When Angela Saldanha was growing up in India, nothing went to waste. It’s a lesson we need to learn today. CNS photo/David Gray, Reuters

Wise words for society: ‘Thou shalt not waste’

By  Angela Saldanha, Catholic Register Special
  • June 28, 2015

Generations ago we lived by the words “waste not, want not.” Our grandparents were frugal people. Not us. We are throw-away people.

Growing up in India I never saw anything wasted. Backyard chickens took care of much of the organic waste and anything they couldn’t handle went to the compost heap. Glass bottles and jars were collected by the bottle man. He also took paper. Not just newspapers and magazines but school exercise books! It gave me the greatest satisfaction to hand over (at year’s end) my old history and algebra notebooks.

The bottle man sold them to vendors of peanuts and sweetmeats, who fashioned the pages into tiny paper cones to be filled with goodies. Textbooks never went to waste — they were sold to the second-hand book shop.

When the cook went off to market she would cut a slice off a banana leaf to wrap around fresh meat or fish. On her return the meat would go into the pot and the leaf, with its accumulation of fish scales or mutton fat, was tossed onto the compost heap.  
We had an incinerator in a far corner of the backyard for those few things that could neither be reused, recycled nor composted. One day, a pair of rusting forceps went into it. Days later, the gardener found the forceps in a mango tree, propping up a crow’s nest. The nest got dumped on the compost heap and the forceps went back to the incinerator. A week later, a sturdy new nest was spotted on the same forceps foundation. The birds saw no reason to waste good building material.   

Old clothes were collected by the ragman. Old shoes were repaired (and re-repaired) by the cobbler. Same with old bikes, cars, sewing machines, any old machines.

There was no such thing as an unfixable car. Today we replace our vehicles whether they need replacing or not. Likewise, we update our wardrobes, our TVs, our smart gadgets, persuading ourselves we need a new whatever-it-is, and we renovate our homes obsessively, throwing out everything, including the kitchen sink!

We haul hundreds of tons of fish from the sea in obscenely oversized nets. In the process thousands of living creatures — mutilated, dead or dying — are trapped and then callously discarded because they aren’t the ones we want. We chop down our forests and turn them into newspapers and junk mail, much of which gets discarded  unopened, unread. We overheat our homes in winter and cool them to an unfriendly degree in summer, wasting  gas and electricity.  

Waste disposal is a problem that’s growing globally. We dump chemical waste — accidentally or on purpose — into rivers and seas, rendering them unfit. We insult Mother Earth by burying domestic waste (frequently toxic) in landfill sites. Or we truck it to another state or country and let them bury it for us! Much of our waste ends up in oceans, where it often forms floating garbage islands, sometimes miles long and solid enough to walk on. This garbage is largely composed of water bottles, grocery bags and other plastics, so it will last hundreds of years, killing fish, seabirds and plant life.  

One of the most distressing wastes is our waste of food. Food gets forgotten in the fridge until it’s past its “best before” date. Unwanted food on our plates (why do we serve ourselves more than we can eat?) gets tossed out. This is particularly true in restaurants, especially at holiday resorts that offer “all you can eat” at every meal.

Worse still than table waste is the horrifying waste when fresh fruit or vegetables fail to meet standards for size and shape and are left to rot in the field. Or burned! Then there are dairy products and all kinds of packaged foods, still perfectly edible, that go to dumpsters the moment they reach the “best before” date.

Just as distressing as food waste is the waste of water. Because we live in a land of a hundred thousand lakes and rivers, we tend to not worry about water. Yes, there’s plenty, for now.  So why worry? We should worry because fresh, potable water is a finite commodity and, besides, abundance doesn’t give us a right to waste. Water is a luxury that can mean life or death for millions of people. To let our taps run freely shows a lack of concern for others.

When God made man, He gave him stewardship of the Earth, telling him to subdue it, care for it, make it fruitful. He never intended for us to squander His gifts the way we do — greedily, selfishly.                                                                                     

Jesus was very specific about the attitude we should have for food. After multiplying bread and fish to feed the hungry thousands, He ordered that the fragments be collected. Those breadcrumbs and scraps of fish filled seven baskets. I used to wonder why He wanted them gathered up — what happened to those leftovers? Possibly, they were taken away and given to those who, because of age or infirmity, had been unable to join the crowds. Or perhaps they went to feed the pigs and goats and chickens.

Whatever their ultimate end, Jesus’ message was clear: Thou shalt not waste!

(Saldanha is a freelance writer in Brechin, Ont.)

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