‘Twas the week after Christmas, and our bin was all crammed,
With prawn shells a’ ponging, and left over ham,
The recycling bin was full of tamped down cardboard,
So on the night before bin day, I snuck our rubbish next door.’
with sincerest apologies to Clement Clark Moore.
As I struggled up our steep driveway with the wheelie bins, I pondered how a modern family of five can create so much rubbish in the space of a week. Depositing the bins on the footpath, I checked myself for possible rupture, then had a bit of a paw through our rubbish. Much of it consisted of many tonnes of packaging, plastic, paper and a light sprinkling of beer cans. A quick check of my neighbours’ bins revealed much the same. The contents of our combined bins contained enough material to supply the building needs of a small shanty town.
As a kid, there were five of us living in a tiny three bedroom house and we used to get by quite easily with two small, galvanised bins. But then, not everything went into the bins. Meat scraps went to the dog, cat or budgie. Fruit and veg scraps went to the chooks, and a fair bit of rubbish went into the incinerator. Nearly every household had a rusty 44 gallon drum sitting in the far corner of the backyard, which also doubled as a crab cooker, and the burning of our household rubbish was one of my happiest childhood chores. Just before sunset every afternoon, the skies over Gladstone resembled a scene reminiscent of London during the Industrial Revolution, with plumes of black smoke floating heavenward as my brother and I eagerly did our bit to widen the hole in the ozone layer.
Being the eldest, I got to hold the matches and light the fire, while my brother piled on the rubbish. Sometimes we’d experiment with different flammable materials to see what would happen. Mostly what happened was routine singeing of our arm hair and eyebrows. Dad kept a wary eye on us through the kitchen window, and sternly warned us on many occasions that we were never to place petrol, oil, tins of fly spray, anything living, or any of our sister’s dolls, onto the fire.
And being good lads we followed his word to the letter, and I want the record to show that it wasn’t three tins of fly spray I tossed onto the fire one fateful afternoon, it was ironing spray. Not much happened for ages, then the first can popped showering my brother and me with sparks. We dived behind the lemon tree as the second can blew, flinging the rim of the drum over the back fence. When the third can exploded, the drum literally evaporated. Several stunned neighbours helped put out the resulting fires, then hung around to see me get demoted from the rank of Fire Lighter (1st class), to Bin Boy (2nd class). It was a fairly quick ceremony; Dad snatched the matches from my hand, then drummed me off the fire lighting squad with several boots to the backside.
The devastated incinerator was quickly replaced, but law changes soon made it redundant. Nowadays the afternoon sky is much clearer, and laundry hanging on suburban lines no longer reeks of smoke, or gets covered in long strands of sooty ash. And as an added bonus, parents no longer have to worry about their idiot boys conducting experiments with flammable materials. I assume our Firies are also resting much easier as well.
The price we’re paying though, is a lot more rubbish in our bins and the associated risk of hernia as we drag them to the footpath each week, but it’s a lot safer, and much more environmentally friendly than using an incinerator to lighten the load; I’ll give you the drum.