A DISPOSABLE WORLD
How wasteful we have become while growing wealthier. You only have to look at your dustbin. For a start it is isn’t a bin any longer; a simple galvanised iron container that the binman would carry to the bin lorry has been replaced by a large wheelie bin. When I was a lad most bins were full of ash from the fire, with only a few crushed baked bean cans. There was no plastic packaging or mountains of food waste. Most vegetables were bought unwrapped, and were simply placed in your wicker shopping basket with your other purchases. Bottles were made of glass and were returned when empty to the shop that sold them, or left out on the doorstep for the milkman to collect.
If you go back a few years before I was born there was no dustbin collection in the countryside. Any coal ash was used to make up the garden paths and old cans could be washed out and used for keeping screws and nails in. There weren’t that many cans anyway – a tin of fruit cocktail was big treat, and would be kept for Sunday afternoon tea once in a blue moon. Old newspapers, if the family budget ran to such things, were useful for wrapping things up and lighting the fire.
Recently we have been encouraged to recycle more of our rubbish, and we have been discouraged from using plastic carrier bags by having to pay for them, but even recycling has a cost. Tin cans and plastic have to be melted down, and food waste is collected and taken away for composting. This all involves expense. In the past we used not to waste much food; left-overs were served up for tea; potato peelings were buried in the garden and any lamb bones were devoured by the dog. Occasionally a crust of bread went stale, when it was fed to the birds. Now I have heard that mouldy bread is bad for birds, which is absolutely ridiculous. Pecking about for scraps is how birds live – not by being served up with fresh bread from the baker.
This wasteful attitude reaches to almost everything we buy. The cheap clothing produced by impoverished workers in the third world is worn once or twice by the British consumer and then thrown away. Perhaps it isn’t even washed once. This lifestyle is very bad for us, but it has its advantages for the Bangladeshi sweatshop workers; if we stopped buying their clothes, what would they live on then? They don’t do very well out of me I am afraid; I am still wearing shirts I bought over twenty years ago, when they were probably made in the mill towns of Northern England.
Or take wood-working tools; I used to sharpen my saws, using a file and special pliers to set the teeth. It was a long process, but it was worth it because a hand saw was a very expensive piece of kit. Similarly I would sharpen chisels and planes. Files could not be sharpened, but the teeth could be cleaned with acid. Nowadays you just throw out any tools that have become blunt. The world of carpentry has changed greatly over the years. My grandfather was a carpenter, and I have heard that he used to take the nails out of old lengths of wood to reuse the planks. Not only that, if the nails were not too bent he would straighten them with a hammer and reuse them too! It was not a throw-away world for most of the last century, far from it.
The most wasteful habit that many of the poorest in our society have fallen into is DEBT. There were always pawnbrokers, but the interest they charged was relatively benign, and if you couldn’t pay you merely abandoned your trinket to be sold. Now we have payday loans with usurious rates of interest. This pernicious way of life has been encouraged by economists from a theoretic point of view; debt encourages growth they tell us. But to my mind there is the world of difference between business debt and personal debt, but I have never seen this fact recognised. Businesses can’t operate without borrowing, but the money is used to produce a profit. This kind of debt really does promote growth. With personal debt this is not the case; rather than producing a return for the borrower, it only produces money for the lender. It drives the impoverished debtor into yet more debt. It may take the waiting out of wanting, but at a huge cost.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF WASTE