Daily Archives: Monday 14 April 2008

Mathoms

Our local city council runs a hard waste collection every year. They invite us to put out up to “a trailer load” of stuff – old furniture, whiteware, televisions and computer parts, roofing iron and guttering, hot water systems, dismantled clothes lines, rainwater tanks, shower screens and window panes, carpet rolls, and so on. There’s some things they won’t collect – old tyres, and gas bottles, and building and landscaping materials, but in general, if it’s hard, large, and you want to get rid of it, you can put it out.

So tantalising piles of “stuff” appear on the verges outside houses. Like this pile – chair, old surfboard (or are they body surfing boards – merc, can you enlighten me?), mattress, general things, and an old television. This tells me what a wealthy society we live in – old televisions are worth so little, and are so cheap to replace, that when they stop working, they are thrown out rather than repaired. I recall (barely!) when TVs, of the old black and white variety, were new and wondrous things. As for models like this one – large screen, colour – they were the miracle of my late primary school and early teen years, and I still feel vaguely shocked when I see them discarded on the roadside.

The piles of stuff go out at the start of the week, and then they start to diminish, bit by bit, as the week goes by, until the hard waste collectors come by and remove whatever is left. Neighbours and passers-by inspect the piles left outside each others’ houses, and quietly adopt whatever they fancy. A chair for the office, an old bike for the grandchildren to try out in the back yard, a length of carpet that will be just right for the back of the garage where the gym equipment is stored (and never used?). It’s a very effective form of recycling.

But it seems to me that often the stuff that is chucked out is still serviceable, still good, except that these days, we can buy brand new stuff so cheaply, that even attempting to sell the old stuff is not worth the effort, let alone paying the cost of classified advertising. Just throw the old chair out, and get a new one from Ikea. It may not last long, but who cares? A replacement won’t cost very much at all, and the old one can always go out in the annual hard waste throw-out.

On the positive side, the annual hard waste collection seems to promote a spirit of “well I can’t use it, so I might as well see if someone else can.” There’s a sense of givingness about it, a generosity of passing goods on to other people rather than letting them simply sit unused in the garden shed. All through the year (apparently), not just at hard waste collection time, old stuff will appear on people’s verges, and be taken away by those who can put it to good use. It’s all very neighbourly.

I have benefited from this neighbourliness of late: a couple of streets away, someone was pruning trees and cutting out deadwood. He bundled the cuttings up, and left them on his verge, and he was delighted when I screeched to a halt outside his gate, and loaded the bundles into my boot. He had gotten rid of his garden rubbish, and I had a trunk-load of firewood. Both of us were happy.

It seems to me that this informal recycling operates much more effectively in Adelaide (and perhaps elsewhere in Australia?) than it did in New Zealand. I rarely saw stuff left on the verge back in the old country, and then, it was left with a sign saying “Free”, to make sure that people knew that they could take it without recrimination. I don’t know of regular hard waste collections in New Zealand, and certainly, they did not take place in the cities where I have lived. This is a shame; I think that hard waste collections may well promote the idea of leaving stuff out for other people to take and use. The regular formal collection of hard waste seems to promote the informal recycling of goods that people no longer have a use for. This is surely a good thing. New Zealand city councils – what about setting up a hard waste collection? Time it for February and March, when the weather is more settled, so that the goods are not ruined by inclement weather, and let the neighbourhood recycling begin.

Update: Just as I was enthusiastically drafting this post, my husband arrived home with this. It had been sitting on the verge down the street and around the corner for a few days, and I had taken some photos of it, planning to use them for this post on my blog. Evidently, Mr Strange Land thought that it was just too good to let go. So he brought it home, sans bags. To be fair, our elder daughter has been campaigning for an armchair for some time now, claiming that she really, really needs one to curl up in while she reads a book, and it does seem like a sensible way to test whether that need is just a want, or even just a vague desire. I’m very dubious about it. However, I’m sure that we can go to Ikea, and get a cheap colourful throw to go over it, so that it doesn’t look quite so beige-on-beige. And she is very pleased indeed. As is her cat, who seems to have taken possession of it.

How long before it ends up in the hard waste collection again?