J500 Media and the Environment

Learn from My Grandmother by sachikom
February 26, 2008, 1:53 am
Filed under: Waste + Recycling | Tags: , , , , ,

Every time I go to my grandmother’s, I’m surprised at her collection of “trash.” She keeps piles of cookie boxes, containers of yogurt, margarin and detergent, used-wrapping paper in a coset, hoping to reuse someday. She grew up during the Pacific War in Japan. She’s used to a frugal life and she cannot throw things away so easily. She says, “Mottainai” and put everything in the closet.

Recently I’m learning a lot from my grandmother and the Japanese word “mottainai.” The literal translation of “mottainai” is “wasteful.” But the word also implies that things can be still useful. For example, I felt “mottainai” to throw away clothes I don’t like, so I gave them to my sister. This is a convenient word, which English doesn’t have. The Japanese often use it with remorse or guilt about what they are doing. I think this word can encourage people to conserve resources. The word impressed an Kenyan environmentalist and civil activist, Wangari Maathai, who won the Nobel Peace Prize. She started the Mottainai Campaign to spread the concept of the word in Africa, Asia, Europe and the U.S. and encourage environmental conversations and sustainable developments.

Even though I recycle, I feel that’s not enough looking at my daily trash. I’m not as hard-core as my grandmother, but try to make use of waste before I throw away. I bring reusable bags for grocery shopping and use the backside of printed papers to outline an essay and practice Arabic spellings. If my sneakers are worn out, I keep them for a rainy day. I cut my old shirts into pieces and use them to clean the bathroom or polish my leather shoes. I keep pasta-sauce bins to preserve food instead of getting new containers. Also, it’s time to reassess our consumer life. Do I really want this? Can I substitute it with a thing I already have?

I’m looking for a more drastic way to reduce my trash, especially plastic materials that cannot be recycled. Any idea?

By Sachiko Miyakawa

This is my 24-hour of trash, including my roommate’s. This is a lot! But I’ll recycle some of it.



My roommate and I keep recycle material in a covert.

6 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I really like most of the ideas and stories my grandmother has to tell. At one time, she canned food from her own garden, sewed her own clothes, and rode an classic Schwinn to work and back. She learned to do most of these things because she grew up one of 12 on a small farm, she didn’t have a choice. Now, she doesn’t do these things anymore, she doesn’t have to. We need to use the knowledge of our elders, they know so much, and who knows how soon it will be necessary for us to live the way my grandmother did on the farm.


Comment by jkongs

What a thoughtful post! I think the stories of our ancestors have so much to teach us. My internal mantra is that of “want and need”? I’m not against buying things, but before I do, I try to recognize the root of my desire. Do I need another pair of snow boots? Or am I using them as some form of retail therapy to help me get through this endless winter? It may or may not change the outcome, but it always makes me clearer on my intentions, which I think is a step in the right direction.
Simran Sethi

Comment by j500

Grandparents have the best stories.

My grandpa once chased poachers off the farm on an old john deer tractor.

But this post also brings up another interesting point. People do things out of necessity. If there isn’t an alternative to riding a bike, you will ride a bike.

Right now it isn’t necessary to ride a bike or the bus or anything else. So convenience takes over and we drive.

There aren’t many convenient alternatives to throwing things away. So we throw them away. We need real alternatives that aren’t a major consuming task in our lives.


Comment by acbowman

I’d suggest adding “perceived” in front of convenience, Adam.

Staying with your example of riding a bike, I ride a trike 2.5 miles to the nearest village to take our son to nursery at the local school.

Most of the mothers, who live in the village, drive their children half-a-mile to a mile to school because they perceive it to be convenient.

I’ve pointed out that it would actually be more convenient to walk out the front door and walk along the pavement to school as it’s faster than getting the car out, going inside to get the child, putting the child in the car (often struggling), backing out onto the road, driving to school (through a reduced speed limit zone, finding a parking space, getting the child out and locking the door.

But the mothers still perceive it to be more convenient.

They also perceive it to be safer, without realising that the reason why it’s unsafe for children to be crossing the roads around the school is because of all the mothers driving their cars there.

We had a television programme, The Woman Who Stops Traffic in which a campaigner interviewed people doing the school run, mapped out how far they were driving, persuaded some people to walk or cycle instead, and proved it was more convenient not to drive.

Needless to say, most of them refused to believe her and kept driving.

Entrenched perceptions are extremely difficult to overturn without major, compelling and unavoidable change.

How do we achieve that?

Comment by Stonehead

What can we individually do? Try to reduce trash by recycling, reusing and avoid buying unnecessary things. What about the government, community or institutions? Build and provide more convenient recycling systems, like increasing the availability of services and the variety of materials we can recycle. What can business do? Design products and packages that create less waste and can be recycled. I was impressed with the Economist article, assigned this week. ( http://www.economist.com/displaystory.cfm?story_id=9249262 ) It says, “More generally, one of the biggest barriers to more efficient recycling is that most products were not designed with recycling in mind.” I guess making recyclable products cost more, but I think it will help a lot in the long run. Also I feel many products are over-wrapped. Why do we need a box for cereal? We don’t need our Christmas gifts wrapped! We have to change our cultures to protect the environment. I think big corporations should take an initiative to introduce environmentally-friendly products and change the business norms consumer cultures.


Comment by sachikom

I use any plastic that i can not recycle to make items that i can use around the house.

Comment by Wheelie Bins

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: