You know the great thing about living in a small town? The stuff you do makes a difference. And you know the downside of living in a small town? The stuff you do makes a difference.
Here’s one example. Here in Port Vila, recycling is still in the nascent stages. It’s hard for us Aussies to get our heads around the realities of the situation. We know this not only from personal experience, but because everyone of the gazillion of Australians who have come to visit us here has tried at some point to recycle a wine bottle – and it’s not possible here. Really. You can recycle beer bottles, as long as they are the green, locally brewed variety, by taking them back to the brewery. You can recycle aluminium and steel cans, by taking them to a one of the designated drop off points at a government department more or less near you. You can recycle batteries, by taking them to one of their (totally different) designated drop off points. As of last week, now you can even recycle plastic water bottles – by taking them back to the plastic water bottle factory.
In summary, recycling in Port Vila is possible, and it’s quite a hard-won achievement that it is – but it’s not exactly easy. All those drop offs require some effort, from storage of leaking boxes of cans and bottles and batteries to their kind of grubby transport and delivery of their sloppy contents. What is easy is throwing it altogether in a rubbish bag and waiting for it to picked up from your front gate. But here’s the rub.
Living in a small town means that I know where the garbage goes. I know people who live in the community nearby. I know that it is not a “resource recovery centre”; I know that it is actually “the dump”. I know that far too many things that could and should be recycled (not to mention the things that should be reduced and reused) end up there. I know that lots of those things end up washed through the crystal clear water and up onto beaches just like the one right next door to my house. And since the population of Port Vila is so small, I know that a quantifiable proportion of that refuse comes from my household.
But you know that beach next to my house? The one with the rubbish washed up on it? Last week, we were sitting on the step, watching the sea, when the kids decided they would do a bit of cleaning up. They grabbed a shopping bag each and within about 10 minutes, we had three bags full of garbage and a lovely clean stretch of beach. Matt and I were inspired to help them, so I got some more bags, and he got the whipper snipper to clear out the overgrown patches, and we launched our own mini backyard blitz on the beach. We had only been at it for about half an hour when a few other locals from the community down the road came down to see what all the noise was about. Five minutes later, they were tackling the beach with rakes and a spontaneous working bee was underway. Now, maybe it’s just Monday talking, but the spectacular weekend we’ve all just spent on that beach – our family, and all the families and men and women and kids who hung out there in the last two days – seemed extra special for that bonus dose of community spirit.
Living in a small town means you get to see the difference that the stuff you do makes. But you know what? I’m convinced that the stuff you do makes a difference even when you can’t see it. It might not seem like it matters that you chose not to buy the $3 shirt when 10,000 of them are still hanging on the rack. But when you choose the quality, crafted alternative that lasts, it matters to the person that made it. It matters to their family, and it matters to their industry, and to all of those connected with that industry who are wondering if there can be a viable alternative to the race to the bottom. It matters when your friends notice that your shirt has not come from the cookie cutter, and some of them join you in making a different choice, and others join them, and the consumer market starts to shift, and companies and governments and trendsetters and powerbrokers start to notice that shift – because that’s how change starts to happen. Even when you don’t see what you have to do with it.
So thanks to all of you who doing your bit to make a difference – who support our craftspeople and create fabulous spaces inspired by people and places, not lookbooks and catalogues. We want you to know that it matters, and we’re proud to be part of your tribe.