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!