As leaders of all ages look at climate change and the impact they can make to reduce our carbon gas emissions, we should all consider our self-leadership and taking responsibility for our carbon footprint. We can’t criticise leaders for their lack of environmental proactivity while leaving rubbish on the ground as we walk away.
What Nadine and I found beneficial was discussing a generation that had no other choice but to recycle and repurpose to survive. Both our grandparents were part of what was labelled the Greatest Generation. They grew up during the Great Depression and fought or lived through World War II and were the products of parents who lived through World War I.
As a little tyke, nothing brought me greater joy than following my grandmother, or ‘Nan’ as we affectionally called her, around the kitchen, the living room, the garden or anywhere she chose to go. Nan grew most of her vegetables, had chickens for eggs and used a copper for her washing, even when there were more modern conveniences.
Vegetable scraps never ended up in the garbage but always had a purpose whether it be feeding the chickens or contributing to the compost heap.
As her shadow, I watched as she took her button box and fixed clothes, created mats out of rags and crocheted tea cosies. In the kitchen, I learned many lessons. Tasteless marrows could become an excellent filler for a chutney or jam. Barley and vegetables from the garden could create a broth that as adults we remember with fondness.
I have two vivid memories of when I was around eight years old. Nan taught me that you could take flour, eggs, milk and an apple and turn them into little bites of deliciousness when we made apple fritters for lunch. The second memory is much more profound as an adult. She taught me how to remove the glad wrap carefully from anything she bought, fold it and place it into a draw ready to be used when needed.
I remember asking my mum later that day why nana didn’t just throw the glad wrap away? The reply was straightforward, but one we all can apply in the privilege to which we may have become accustomed today.
“Your nana has lived through many times when she had very little. She wastes nothing and appreciates everything can have another purpose,” my mother told me.
“Even though times are better, she is still a pensioner, and she always remembers those times when she did not have enough to feed her family.”
When telling these stories to Nadine, I found she had similar stories to tell of her grandmother and how she recycled.
“I have such fond memories of my Nan and her friends recycling with her saying ‘waste not want not’,” Nadine says.
“She would get partially used cakes of soap, melt them down and remould them into a new fresh one.
“My Nan was a beautiful sewer and would take old clothes and material to make new ones for us as grandchildren.”
Nadine remembers her mum who was a nurse, drawing the line when her Nan would try to share her prescribed medication with her sisters.
“Nan was close to her two sisters, and I remember one day when my great aunty was telling her she had some medical condition Nan offering her some prescribed medication she got from her doctor,” she says.
“My mum would say under no circumstances should she share medication.”
As a society, we have come a long way from the generations that lived through world wars, rationing and living off the vegetable patch. The lessons that they lived by are simple and people around the world could learn from them today. Waste not want not was a common saying for a good reason. So, rather than looking at taking your bags to the grocer as an inconvenience or recycling at home or work a waste of time, make it a leadership choice. Let future generations learn from us, just like we did from the Greatest Generation.