The time for saving and the time for throwing away (Ecclesiastes 3:6b)

Eighteen months ago, we travelled to Lake Toba in Sumatra, Indonesia. I had stayed in the same area in 1981 so was keen to revisit. Back then I fell in love with the people and the place and thought, “This is what heaven will be like”. The scenery is spectacular from the plains of Medan through the four-hour drive into the mountains and across the seemingly bottomless volcanic crater lake.


There are aspects of the place that remain the same as my first visit. We stayed in the same hotel complex on Samosir Island though the Batak-style room, I’d stayed in last time, is now being used as a home for “chooks”. This time, we went for a walk on the main road, new since last visit. There are still very few roads and they’re shared by chooks, cats, dogs, people, buses, trucks, motorcycles and the very occasional tourist.

We marvelled at the home gardens which each had a cacao tree, fruit and vegetables growing out of every crack in the pavement, and very friendly dogs. Corn, coffee, chocolate and other foods we didn’t recognise lay drying in the sun. Every spot was used for something constructive – even if it was for the children to play.

As we wandered along, we saw a solitary water buffalo in a lush green field. I smiled, remembering my trip last time. And then, in the next field, we came across a pig, wading in a lake of … plastic.

I felt ashamed, as a “westerner”, to have introduced such a material to this beautiful country, that will hang around for decades with nowhere for it to go. In my public health studies, I learnt about how rubbish is one of the world’s biggest health issues – that even prior to the development of antibiotics, once rubbish had a place to go and was separated from sources of food and drink, disease was much lessened. We have that knowledge, yet we’ve created more rubbish, not less, since the development of plastic.

On my shelf at home, I have a yet-to-be-finished book, titled Where my underpants come from, in which the author traces the source of his everyday jocks. I haven’t finished reading it yet because of the sense of helplessness I felt in reading it. This is not the creation that God called “good”. Nor did God, in placing humans as stewards of the world, give us the task of destroying it. Instead, our short-sightedness, intention to out-do previous generations and, most of all, the sin of greed are destroying the beautiful planet God has placed us into.

I was worried that, in writing this, I’d overwhelm people into the same sense of hopelessness I felt. So, I asked a couple of experts who’ve worked in the area of waste management.

“What should I tell them?” I asked. “It’s such a big topic!”

“Tell them the difference between biodegradable (i.e. bad – because it breaks down into micro-plastics) and compostable (good – because it breaks down into soil).”

“Tell them to be aware of what they buy. Does it need to be wrapped in plastic? Where will it ultimately end up?”

They put me on high alert in the supermarket. Why are organic bananas wrapped in plastic? And also, on my trip to buy clothes. Apparently clothing/material is one of the largest contributors to landfill. Must I have another outfit? Can I recycle by checking out the Op-shops?

What else can I do? I looked at the small things we do at home:

  • keeping a small flip-top bin on the kitchen bench for food scraps that go into our compost heap or the Council’s green bin, keeping a recycling bin under the sink next to our small “normal” bin;
  • buying less and buying local; (Ask the questions: Do I need it? Will it last? How is it made? Is it serviceable? What is the end product? Will it go to landfill or be able to be reused or recycled? Were toxic chemicals used in its construction?)
  • Reducing water usage and having solar panels;
  • Walking instead of driving; and
  • trying to live by the adage apparently from World War II: Use it up, wear it out, make do or do without.

On my most recent shopping trip, I went to my usual spot in the carpark. There was only one car parked in the row, but it was parked right on the line where I wanted to park. So, I parked a little further to the right and encroached upon the space next to my space. Of course, when I returned later to my car, there was a whole row of cars that had nudged further and further into the next parking spaces. Who says that making a little shift doesn’t result in a big movement? It encouraged me that my little bit to contribute to caring for the environment is worthwhile.

Ecclesiastes 3 says: There is a time for everything. It seems to me that our environment, our planet, and that little pig in a lake of plastic are all telling us that the time for each of us to do our little bit is now.

About the Author

Julie Hahn

Julie Hahn is a writer, wife of a Medical Research Scientist, volunteer, mum, and mum-in-law of five thriving young adults, a quilter, and a rock-painter. She likes to do her little bit to encourage others. She is former columnist of ‘Heart and Home’ in The Lutheran and is currently working on several non-fiction and fictitious books. Julie worships and serves with The Ark Lutheran Church in Salisbury.

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