tape and plastic sheeting.

We bought our clothes from a bricks and mortar store or a department store with all the departments so we could choose to carry our goods in a paper bag, our white goods were delivered and installed into our home by two men with smiles, everything we needed rather than wanted, not instant gratification ‘online’ from an obscure country that packages and transports from non descript warehouses, delivering by one person to the door and you need to shuffle the item in yourself, using precious fuels, disposable tools. That’s right, we didn’t do the ‘green thing’. And don’t get my mum started on manufacture and employment $$ in this country being shut down or shipped off shore!

Back then, we didn’t fire up an engine and burn petrol just to cut timber. During the older lady’s time used a push mower that ran on human power. During my time, Dad used a 2-stroke mower and people had good sized blocks of land garden and to grow veges, we did do the ‘green thing’.

The garbage was picked up once a week, 40 litre bin wrapped weekly inside with newspaper so the bin stayed clean. Recycling took out the glass and tins in a 20 litre crate, that is a third of today’s garbage run and recycling effort. Our local councilor in late 80’s proposed bigger bins …

and at time of writing, our community continues without ‘green vege scrap bags’. Yours truly introduced it this bag to the local waste management service, a small contribution to overcome food scrap wastage in their system. Well it works for other Local Government Areas in NSW, why not this one? Too bad, we didn’t do that ‘green thing’ back then. Ours ends up in the chook yard, worm composting and worm farm straight on the ground, on our land.

Back then, people took the bus and kids rode bikes to school or walked instead of turning their mothers into a 24-hour taxi service in the family’s expensive car or van, which costs what a whole house did before the ‘green thing’. We exercised by walking or transport to working spaces, so we didn’t need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity. But she’s right; we didn’t have the ‘green thing’ back then.

We drank from a tap or bubbler when we were thirsty instead of using a plastic cup or plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water. We refilled writing pens with refills from the newsagency, instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blade in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull. We used bits of cotton wool twisted around a matchstick instead of one use disposable ear buds, allowed our cuts to heal instead of plastering with a plastic band aid that falls off under improper usage. But we didn’t have the ‘green thing’ back then.

Oh, and we had one electrical socket per room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. We had one telephone line in the house, not an entire slab of mobiles and chargers to power up. 

We opened windows and doors for air, light and temperature differences, not an energy-guzzler air conditioner. And we didn’t need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 40,000 kilometres outer space in order to find the nearest leisure park. I carry up to date Gregory’s in my car, how about you 🙂

But what is so sad, this current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn’t have the ‘green thing’ back then? I think you should forward this on to another selfish old person who needs a lesson in conservation from some smart assumed young person.

No one likes being older in the first place, so it doesn’t take much to be pleasant, with a smile and mindfulness, especially from a youngster who can’t make change without a device telling them what to do and the cash register or scanner register telling them how much change to give.


Towards healthier living, Carol Parr ♥


  • Carol Parr

    We’re glad you’re here. We’re Carol and Tony, founders of one of the longest running Healthy Home Blogs in the world, Mitey Fresh Australia. We’ve been on this journey for the last 25 years and are passionate about helping families sift through health hazards and triggers like allergens, mould, water damage, chemicals and EMFs, to get clarity about what’s toxic and what’s not so they can create a healthy and happy home for their family they love. Each month, people visit this blog seeking focus on the health and wellbeing of their loved ones, sustainable and effective practice tips and guides, to help create and manage healthier indoor spaces, improve the built environment that is pleasing to the senses and support healthy living and nature, every day. Starting this blog was to help change people’s lives, one family at a time, and we can’t wait to share how its allowed us to stand next to you and show you how interpreting these synergies between buildings and the environment they are built in will impact upon the health and well-being of those who occupy them. Find out more about Healthy Homes and what this blog can do for you!

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