On Waste

I come from a line of obsessive-compulsives. I’ve got the tendency on both sides of the family. On one side is a collection of individuals who are probably some of the most meticulous in the world; if anything burns down, gets broken into, or blows up, it’s not going to be their fault. On the other side is a group of people whose preoccupation with germs demands the frequent washing of objects and a proscription against breathing too hard on anything, even birthday candles. But neither side will throw anything away if there is any way of avoiding it. Food is given to dogs, cats, and birds. Cars are driven until they quite literally fall apart. Clothes are neatly put away until they come back into style. Books are kept, generally forever. Anything with print on it is saved — whether neatly, in scrapbooks, out of sight in filing cabinets, or (as is far more likely) on beds, on table tops, on the floor when all else fails. My family has a great fear of wasting anything.

Now I know this makes us somewhat unusual for the Bahamas, where “new tings” are always better than old ones, and where cars and homes and objects are often got rid of when something fresher comes along. Most of us, it seems, believe that newness is next to Godliness, and will go to great lengths to be in style. What happens to the outmoded is not our problem; if we think they can move it, we will put it out by the roadside for the garbage men to collect, and if not, we will tow it away ourselves and throw it in the bush. So imagine my joyful surprise when I moved to British Columbia, Canada, to find myself in a country that had made laws about waste that suggested that what I’d been raised to do was not as weird as it seemed.

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