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Byron Shire
September 29, 2022

Comment: Back when we didn’t waste or poison  

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Finally, battery hen cage eggs are being phased out in Australia, after a decades long battle to end this appalling cruelty – but not until 2036!

About eleven million hens are crammed together in tiny cages under artificial light for a year. Then they are pulled out and slaughtered.

Decades ago, I helped rescue hundreds of battery hens from an egg producer who was closing. Those poor birds had half their feathers missing and barely knew how to walk. They’d never seen sunlight or breathed fresh air.

Richard Jones. Image supplied

Liberated and rehabilitated, hens continue to lay eggs way beyond their allotted time in a battery.

When I was a small child, there was no such thing as hens crammed in batteries. They weren’t introduced until the 1950s.

The world then was a very different place. There was no plastic pollution. No one bought soft drinks in throwaway containers.

All the bottles were glass and were returned for washing and re-use. Bread didn’t come wrapped in plastic. It was delivered to our door by a baker in a wicker basket.

Milk was also delivered to our door by a man in a blue and white striped apron. Three bottles, with thin aluminium tops, were left outside the kitchen door. The milkman picked up the empties for washing and re-use.

Occasionally, in a bitter winter, Blue Tits would peck through the tops to eat the cream. Even those bottle tops weren’t wasted.

My mother placed them in a jar on the windowsill in the kitchen, after we had finished flicking them around like flying saucers.

When the jar was full, they were taken to a shop in the High Street in Epsom, UK, where they used them to help pay for the upkeep of horses that had been put out to pasture after they had retired from pulling milk and bread carts.

One of my jobs, for which I was paid sixpence a bucket, was to scoop up manure left on our road by work horses.

My father used it on his roses.

Another pocket money earner was collecting newspapers and magazines, using an old pram and a hessian sack, from the houses around us.

Almost everything had a value.

Our modern throwaway consumer society didn’t exist then. My first shocking experience of what Vance Packard wrote about in his book The Waste Makers, was in New York in 1965.

I was passing through on my way back to Australia and visiting my cousin. She took me high up to a restaurant in a skyscraper. I put a plate of food and utensils and cup on my tray. When we had finished, I just assumed that the items we’d used would be washed.

My cousin directed me to empty the entire tray down a chute. I found that profoundly disturbing.

Our economy is now based on wasting as much as possible, as quickly as possible. No wonder the planet is in such a parlous state. It’s ingrained in people that it’s okay to buy plastic-wrapped food, contaminated with hormone disrupters and pesticide residues. We’re led to believe this is normal and acceptable. It absolutely is not.

Today, people buy fast fashion items and often throw them away after a single use.

They’re largely made from oil-derived synthetic fabrics, not natural fibres. Millions of tonnes end up in landfill and washing them leaches microplastics into the environment.

This incredibly wasteful lifestyle is driven by those corporations, without ethics, whose sole aim is to maximise profits.

Just as the caged egg industry fought tooth and nail for decades to keep their obscenely cruel batteries, so the fossil fuel industry is fighting back insidiously for their right to destroy life on Earth.

The writing is on the wall for petrol-driven cars and that market will be diminishing. The oil industry is compensating by ramping up plastic production and consumption. In 1950, plastic production was just 2 Mt (million tonnes) globally. By 2015 this had increased to 380 Mt.

That’s projected to rise to 1,606 Mt by 2050!

This ever-increasing mountain of plastic waste is becoming something of an embarrassment to industry moguls.

It’s not a good look when their product is polluting every corner of our planet. They’ve come up with a ‘solution’. How about we burn all that waste plastic and pretend to turn it into energy?  The ‘waste-to-energy incineration’ lobby has been busy duchessing all levels of government and the media to attempt to build a network of plastic-burning incinerators across Australia, including one in our backyard in Casino.

Gullible councillors have been fed fanciful, and absurd, statistics on how ‘safe’ these incinerators are.

They aren’t of course.

Burning plastic makes the climate emergency worse.

Industry doesn’t tell us in their PR propaganda, for instance, that for every four tonnes of waste incinerated, one tonne of highly toxic waste ash is left, not to mention the deadly dioxins and other pollutants added to the atmosphere.

It’s possible for us to create a waste free world again.

Nature is a zero-waste system.

The idea that it’s okay to extract, consume and throw away must become obsolete.

We need to return to the idea that every bottle and bottle top is re-used or recycled, not burnt or buried.

We need to regard all creatures, including hens, as sentient beings and not just units of production.

Richard Jones is a former NSW MLC, and is now a ceramicist.

