There’s a section of society (which, if you’re visiting a website like this one, probably includes you) that has known for many years how important it is to reduce the amount of waste we produce. Just lately though, I’m starting to feel like it might actually be taking root in the wider public consciousness.
I’ve been doing a bit of spring cleaning recently; clearing out a garage, moving the junk left on my allotment by the last tenant, that sort of thing. It used to be the case that you would take the fruits of such a task to the local tip, where it may or may not be recycled. These days however, I’ve discovered most ‘rubbish’ will be collected free of charge and taken to a new home. The Freecycle website is a wonderful tool in this regard – just post details of anything you no longer require (for example, Offered: 30 old copies of National Geographic) and you will probably have a number of people keen to collect. Even broken furniture will be snapped up by someone with a wood burner. What’s more, I have twice left a pile of faulty electrical items and scrap metal in public view (waiting to be loaded into the car) only to have them eagerly removed by enterprising (if slightly scruffy) chaps in a (more than slightly scruffy) white Transit. The value of scrap is clearly making their daily circuits of residential streets worthwhile. Interestingly, they declined my offer of two rather nice wooden chairs. Either they like to stick to their niche or they know that there is more embodied energy (and thus value) in a broken hi-fi than a hand-crafted chair.
Perhaps a less personal indicator of this ‘zeitgeist’ is that most of the supermarkets have taken the long-overdue step of keeping plastic bags under the counter until you ask for them. Just by repeatedly reminding us of the issue they are clearly having an effect on our habits.
Of course before we Recycle, we should be aiming to Reduce and Reuse (in other words, buy less stuff and try not to throw it away!) but there are very few products that cannot be saved by one of those three ‘R’s. The question is, with many decades of reckless consumerism behind us and a potentially lean time ahead, how soon will we stop filling landfill sites and begin to mine them for their wealth?!