Household Recycling: On Jars, Stockings and the Fear of Tomorrow

Ever wondered what to do with your old stockings and underwear? Is the abundance of plastic yogurt cups in your kitchen annoying you? If your answer is yes just scroll down to find the solution to your problems!

 When thinking of my childhood I always remember baka Kata (granny Kata) who used to take care of my sister and me although she was not our natural grandmother. She taught me my first lessons in what could now be considered ?bizarre recycling?. One of her specialities was the re-usage of old stockings. She was a real champion if it came to that. Her stocking-carpets are still a lively part of my memory – I vividly remember the depressing combinations of beige, black and sometimes dark blue old stockings that covered her floors? I actually never liked these carpets because of their worm- and alien-like features that were the result of overused, old stocking fabric…


Different Views on Garbage

 Collecting and selecting garbage, whether it is a pile of old stockings or an assembly of used jars, is often tiresome and time-consuming. Our preoccupation with ?the bright ecological future? seems to disappear instantly when we are lifting a bag of twenty heavy glass bottles out of our apartment just to notice that the glass recycling container has been destroyed by the local gang of football hooligans. Somehow, it is always easier to say ?no? to recycling.

 When I think back to my growing up in ex-Yugoslavia I remember a different tradition of collecting, one that did not have today?s ecological emphasis. Things we would nowadays consider as garbage were collected back then and they were ?recycled? for other reasons than today. There is actually a distinction between recycling as a need in the communist times (a habit due to the economical situation) and recycling as a choice (rooted in ecological consciousness) in today?s European societies.

 My mother did not have the choice to even think about the concept of ecological recycling, not to mention the context of the global warming, the change of climate and similar issues that are so important today. These topics did not matter back then ? for instance, a slogan like S energijom racionalno! (Spend electrical energy rationally!) was based on the fact that the state simply did not have enough supplies of electricity. In no way did it reflect a concern about the environment and the global lack of resources.

Advices on Making Your Life Richer With Old Things

 During communism my mother (as many other women at that time) had to take all that was offered and had to use it to the maximum. For example, she was washing plastic bags (which were so rare in communist times) to be able to reuse them again. This fact in itself wouldn?t be so odd if it wasn?t for the plastic bags hanging outside on a string along with the laundry.

Re-knitted vests for my sister and me (age 8 and 7)

My mother also cut out rugs for cleaning from old undershirts and knickers. (When cleaning the windows remember your old underwear!) As a talented knitter she made ? for my sister and me ? vests and jumpers from used wool, she re-knitted jumpers into small carpets, skirts?(What had been your sweater one day, could be a part of your new dress the other!) and even the rest of the non-usable wool would transform into decorative pillows!

 Of course glass jars and bottles were washed and re-used for the storage of home-made jams, pickles, salads, but, moreover we also collected plastic yogurt cups. The infinite wonders that you can do with them!


Various bottles with changed function (now spice holders)

You can use them just like a regular glass to drink from, you can use them to plant and grow basil and other plants, you can use them for your brushes and paints when doing your homework for art class, and as a painted decorative cup they are the perfect present for your mother on the 8th of March – Women’s day.

The Road to Ecology

 This recycling for purely economic reasons ? born by the fact of being deprived of a lot that was needed and by trying to compensate for it ? was actually a test of creativity. Do we ever think about the many things we can do with old things today? Not really ? it is always easier to just throw them away…

 When capitalism arrived in my country, a lot of people stopped their old ?recycling habits? because these were the habits entertained during the days of the old, now loathed communist regime. Instead, everybody immediately adopted the ?buy, spend and throw away practices?, including me ? a teenager hungry for the things I never had before.

 But as I got older and my ecologic consciousness grew, I find myself remembering some of my mother?s (and granny Kata?s) ?lectures? and I find myself following them. My choice to do so is, of course, not bred by the ?fear of tomorrow? that my mother had during the old communist days. It comes from the concern about how this tomorrow is going to look like if we keep on piling plastic bag after plastic bag after plastic bag after plastic bag?


?One could even say that a communist household is almost the perfect example of an ecological unit, except that its ecology has a completely different origin. It doesn?t stem from a concern for nature, but from a specific kind of fear for the future.?

 ?While leaders were accumulating words about a bright future, people were accumulating flour and sugar, jars, cups, pantyhose, old bread, corks, rope, nails,
 plastic bags.?

 From "How We Survived Communism and Even Laughed" by Slavenka Drakulic

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