Biting the hand that feeds

Oupa's factory
Checking out Oupa’s plastics factory

A school friend grew up on a tobacco farm in Malawi, and like me, had been sent to boarding school in South Africa at a tender age. At our 25th year reunion recently the topic of smoking came up, and she told how whenever she gives her Dad a hard time about his smoking habit, he reminds her that tobacco paid for her education.

I can relate. Plastic paid for mine. ย Visiting my Dad’s plastic factory is a vivid childhood memory: the squishy sacks of plastic polymer; the noisy machines compressing the pellets; standing at the end of the production line, waiting to see the colourful cups being spat out, still warm and steaming; the words ‘injection mould’ and ‘virgin material.’ I remember long trips back to boarding school, our Kombi packed to the rafters with plastics that we’d deliver en-route.

And yet my Dad, unapologetically capitalist, ended up with green-leaning kids. Plastic has been top of our hit list in trying to whittle down our waste. My sister, a scuba instructor who sees first hand the state of our oceans, recently shared something on Facebook and screeched ‘Stop Fucking Using Plastic!’ And my brother is seldom happiest than when knee deep in worm muck churning out compost.

It’s a tricky one. My Dad worked his ass off so he could give us what he prizes above all else – a good education. Without that (plastic-funded) education, one that lifted us out of the structural limitations set by apartheid, our lives might have taken a very different trajectory.

Something to be mindful of when we rail against the system? We all need to make a living in the world. If we’re lucky, smart, or both, we manage to marry our ideals with our livelihood; others bump up against all kinds of socio-political barriers – work is a way to pay the bills, it can’t always be aligned with our beliefs or worldview.

So while it’s wonderful to have choices and hold fast to our ideals, there’s always the flip side. Someone on the other end whose livelihood depends on the thing we’re lambasting or crusading against. It’s a theme that can be applied most anywhere – poachers trying to eke out a living; children working in sweat shops to help put food on the table. For everyone trying to build what they believe to be a better world by challenging the system, there’s someone propping it up, living hand to mouth.

Those are extreme examples and I’ve gone on a bit of a tangent. Bringing it back to those pesky single-use plastics that are choking our oceans, I still avoid them. But I’m seldom militant about it; our push and pull world is after all stupendously complex.

 

6 thoughts on “Biting the hand that feeds

  1. So true Zanine, well put. We can only walk our talk, and trust that others will ‘catch’ what we are living and saying. This green journey is a marathon, not a sprint, one I am forever learning. Perhaps one day your dad will make products from recycled plastic, and be a solution to the problem. There is much grey amidst the black and white. Great blog, thanks. Nice to have something SA local.
    PS. I have 4 adult kids, so have been down this long road. I have even been in the ‘down with butter’ brigade, magarine is the new wonderfood, to the turn around of ‘down with magarine, the poison food’, only grass-fed butter will do. ๐Ÿ™‚
    Keep up the great work.

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  2. Hi Ginny! Thanks for this great feedback. What you say about the journey being a marathon not a sprint – I’m learning that more and more! We just do what we can when we can with whatever we have at our disposal. My dad has started making products from recycled plastics:-)). And yes, so much grey, things are seldom black and white.
    I think your blog is such a wonderful idea! So many times I’ve wanted to switch to more eco products but reluctant to try something that won’t work – so great to have somewhere to go for feedback and reviews:-)).

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    1. Thanks Mags. Sometimes it feels like a luxury to go on a green journey, because so many people live hand to mouth and are more worried about where their next meal is coming from than their carbon footprint. But you do hear it said that the most vulnerable, those living on the margins, will be most impacted by global warming, so perhaps it’s something we all need to think about……

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