Thursday, November 06, 2008

The mounting mountain of waste

Thousands of tons of waste collected for recycling is piling up in storage because nobody wants it.

Collection companies and councils are running out of space to store paper, plastic bottles and steel cans because prices are so low that the materials cannot be shifted.

Things are so bad they are considering changing the storage rules so that they can store the rubbish in warehouses and disused military bases. At least they'll have plenty to choose from. It's also kind of ironic that these bases are considered unfit for housing criminals, but are OK to store rubbish in and were OK for our soldiers, sailors and airmen to live in. What does that tell you about the regard our politicians have for our military personnel?

I'm not keen on this whole recycling thing to be honest. I have nothing against it on principle, but I do object to being forced to do it on pain of punishment. If there was a genuine demand for it then the market would find a way.

Indeed, it used to back in my day. I'm sure my street wasn't the only one that had a rag and bone man tour weekly. I actually remember being told to sit outside the front of our house as a young kid to "keep an eye out" for the rag and bone man. He would come round each Wednesday leading his horse and cart and I don't think he ever refused to take anything away - even tatty old water damaged carpet.

Mind you, we didn't waste much in those days. Clothes would be passed down from sibling to sibling until, when they finally couldn't stand one more wash, they were cut up into rags for dusting, polishing, cleaning or even patching.

There was little food waste either. Most families didn't have freezers and most mums didn't work. So food was bought each day to be used that day. The question of "use by" dates didn't arise because most food was bought fresh and eaten on the day it was purchased - and as most communities had a local high street where one could buy the daily essentials, this was never an onerous task.

Far from it as far as my mum was concerned - it was part of her social life. I frequently hear young women today complain that they couldn't bear to be a stay at home mum cooped up all day with the kids, but it wasn't really like that back then. As a young mum, my mother would get my brothers off to school then walk up the high street with me in a pushchair where she'd bump into lots of other young mums who would become lifelong friends. It was part of what made the community we lived in so strong.

When it came to major goods - TVs, washing machines, fridges - we bought new things only when the old ones broke down and were no longer repairable. My mother only just recently replaced the colour TV my dad bought in the seventies - and only then because of the digital switchover. The TV still worked perfectly. I know people younger than that TV who change their set virtually every year!

The other thing today is packaging. As I mentioned, most food was bought fresh so wasn't packaged at all. These days virtually everything comes in a carton, wrapped in plastic or in a box. Perhaps the worst of all is the plastic packs designed, so I'm told, to discourage pilfering. Mrs Stan bought a memory stick for a digital camera the other day - a tiny thing little bigger than a postage stamp, but it came in a plastic pack about the same size as a paperback novel!

I don't suppose anyone cares really anymore. You can't tell anyone that things really were better in the old days because it doesn't fit the post-modern narrative - but they really were.

Personally, I see the mounting mountain of rubbish as a metaphor for the post-modern society. Full of liberal progressive good intentions but ultimately it just creates more garbage for society to have to deal with.

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