I made a resolution to reduce my family’s waste. Here’s how

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We all know the jig is up with the environment. Even if you don’t believe in man-made climate change, why wouldn’t you want to protect nature and the resources all us humans rely on, on this floating blue orb we share? So I’ve been thinking – like a lot of us – about the earth.

I grew up with a mother who always played her part; reworking, reusing, and recycling. In retrospect, she was ahead of her time, but as a teenager, I couldn’t see it. I was just embarrassed by her insistence, for example, that we bring home our glad wrap from our school sandwiches, so she could reuse it. (Seriously, she would reuse it for five days straight, till it barely had any “cling” left to it.) I also couldn’t believe that she would save wrapping paper from gifts to reuse on other presents.

Kate Langbroek: I’ve been rethinking sustainability and attempting to reduce and reinvent my family’s waste in a more creative way.

Kate Langbroek: I’ve been rethinking sustainability and attempting to reduce and reinvent my family’s waste in a more creative way.

Fast-forward to a sobering parallel: I am in lockdown with my family over in Italy. Six of us are confined to our apartment; space to empty our bins into the communal ones outside is limited. I walk into the kitchen one morning to be confronted by our mountain of plastic refuse. Empty water bottles; food packaging. It is terrible. Also, this is just for one family. Our family. It prompted some deeper thinking from me about how we consume.

And I couldn’t shake the thought; if everyone else in the world is doing a similar thing – admittedly to varying degrees – then we are all going to be in trouble. It was a Pandora’s box moment, but the thought-bees that came buzzing out were about excessive consumption, plastic landfill, mountains of disposable fashion. (And, to add to this newfound eco-anxiety, literal bees are themselves under threat in some parts of the world.)

Guilt sometimes has its place. It can be a great motivator. But when it becomes a soul-eating, stultifying end-unto-itself, it’s not helpful. I had to remind myself – an important point for me personally – that I am not capable of doing everything. Still, I made a resolution: if the chance to do something ecologically responsible presented itself, I would take that opportunity and run with it. So I’ve been rethinking sustainability and attempting to reduce and reinvent my family’s waste in a more creative way. (There are, of course, obvious and brilliant solutions, like worm farms – which we have – or compost heaps. But there are also myriad opportunities to make less waste that are also fun and off the beaten path.)

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Make the broken beautiful

I have this collection of op-shop crockery; chipped, and in pieces from being vigorously used in the course of our family life. Not wanting to throw it away, my youngest sons and I are planning to turn it into a mosaic; a tabletop, or a plaque to hang in their grandparents’ garden. This, as well as a cute nod to Italian art, is part of a broader notion I have learned from our time in that magnificent nation: Italians look to create beauty everywhere. Also, they respect the old – in people, and in things.