The disposable world

Electronic refuse at the local tip

Electronic refuse at the local tip

I remember a day when colour TVs were a luxury that not everybody could afford (granted, there are people who remember when TVs themselves were that kind of unaffordable luxury, but I’m not among them). I remember watching Sesame Street in black and white in 1979 when all of a sudden white smoke started coming out of the black box…into my white lounge room…and a week or so later we had an enormous colour television wrapped in brown laminate, standing on little brown legs in the corner of our lounge room. Full. Glorious. Colour!

I remember walking into a big electrical retailer a few years ago and marveling at the size and scope and sheer range of the beautiful big TVs for sale in there. All of them big, silver and shiny and much, much more fancy than ours. Yet all of them now are here, like in the photo, outside in a row of giant and overflowing skip bins.

This was taken at my local tip a few weeks ago. There are three more tips that I know of in my small city, and there are probably a number more that I’ve never needed to know about as well. I imagine they all have overflowing bins like these. Our tip has a large recycling shop too, including a electronics recycling store (drop it off, fix it up, ship it out). I dropped my microwave off there after it decided to downgrade from full-time work to part-time. There was a sign out the front saying “no more TVs”. So the rest, presumably, are on the tip face itself with all the potato peelings, take-away containers and disposable nappies.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am guilty here too. Our old TV is possibly buried at the bottom of one of those skip bins, and dirty nappies from my three babies are buried up there on the tip-face where they’ll sit for the rest of eternity. I’m not proud of that, but I did what I needed to stay sane and live my life as best I could at the time. And not only that, manufacturers are promoting this too. I could have taken my microwave to the electronics repair place, yes. I didn’t think of it until today. I could afford to buy a new one, so I did.

What makes me sad though is that in all the consumer reviews I read on the best microwaves, every consumer said that they got three years use out of them at most.

I’m not writing this to try and change the world. I can’t. I just wanted to say something, to acknowledge a dirty capitalist truth: we think we live in a disposable world. I wish we didn’t think that.

My next-door neighbour has an old fridge in her garage. I was helping her move it the other day, and asked her if it still worked. She said yes, it just needed to be re-gassed. “It was a good fridge”, she said. “Nobody would want it now, though”. And she’s right. In a few weeks it’ll be on the white-goods pile on the tip-face, a white-mountain monument to our desire for new and shiny and better.

I’ve been pricing new fridges and freezers too. Both of ours are second-hand. The vegetable compartment of our fridge has a chunk of plastic missing, and the freezer is probably thirty years old, with funny brown rust-marks on the door. I’ll advertise them in the local flea market, because they’re still decent enough appliances. I may sell them to some university student too impoverished to shop at Harvey Norman. They may use them, then graduate and move. I hope they’ll sell them on, or give them away. I have to live in hope. It anaesthatises my brain from the reality that my fridge shopping is a few steps down the road from adding to the mountain at the tip.

What about you? Do you struggle to throw things away? Are you a super-recycler, or a must-have-the-newest-thing person? Or, like me, are you somewhere in between, a foot in both camps, wanting the newest, latest, prettiest, but struggling to let go of the old? Do tell!

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17 thoughts on “The disposable world

  1. I’m there too. All those teles on the tip. And most of them in perfect working order. The consumer in us all keeps looking for more.
    My microwave is 3, maybe four years old and still works a treat. It is not going anywhere soon. My fridge is nearly ten years old but I still love it, more so because after all those years we finally bought a new one. (And it has travelled round QLD and then to Tas with us) Then, there are some things we have that are still second hand. Priorities.

    • Yeah, priorities is right. I bought my new microwave from a big appliance shop with all these beautiful coloured kettles and things on display and, just out of curiosity, I asked the lady who served me whether she found it hard not to upgrade her appliances every time a new range came out. She said it was very hard not to, and she’d actually been sorely tempted by a new one just a few months ago because it was so pretty. I felt for her.
      My microwave lasted five years. The one I bought is the same brand that we had when I was young – lasted about 20 🙂
      I’m very impressed that you lugged your fridge everywhere with you. It’s done well. As have you!!

      • Thanks. We only got a new microwave – so hard to pick which one too – after two teenage boys decided to experiment with eggs and literally blew the door off, plus there was smoke coming from places it shouldn’t have. That fridge is my dream. I grew up it buying new things til the old ones fell apart, and I still do that with a lot of things even now. Not a bad way to do it, we only upgraded to a flat screen tele 6 months ago.

  2. If it works, why throw it out? Also how much does actual recycling dispose of safely? Any how the global finance machine is rapidly making a nonesense of ‘get it new and get it now’
    Thanks for a post to make me think.

    • Yes, if it works WHY throw it out? I think most people, when they upgrade, take the old to a place like our tip shop, or an op-shop (charity shop) with the presumption that because it still works someone will want it. What they don’t realise is that EVERYBODY is buying new flat-screen digital large, and nobody actually does want the old any more. This may be the reason the tip shop people chose to display all those old TVs in a public way like that. We need to be reminded.

