Oily slope of best intentions

A decidedly unscientific experiment led to a moment of clarity: even the greenest of greenies can add to the pollution of our waters. Picture Mathieu Dasnois

A decidedly unscientific experiment led to a moment of clarity: even the greenest of greenies can add to the pollution of our waters. Picture Mathieu Dasnois

Published Jun 23, 2024


Durban — The road paved with good intentions has washed away.

Down the drain and into the sea, accompanied by the blood of self-flagellation and an oil slick that rivalled ExxonMobil’s worst.

Because every individual effort adds up, for many years, the couch house has been super attuned to saving water and electricity, and recycling, limiting or eliminating single-use plastics.

Wasteful, careless or ignorant humans and their contributions to damaging our fragile Earth have long been bewailed on the couch.

eThekwini used to have a wonderful “orange bag” programme until, like so much else in the city, it collapsed under incompetence and unanswered questions. The critical service to our planet deserves resurrection. Colleagues in Gauteng and Cape Town report that their authorities deliver this option to citizens, often with help from terribly undervalued waste-pickers.

To try to help the people who make a small living from plastic waste in our area, we have an informal recycling arrangement: our clean plastic and paper go in a separate bag so the pickers can just take the whole bag without having to dig through gross refuse. It works: while some on the area’s WhatsApp chat groups complain that the pickers leave a large mess, which is not removed by the refuse truck people, “our” pickers take the package.

We have frequently bemoaned the massive contribution made to plastic waste by the medical world, a particular bugbear considering the number of pharmaceuticals that cross our path twixt lip and landfill. These can’t all go in the recycle bag because the prescription labels carry sensitive “stealable” information, so they have to be placed in the dirty rubbish. Only someone with bad intent would rummage through yucky bits, and they deserve extra grubby hands.

Now that the couch’s green commitment is established, its sin will be exposed.

A few months ago, I lost my best hair conditioner because the makers changed the (plastic) bottle and it became inaccessible to arthritic hands. The quest for a replacement has been ongoing.

Last week, there was a decidedly unscientific experiment with a “hair food”; anything to get happy flowy locks again.

The directions and ingredients being in tiny print, I read that you should use a “small amount” and work it through. So I did, but obviously not a “small” enough amount.

The scale of the disaster became clear when it was rinse time. Not only did what turned out to be a petroleum jelly base not dissolve, the slick spread and stuck slimily everywhere.

Tried (a few times each) bath soap, shower gel and the contents of a squirt bottle of general purpose bathroom anti-scum stuff. Barely a dent.

And so much of the carefully rationed household water.

Unable to touch the greasy strands at all, another attempt was made using lemon-powered degreasing dishwashing liquid, plus a few more scrubs with the soap bar. And more water. It’s a bit better, but the ammonia cleanser is next up. Last chance before a Number 4.

The sin itself was that it struck me only midway through cursing the oil spill what I had just unleashed on Earth’s fragile water system. And had done unthinkingly for years with all the household cleaning chemical potions. Our clean and sparkling home ended up in dirt and toxic waterways somewhere. It was a shocking moment of clarity, of failure in our green contributions.

The lesson was how easy it is to wade off the road of good intentions and onto the path of planet pollution, and how a much greater effort must be made. The couch will do better because even small individual actions count.

Independent on Saturday