Caroline Roy's Blog

Hong Kong
I am a recycled travel writer/advertising executive and a long term yoga practitioner. Having to raise two children in Hong Kong has made me an even more passionate green householder. I began to deepen my daily inquiry about sustainable living in 2006, when I was looking for a family home in Germany. I built an eco house in an alpine ecological farming community, where we spend time every year and learn more every time. I feel that it is more important than ever to educate ourselves about our environment. It is a great joy to share ideas, observations and solutions.

Dedicated to the movie TRASHED

A Matter of inheritance
June 7, 2013

In 1978, my great-grandmother Clara, then aged 95, decided that she wanted to move to her daughter’s house. She had been a widow for 6 years, and living by herself had become tedious. All the family got together to help pack up her apartment’s contents and move her to her daughter’s house.
I was responsible for the kitchen. When I opened the cabinet under the sink, I found about 20 stacks of used but cleaned plastic whipped cream cups. Each stack held at least 15 cups. “Grandma, what’s this?” I asked. “They are from my whipped cream“, she said. It turned out that instead of cooking a Sunday roast as she used to when she lived with my great-grandfather, she now did her favorite thing: whip 250 mls of cream and eat it with a little vanilla sugar. It would substitute for her lunch. She was a thin and happy woman, and I believe she enjoyed those lunches more that cooking for her husband. In the six years of being a widow, she had build up quite a collection of empty cups. “What do you keep them for?” I asked.  “Child,” she said, “you cannot throw something like that away. Someone can still use these.”
A few weeks ago I helped at a science project in my daughter’s school in Hong Kong. The children were supposed to build string-phones. Parents brought brand-new plastic and paper cups from a local supermarket. It was when I tore open the wrapping to take the unused cups out for their short life as a science experiment that I remembered the 300 cream cups I found in Great-grandma’s kitchen. Back then, schools in Germany did not do experiments. Today they do, but few people collect materials for crafts.
Back in 1982 we could not imagine what to do with the 300 odd plastic cups. Nor could great-grandma Clara. She grew up on a prosperous land-owning farm in East-Prussia. She went to a finishing school for girls to learn French, a bit of sewing and cooking, only half expecting to ever apply those skills. Then she married a high school teacher and created the family’s home with modest means, raised two daughters, and experienced two world wars. For some reason, her parent’s solid oak furniture and their dining silver had survived those wars. I inherited the dining table as a student and left it with my friend when I moved to Switzerland. She brought it to Vienna and is still serving Wiener Schnitzel to her guests at that very table. Things were made to last.
In Clara’s mind it was inconceivable to throw things away that could have some – any – other life. I do not believe she knew the word recycling, but she clearly had the intention, or, to be more precise, the intention to preserve and reuse. Throwing any material as durable as plastic into her tiny bin? No way. (German bins are tiny by comparison, and only for stuff that nobody – even by the longest stretch of imagination – can ever use again.)
Clara left us her furniture, but also a kind of attitude: you can use this. It is valuable. It is the story of her trash. I wonder what story my descendants will discover when they look at what I left them? They are the first generation that inherits not only what we keep, but also what we throw away.
Caroline Roy, May 2013

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