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Chapter 8: Luke Walker and the recycling
“Ha ha ha ha,” Luke laughed, “stop it! I’m nearly finished! Let me finish!”
Luke was sitting on the straw in Curly’s shed, trying to knit a blanket for Squirt.
Curly had given birth to Little Squirt a few days after she arrived at her new home and he was the most playful, affectionate little chap Luke had ever met. Curly hadn’t let Luke come near him at first but after a while she let Squirt go to him.
“Hey! I nearly dropped another stitch! Ok, that’s it! I’m putting it away. I’ll have to finish it at home.”
Luke preferred to do his knitting in the shed on his plot because at home Jared teased him for it. He had laughed when Luke first asked Nan to teach him.
“Knitting? That’s what girls do! You wish you were a girl don’t you Luke?”
“It’s jus’ like makin’ knots at Scouts Jared! Don’t you make knots at Scouts?”
“Yeah – knots are useful, for camping and sailing and stuff boys do.”
“And knittin’ is turnin’ string into material to make blankets or mats or clothes or tents or anythin’!”
He believed an outlaw should have the skills to make his own things and be self-sufficient. Knitting was a useful skill. Nan had been very happy to teach him.
Luke put the half-made blanket back in his bag and played with Squirt until it was time to go home for tea. He had to be home promptly today because it was Mum’s shopping night and he needed to go with her for his school project.
This half term’s topic was The Environment and Mrs Tebbut had started by talking to them about rubbish, waste and plastic pollution. This was of great interest to Luke.
On the board she wrote:
Reduce, Re-use, Recycle
“This week we are going to think about how we can reduce waste by the simple choices we make in our lives,” she began. “Although the amount of rubbish being recycled in this country has increased in recent years, the amount being sent to landfill is also on the increase. In England, we only recycle about 44% of household waste when in fact 80% of it is recyclable. This means we all need to try a little bit harder.”
“Or a lot harder,” Luke mouthed to Joe.
“So today I’m going to tell you about The Three Rs: Reduce, Re-use, Recycle. Have any of you heard of this before?”
Lots of blank faces and shaking of heads.
“Ok, well the idea is that, although recycling is very important, we should first try to reduce the amount of stuff we buy in the first place by holding on to the stuff we’ve already got for as long as possible – taking care of it and getting it repaired instead of throwing it away.
“Then, once we have really worn out our stuff and it can’t be repaired anymore, before we throw it out for recycling we should try to think of ways to reuse it. Old clothes, for example, could be turned into cleaning rags.
“And finally, when we can no longer find a use for something, we should recycle it.”
“Interesting,” thought Luke.
Mrs Tebbut continued.
“Now can anybody think of ways in which we could reduce our waste in the first place?”
Several hands shot up.
“Draw on both sides of the paper.”
“Very good. Yes, Katia.”
“Stick a note on your door that says ‘no junk mail’.”
“Good thinking. Yes, Simon.”
“Get your shoes re-soled instead of buying new ones.”
“Ooh, yes, well done Simon. Repair things instead of throwing them out. Good one. Ok, well done, you’re all thinking now. What about the choices we make when we buy things like food. We have to buy food, but how can we reduce waste before we even get it home?”
The class went quiet again. Everyone was thinking but they weren’t quite sure what she was after.
“I’m thinking packaging here,” she explained, “we eat the food but we throw away the packaging. How can we reduce that waste?”
“Buy food with recyclable packaging!” Butler shouted out.
“Yes, if we must, but what would be even better?”
Joe’s eyes suddenly lit up and he opened his mouth as if to speak but didn’t. Mrs Tebbut noticed.
“Joe? Did you want to say something?”
“Buy stuff without packaging,” he said quietly.
There were a few snickers.
“How ya gonna do that? Everything comes in packets!” someone scoffed.
Joe went red and looked down at his hands. Mrs Tebbut frowned.
“Quiet! Pay attention to Joe, he’s got the right idea!” She turned to Joe, “well done, that’s exactly what I was looking for. We need to avoid the waste coming into our homes in the first place by choosing things with the least amount of packaging, and even no packaging when possible. Kenny – see me at the end of class!”
