My Nonno Joe is probably the ‘greenest’ person I know. He has a garden the size of a small farm in his backyard where he grows everything from spinach to tomatoes, figs, lemons and every herb you could’ve ever dreamed of. His diet consists mainly of white beans and eggs, he used to make his own soap and wine, and his house lights run for approximately 15 minutes daily. The list goes on, but I think you get the picture.
Now, many of those habits and skills were learnt in the old days — he came to Australia in the 50s from Calabria, and that was just how they lived without all the conveniences of modern life.
I’ve been lucky enough to have grown up across the road from NJ and have managed to pick up a lot of his wisdom. But lately, I feel like my allyship with Mother Nature has fallen by the wayside a little amidst the chaos of everyday life — and according to some confronting stats, I might not be the only one.
The WWF stated in 2017-18, Aussies used around 3.4 million tonnes of plastic, and only 9.4% was recycled properly. Additionally, the 2022 National Waste Report found that Australia’s recycling rate remained stagnant at 60%.
We could all use a bit of a zhuzh when it comes to reframing our environmentally friendly habits. While I think making your own soap is taking things a little too far, I think we can learn a few valuable lessons from ole Nonno Joe.
So I popped over to suss out some tips.
Everything Has A Use
Reusing stuff is an integral step in the recycling process — it helps us become more mindful about the amount of stuff we buy and just how much waste we actually put out into landfill, which unfortunately stays there to decompose for years on end, releasing nasty CO2 gasses into the atmosphere.
In the eyes of an old Italian, everything has a use. Throwing anything out is simply criminal. When my Nonna was alive, I don’t think we ever threw out an old pair of clothes — she’d re-sew them into pillowcases or tablecloths, and every little hole or tear was mended.
Nonno Joe takes reusing very seriously. First of all, no jar has ever been thrown out in his home. There are old jars that once carried tomato sauce everywhere — holding ground coffee, coins, pens, prescriptions, you name it.
One of the cutest things I noticed is how he reuses his pill bottles. He keeps his various tomato seeds that are yet to be planted in them. So not only does he lengthen the lifespan of these plastic pill bottles, but uses them to return the favour to Mother Nature by holding ‘lil tomato seeds that are yet to be planted in them. Adorable.
Composting Is Cool As Hell
Composting is basically nature’s way of recycling. It helps reduce greenhouse gasses, feeds the soil, encourages microbes to grow, and generally helps us create a more ‘circular’ environment.
I don’t know about you, but I’ll never forget when the biology teacher in Twilight yells, “Compost is cool!” when the gang are out on that field trip. I never believed the bloke until I noticed Nonno Joe’s old Peters Ice Cream tub (adorable) beside his sink. It’s filled with old coffee beans, food scraps and whatnot composting away, ready to be fed back into his big, beautiful garden as nutrients.
As a kid, he’d slice off any fruit skins we didn’t like (from apples, pears and kiwis) and throw them in the garden because they “helped the plants grow”. Of course, I also didn’t believe that was real, but I guess it’s a more direct way of composting too.
He Actually Recycles Properly
Lastly, the big one. He actually understands what can and cannot be recycled. And how to do it properly. First, he rinses his cans of diet Schweppes (adorable) before popping them in his separate bin. He’ll come over to our house on a Sunday to collect any leftover bottles of drink from the weekend we haven’t disposed of and takes them to a container refund drop off point. It’s convenient and kind and honestly reminded me how there’s no excuse for not disposing of my shame-pile of plastic water bottles in my room — especially given there are services like Containers For Change QLD that make things so bloody easy for us.
I noticed one glaring thing with all his habits — none of them are done with the intention of being ‘green’ or ‘environmentally friendly’. They’re all just good habits that have been baked into a daily routine for years, which is how I think we could all reframe things. We don’t have to make these grand gestures that eventually fall off because they’re hard to commit to. These recycling habits need to become part of our second nature, like brushing our teeth, not these major things that upheaval our lives.
They may not know how to figure out two-factor authentication, but our grandparents do have some wisdom to impart. So if you’re looking to get a few green skills, I would highly recommend calling your grannies and getting them to yap on about how they did things ‘back in their day’. Not only will you gain some old-school knowledge, but you’ll be crowned the favourite grandchild for putting in a call (which is always a great feeling).
If you’re keen to start recycling more efficiently, and pick up some extra dosh on the side for doing so, click here to find your local Containers for Change QLD.