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  1. We have been ‘creating problems’ when there was never any need to. I recommend brain rewiring because the density at the top-end
    has just lost itself like some Mars’s sitcom never to be released. Do people not know where duck & chook eggs come from? Is milk
    a product of cat-tucker only? Keep silent if you actually know how to throw a meal together, someone will always call a doctor. More
    importantly, the Sun’s bound to wipe us out – in both extremes; too hot to handle & too frozen for comfort! The Importing clothes
    saga? Well – it helps us to save our ‘loot’. Yeah; cheap as chips & twice as scratchy. Now I know why dogs & frogs bray at the moon.

  2. Great piece, Richard.
    May I add this: The system has a name, and it is called capitalism. My home country, Germany, used to call it “Free and social market economy”, but the ‘social’ has long since gone out of the window. ‘Social’ meant that the capitalists were responsible to further not only their bank balances but the entire economy and the welfare of all people in it. That worked only for a couple of post WW2 decades, then greed took over. Ever since then those in power have become so greedy that now the future of the planet as a safe harbour for all of us is in question. It will need massive, unprecedented (ahh, this word again!) action to stop the train set in motion and redirect it to a sustainable future.

    • The very essence of capitalism is to make those with capital even wealthier. It was never about egalitarianism or the proverbial “fait go”. Workers were a necessity to make the whole thing work. In many instances they have been made obsolete- like self checkout in supermarkets, self drive trucks in the mining industry, computers rep!acing clerks. People are not central to the creation of this massive wealth, except as customers to buy their heavily advertises products. Workers are merely part of the cost of production.
      It wasn’t always like this. The industrial revolution turned people into mere pawns.

      • The industrial revolution did destroy the previous system. That system was called Feudalism. People were so much freer when they were owned by the lord of the manor.

  3. Increasingly I turn to reading Richard’s posts on truth of negative impact of modern demands on resource necessary for all life to survive ie clean water, air, soil.

  4. One third of the land in the UK is still owned and controlled by the feudal Lords and Ladies! The trouble was really exacerbated when the common land was enclosed.
    We need a new system – one that can be more easily introduced if the electoral law is reformed to reflect the actual wishes of voters in both houses – genuine one vote, one value. Plus the voting age needs urgently reducing to 16 to bring about a better balance,

    • The first step to community organising is community dis-organising. You have to make people loose faith in the old before you can introduce your ‘new system’. But when the carpet-bagers arrive, will the public be wise enough to run them out of town on a rail.

  5. Roughly 8 billion people on the planet and to be sustainable it needs to be about 1/2 a billion. Even if all energy is green and every vehicle electric we will still need to continue wrecking the natural environment to obtain the materials for billions of EV car batteries . Yes I also grew up collecting milk bottle aluminium foil tops and newspapers to recycle for cash and bought milk in reusable glass bottles. Look around, we also spray millions of litres of pesticide on road sides across Australia without a thought. Every “green” solution to our pollution and environmental damage also bears an environmental cost, just a different destruction to the one we are trying to minimise. The only solution is a lot less people, any volunteers ? or we all start to live like poor rural Indian villagers with a tiny environmental footprint, no volunteers for that either I guess, so things will continue to go downhill for environments and natural living eco systems while we ignore the fact that humans are not sustainable and neither is our environmental impact.

    • Andy, if you accept the notion, that is gaining ground amongst scientists, that the Earth is in itself an intelligent entity, you could conjecture that if a single species, Homo “Sapiens” ( more appropriately Stultus), is threatening the existence of life, then the Earth will actually respond appropriately.
      Watch this space.

  6. in the good old days, food was sprayed with arsenic (DDT), you put lead in your petrol, built everything out of asbestos covered in lead paint, and the lack of sanitation cause the spread of all those infectious diseases they said they cured by jabs. The most dangerous food to humans is warm milk (Food poisoning). Your long healthy life has a lot to do with that sterile single use plastic crap, masses of infrastructure, and plentiful cheap coal power.

  7. I can hardly count the number of times I have enquired about repairing items only to be told to chuck them away. More interesting is how this wasteful ‘throw-it-away-and buy-another-one’ culture has colonised the attitudes of the general public, to the degree that it’s hard not to detect a kind of smugness, as if many people are actively pleased to be living in such a loony-tunes reality. Fortunately the Mullumbimby Repair Cafe is now open at 18 Prince Street, Mullumbimby, on Saturdays from 1.30-4.30pm.

    • Very good. Not just for saving money, but for teaching people how stuff works. Any chance of writing an article?
      Once you have momentum, consider doing something with the schools. Good for the kids to see how purposely weak parts are inserted to make things break. And good to emphasis that ‘planned obsolescence’ was started with the ‘light bulb conspiracy’. It’s the software industry that has inspired this modern extreme version of it.


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