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Dawn of The Ordinary Hero

Before Madiba became the father of the nation, he was an ordinary kid growing up in the Transkei, an every-day undergraduate, a first-time activist. Every (super)hero has to start somewhere, with the smallest act of justice. This month our intrepid science writer dons some lycra and dares to separate out the kitchen waste. Leonie Joubert is… Waste Girl!

I’ve always hated recycling. It’s a bloody schlep. First, there’s half a Saturday lost to the shopping trip to pick up four bins (for plastic, glass, paper, tin) and compost bucket (which retails for a staggering R500 at my local garden shop), then the search for physical space to put them, and, which is no easier to find, the head space to actually think before binning something. On top of all of that, there’s the weekly trip to the recycling depot.

I’ve made half-hearted attempts over the years: reusing jars, keeping newspapers for window cleaning or packing breakables, that kind of thing. I’ve never recycled properly.

But the uncomfortable fact is that if we’re consumers, and enjoy that rush that goes with buying and using up new things, then the road to the Consumer High inevitably dips into the Valley of Waste. It’s great eating the meal, but who really likes doing the washing up? I love tearing the wrapping of the present, but who wants to clean up the lounge after the party?

That’s what recycling is – it’s thinking about and taking responsibility for the Dark Side of Consumer Habits.

This month, my bad waste habits change. I might do it reluctantly, but I’ll do it. And it’s all thanks to WWF (the environmental guys, not the wrestlers) who reminded me that even slothful old me can be a hero.

Faced with the often overwhelmingly bleak landscape of multiple environmental crises these days, the organisation has taken a refreshingly lighter tone with its new Be The Hero campaign, launched around World Environment Day in June. It’s aimed at ordinary folk – you and me, the average consumer – and gives a bucket-load of ideas about how each of us can reduce our environmental footprint: switch off the lights when you leave the room; shower instead of bath; shun bottled water (it takes 3 litres of water to produce 1 litre of bottled water!); don’t leave the tap running while you’re brushing your teeth (you could waste 9 litres of water each time you brush). Have a look at www.panda.org.za/hero for the simplest suggestions on how to start fixing the mess we’re in, one heroic act at a time.

After six years of writing about some of the most depressing aspects of environmental crisis, I often feel so jaded and overwhelmed that I don’t believe I can make a difference. Much to my surprise, WWF has given me a shake up.

So, if I have to pick out my own superhero persona, I’d probably choose to wear second-hand lycra, decorated with discarded bottle tops; and my Recycle-mobile would be a hybrid. Hopefully, though, Waste Girl won’t smell like a five day old wheelie bin.