Mrs Tebbut went on to explain their class project: a week on Friday they would all make a presentation to the class in which they would explain how they had reduced waste in their household. As visual aids they were to bring with them everything being thrown away in their house that week (after it had been cleaned if necessary) and tell the class where that rubbish was headed: recycling or landfill. She gave them printouts which told them all about recycling.
After tea on shopping night, Luke was rummaging through the kitchen drawers.
“Come on Luke if you want to come, I want to get this over with,” said Mum.
She hated shopping.
“I’m coming …” said Luke, but didn’t.
“What are you looking for?” asked Mum.
“The shopping bags. I thought they were in here.”
“So did I. Oh, I don’t know. I think I put them in the wash. I don’t know where they are now. Never mind, just leave it. Let’s go!”
“Hang on!” said Luke and he rushed upstairs.
Mum picked up the car keys and headed for the door.
“If you don’t come now Luke, I’m going without you!” And she went outside.
Just before she released the handbrake Luke opened the passenger door and climbed in.
“What are you doing with those?” Mum asked with alarm as she looked at a large crumpled pile of flower-print and cartoon superhero pillowcases on his lap.
“Bags,” he said, “we need reusable bags.”
Mum inhaled deeply, checked the mirror and reversed out of the drive.
At Besco’s Luke watched her closely with his project in mind. To Mum it seemed like every time she reached for something he said,
“No! Not that. Get this one!”
She found it very trying but at the same time was impressed with her son’s commitment to the project and didn’t want to curb his enthusiasm for anything school-related. She bit her tongue and cooperated with most his suggestions.
At the checkout, when the lady asked if she’d like any bags, Luke spoke out before she could answer in the affirmative.
“No thanks. It’s very bad to get plastic bags. They make pollution. You should ban ’em.” Then he put his pile of pillowcases onto the end of the checkout and started filling one with loose vegetables. Mum flashed the checkout lady an embarrassed smile and said,
When the day came for the presentations to the class, Luke, because his surname began with W, was one of the last to present. His peers were getting restless. They had already sat through twenty seven similar presentations in which they were shown similar empty packets, cartons and bottles being thrown out that week by each family. Those to be recycled included cereal boxes with their internal plastic bags, plastic milk bottles, plastic ketchup bottles, plastic shampoo bottles, Tetra Paks, glass wine bottles, beer bottles, plastic pop bottles, drink cans, food tins and the like. Those to go to landfill included toothpaste tubes, toothbrushes, brillo pads, polystyrene food trays, plastic straws and crisp packets. Mrs Tebbut herself was having trouble staying awake at this stage and decided that next year she would get the class to work on a single collective presentation for a school assembly.
Luke waited for Susan Vickers to take her family’s waste off the presentation table and then he walked to the front and stood awkwardly facing his class.
“Ok Luke, how have you reduced waste in your household this week?” asked Mrs Tebbut.
Luke reached into his bag and put onto the table three paper bags, one glass 1 litre bottle and two empty baked beans tins. He looked at the class and spoke loudly to conceal his nervousness.
“This is my waste for this week. The yellow and blue paper bag what had oats in will be recycled; the brown paper bread bags will go on the compost; the bottle and the baked beans tins will be recycled.”
Relieved that it was over he waited for Mrs Tebbut to tell him to stand down. She didn’t.
“That can’t be all,” she said, “I told you to show the class how much waste your household had produced and how you’d helped to reduce it.”
“This is all your family’s waste for a whole week?”
“This is the reduced waste what I made ’em reduce. I don’t think it’s fair to include the things I told ’em not to buy. They’re not my fault.”
“Luke, that wasn’t the project. You’ve misunderstood.”
“I’ve done it fair. It’s not fair to say I dint do well makin’ my family’s waste smaller if my family won’t do what I tell ’em. It’s on’y fair to see what waste was made from choices I made ’em make.”