  3. I would love to have the shiny new stuff, just once. So far, we have only been able to afford those second hand, rust stained appliances that you spoke of. Sigh. One day.

  4. Since I live toward the lower end of the socio-economic food chain I’m in the habit of using things like appliances until they drop before I replace them. When I was a kid we had a little B/W TV that was dropped repeatedly and even flooded once yet kept soldiering on for over 20 years before it was given away to someone outside of the family who continued to use it; today’s TVs probably only have a functional life of 5-10 years. That is really at the core of the central problem with an economy based on consumerism, and that is that the manufacturers no longer pride themselves on products that will stand the test of time. Instead they build things cheaply secure in the knowledge that when it gives out in a few years they will have the chance of selling another one. This is similar to the drive to come out with new and updated models every other year, just look at cell phones! Volkswagen built the same basic car for nearly thirty years with just minor mechanical improvements and esthetic changes and they were good dependable vehicles. Today it seems that most people think that unless they get a new car every other year, which was once considered a sign of blatant excess, then they just aren’t with it. I fear that the consumerist mindset is too deeply ingrained in our society to be rooted out easily, and as long as people choose to remain good consumers those tip bins will remain full.

    • You’re right about the economy based on consumerism, and it saddens me dreadfully. I hate hate hate throwing things out that still work.
      Here’s another question (don’t know if you, or anyone else reading this will know the answer, but I’ll put it out there anyway), what were global economies based on back when things still cost lots of money and lasted for twenty or thirty years? Was it just that not everybody had everything yet so there was still a steady stream of purchases?
      So much to think about. Thanks for the food for thought.

  5. When in danger or in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout…oh, wait. Wrong adage.

    Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.

    That’s better.

    We don’t really care about the ‘newest and bluest’ in electronic devices, etc., because they have features we really don’t need – our lives are centered around activities whose technological maturity was reached in the 1940s (I restore airplanes and write, and my wife does black and white landscape photography – with a large-format camera and film – when not working as an accountant. And we care for a large number of otherwise unwanted dogs.))

    Yes, we use computers, but they are ancillary to their function – they don’t define or justify it. So…we change things when they literally wear out, and not before.

    • Yes, features we don’t really need…and so many people convince themselves that they do, and pay hundreds of dollars extra to purchase, and don’t use. Hmmm.

  6. One foot on each side, constantly.

    I work for an environmental organization, but sometimes I forget or fail to make the most Earth-friendly choices (it took me a few weeks to realize that I should bring in a spoon in addition to my mug so I wouldn’t waste plasticware at work daily). Sometimes the decisions are money-based, sometimes they’re not decisions at all, just forgetfulness.

    Anytime I start feeling too guilty, I make time to upcycle something or create a carbon handprint (http://www.carbonhandprint.org/).

    • I’m one foot in both camps as well, and sometimes that can be really debilitating. I’ve been trying to do some good ruthless purging in my house after years of not having the brain space or the time (small children, no money) to do so. There are toys and old things that are broken or have pieces missing and what I really want to do is throw them in the rubbish…and what I really want to do is keep them until the missing pieces turn up so I can take them to the op-shop or give them to a good home. See my dilemma?
      I do both. But putting things in the rubbish still pains me.

  7. Um, we haven’t owned a microwave for years, or a clothes dryer. We have never owned a television, radio, or dishwasher. I do love my gas stove, fridge, and washer and I have a vitamix and a on my someday-list. I think everybody has their things that matter and things that don’t when it comes to disposables and each are unique.

    My pet peeve are those job-specific appliances that take up cupboard/counter space and do one single tiny job. Egg boilers, veggie steamers, quesadilla makers, rice cookers, and that queen of them all: hot dog makers with the bun toasters on the side. (My hatred of cleaning perhaps contributes to this dislike. If I must wipe or dust, at least give me an empty surface on which to do so.)

    I like your random topics these days.

    • You’re right my friend. We are all unique in that sense of what we do and don’t expect from our lives, mostly due to our family/community of origin. I’m not sure I said this on the blog recently or not, but we’re getting a new, updated kitchen put in soon. Fairly basic still, but a major upgrade from what we’ve got. I’m super-SUPER excited. We’ve lived here for seven years and it’s been fine, but it’s time for change. The most interesting thing though has been a comment from a friend, “you’re a saint for putting up with it for as long as you have!” A saint? Hardly. But her experience (and therefore her expectation) is bells-and-whistles-and-everything-shiny-new kitchens, which mine is far from. We expect what we’ve always had.
      However, there will be NO egg boilers/rice cookers/hot-dog makers/doughnut cookers/deep fryers/individual cupcake cookers in my new kitchen. Not when I have perfectly good saucepans!

      (thanks for putting up with my random topics 🙂 they ARE a bit random at the moment, aren’t they!)

  8. Your mum gave me her old sharp microwave, the very first one they made I reckon, when I moved out of home, I used it for quite a few years, about six I think, then we upgraded, I passed it to my mother-in-law who used it for quite a few more years, it is now in the shack for visitors, I believe it was purchased in the mid 80’s….things used to be made to last! Our upgrade has been replace by perhaps 3 new ones since then…

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