Mrs Tebbut couldn’t argue with that.
“Explain. How is this the only waste you personally made this week?”
“I told my mum not to buy the vegetables an’ fruit in plastic bags an’ nets an’ trays ’cause we don’t need ’em, we just throw ’em away as soon as we get home. So I jus’ put it all loose in the trolley; I laid it on top of a soft bag so it dint get bruises, and then I put it in our own bags when we paid for it.”
The fact that the bags to which he referred were actually pillowcases was an irrelevant detail unnecessary to divulge.
“Ok, good, loose fruit and veg – no need for packaging. What else?”
“I told Mum to get the loose lentils and raisins that you can weigh, instead of the ones in packets, and we put it in our bags we took with us what we can re-use.”
He paused, waiting for her to acknowledge receipt of this information.
“Go on,” she urged.
“I told Mum to get me the porridge oats what comes in jus’ a paper bag instead of cereal what’s in boxes and plastic bags. An’ we got flour an’ sugar in paper bags an’ bread in paper bags instead of plastic; an’ peanut butter in a glass jar with a metal lid; an’ vinegar an’ ketchup an’ apple juice an’ sunflower oil in glass bottles with metal lids – but we ‘aven’t finished all of ’em so I on’y brought the juice bottle today – an’ two tins of beans. That’s everythin’ I ate an’ I made my Mum choose glass an’ tins because they can be recycled over an’ over forever an’ ever, back into bottles an’ food tins, but plastic is bad an’ can on’y be cycled to things like plastic bricks an’ stuff that can’t be recycled in the end.”
Mrs Tebbut was lost for words. He had read the printouts. He had done the work. Impressively. She looked at the three paper bags, one glass bottle and two baked beans tins and was amazed at how simple it could actually be.
“Well done Luke,” she said, “very well done indeed.”
At the end of the day when everyone else was going to get their coats, Mrs Tebbut called Luke to her desk.
“Good work today Luke,” she said, “is this something you’ve been concerned about for a while? I mean before we started our project?”
Luke was unused to his teacher’s friendly voice being directed at him but he saw no harm in indulging her.
“Yeah. Since I saw Spiker caught in the plastic rings an’ all the litter what hurts the animals. An’ since so many people are jus’ stupid to keep droppin’ the litter I thought the best thing to do is to make shops stop sellin’ it, then there’d be nothin’ to drop, ‘cept maybe paper bags but that won’t hurt no one and it won’t last long. So I’m teachin’ my Mum not to buy things with plastic.”
“Well, Luke, that’s wonderful, I’m very impre….”
“An’ I’m makin’ new things out of old things as well,” being impressive was new to Luke – he couldn’t stop now, “so I’m recyclin’ ’em myself and I’m reducin’ the buyin’ of new things ’cause of fixin’ things and makin’ new ones out of old ones.”
Mrs Tebbut smiled.
“Really? What are you making?”
“At the moment,” he said proudly, “I’m knittin’ a blanket for my pet lamb to keep ‘im warm on chilly nights.”
“Wonderful! And are you using recycled yarn from an unravelled jumper?”
“Kind of, but no, not yarn. Strips of material.”
She looked confused so he tried to explain.
“I got the idea from me Nan’s magazine ’bout makin’ rag rugs by cuttin’ old material into strips an’ knottin’ ’em together to make long long strings of it an’ then knittin’ with it. It’ll make a thick, soft blanket for Squirt to sleep on.”
“Fantastic! What material are you using? What are you cutting up?”
Luke was glad she asked because he’d put a lot of thought into that decision. He answered with the quiet confidence of a wise person enlightening a complete beginner.
“I decided the warmest stuff would be what blankets are made of and I found two big blankets in the airing cupboard what nobody was usin’ so I used ’em. I’m nearly finished now.”
Mrs Tebbut smiled again.
“You’ve got a good heart Luke,” she said, “off you go. Have a nice weekend, I’ll see you Monday.”
Luke, almost overwhelmed by the unfamiliar sensation of being approved of, went to get his coat.
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