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One man’s trash is another man’s treasure

I sold my glass jug blender today on Gumtree. Not exactly front page news, I know, but bear with me.

When I got my new kitchen robot I listed my Magimix food processor and my jug blender on Gumtree straightaway. The Magimix sold almost instantly for the money I asked; they are solid gadgets with fantastic motors and I knew it would be easy. I did not have such optimism for the blender. It’s not a bad blender and it still works, but it wasn’t a great brand, it didn’t have a massive motor and it was a few years old. There was only one other same-model Magimix on Gumtree when I listed mine; there were hundreds of blenders.

I listed it anyway, and after a week, rather unexpectedly, I got a call. Someone wanted to buy it, and offered $20. Rather amazed that I’d even got the call in the first place I agreed (I’d listed it for $30).

When the guy turned up, he explained that he had the same blender and the glass jug had fallen off the kitchen bench and smashed. He’d called the manufacturer who’d told him the price of a new jug…and the price of a new blender. Guess which one was cheaper? Yep, the whole unit. They actually advised him on the phone to just order a whole new unit. But rather than buy a new one, he’d checked on Gumtree first, and there was mine.

It makes me so mad that companies do that deliberately. One bit breaks and you have to replace the whole thing. It’s so incredibly wasteful. Of course it doesn’t make sense that a whole unit would be cheaper than its parts. Yet it always seems to be that way. I feel like they’re trying to condition us to never try to repair things or replace parts, but mindlessly buy new ones instead.

We don’t have to stand for that! That’s why sites like Gumtree and eBay are so useful. They give all the people who need replacement parts access to loads of people who have replacement parts. We don’t have to let these companies have their way!

If I’d have sent that blender to the charity shop, there’s a chance it would have gone to landfill anyway. Not all charity shops accept electrical goods, and they also need to be able to test them for electrical safety. Plus I sometimes feel that sending stuff to the charity shops is shirking our responsibility a little bit. It’s too easy to dump our unwanted stuff and feel good about giving to charity when there’s no guarantee they’ll actually want what we’ve given them. This way I can be sure that the item I’m selling has gone on to a new home where it will be used.

People sometimes think I’m crazy for listing things on Gumtree for such small amounts of money. (I have listed things on there for free, but the lowest price I’ve listed something for was 50 cents – and it got a buyer!) But it’s not about the money. It’s about diverting something from landfill and stopping somebody else buying something brand new when there’s a suitable second-hand alternative. Double win! The argument that you haven’t got the time? Seriously?! You need to take a photo, upload it and write a short description. You can do it from your mobile phone in about 1 minute. Not exactly labour intensive!

I’m feeling pretty smug that I thwarted the electronic company’s attempt to get a new sale, pleased that I was able to give the guy exactly what he was looking for, and glad the blender isn’t stuck on a dusty shelf in a charity shop or heading to landfill.

If you’ve got stuff that’s broken or got parts missing, it’s doesn’t mean no-one will want it. I bet for every functioning blender with the glass jug broken, there’s another with an intact jug but a burnt-out motor. Even if you think something’s beyond salvage, someone else may find it useful for an art or sculpture project. Before you chuck it in the bin, give it a go on the second-hand listings sites. You’ve got nothing to lose!

A word (or two) on recycling

Recycling. Almost everybody has heard of recycling. (Just in case you’re one of the minority that hasn’t, it’s the process of taking old materials and turning them into new products.) The number of households that recycle is on the increase and local councils are becoming more supportive of the idea, with collection points and kerbside collections in urban areas. In 2009, 99% of Australian households recycled and/or reused, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

(Reusing. That’s something different to recycling, although people often mix the terms up. If I finish a bottle of cordial, wash it up and then refill with water to keep in the fridge, then that is reusing. If instead I put the bottle in my kerbside recycling, and it gets collected by truck, driven to a recovery facility, sorted, cleaned, melted down and reshaped into a new bottle, then it has been recycled. The two are very different. Recycling uses energy to create a new product, whereas reusing does not.)

Recycling2

A big heap of recycling waiting to be sorted. Yep, this is recycling!

So… back to recycling. If 99% of Australian households recycle, then that’s great… isn’t it? Well, yes, but that’s not the whole story. Whilst 99% of these households recycle, the ABS estimated recycling rates for Australia to be around 50%. In WA, the state where I live, recycling rates are only 33%. The other 22 million tonnes of waste are sent to landfill. So 99% of households may be recycling, but they’re not recycling 100% of their waste.

The other thing about recycling, it’s not the big green magical solution we’ve all been led to believe. Don’t get me wrong, recycling is great and we should all recycle what we can. But the idea that it’s ‘enough’ is a myth. Here are just some of the shortfalls of recycling:

Recycling still uses energy – in transport, recovery and processing of the materials.

Just because something is recyclable, it doesn’t mean it will get recycled. Different councils have different rules to what they accept and if you put something in your recycling box that isn’t on their list, it’ll get sent straight to landfill.

Products are often downgraded. In theory a product can be melted down and made into the same product, but this is often difficult and can be expensive, and it is more likely that the product is made into an inferior product, a process called downcycling. This is especially true of plastic which can only be downcycled.

Contamination can be an issue. You may have sorted your recycling out diligently, but if your neighbours have thrown pottery, lightbulbs and old pillows in with theirs, chances are the whole load will end up going to landfill.

Overseas processing– labour costs are often cheaper overseas (and labour laws are often more lax) so containers of materials can be often shipped abroad for processing, which adds an environmental (and financial) cost to the process.

Recycling is ultimately a business; the products need a market and it needs to be profitable. For example, plastic is bulky (so expensive to transport) and there are many different types meaning it requires sorting (another expense), and the end product has a fairly low value, which partly explains why plastic recycling is far less common than paper, aluminium or glass.

Recycling

This is just a fraction of the waste delivered to this site every day to be recycled. The vehicle at the back is completely dwarfed by the heap.

The shortfalls of recycling really hit home for me when I had the chance to visit a recycling facility last year. It looked (and smelled) like a rubbish tip. Less than 20% of all glass they received was recycled, the rest was sent to landfill due to lack of ‘business opportunities’. The glass they did recycle was used for road base. Any recycling that arrived in plastic bags was automatically sent to landfill – no time to open them, plus there may be potential hazards. Anything mixed with shredded paper went to landfill – it contaminated the other items and was difficult to remove.

It felt like recycling anything was far too much hassle for these guys, and that was their job! Bales of old newspapers sat in sea containers waiting to be shipped to Asia. Nothing about the experience felt particularly sustainable. Before I used to feel good about recycling. Not so much now!

The good news is recycling isn’t the only option. The traditional waste hierarchy has three principles: Reduce, Re-use, Recycle. Recycling comes last. Before we even get to this we need to consider the others. First reduce, and then re-use. I’ve made changes to the way I shop, the products I buy. I’ve taught myself how to make things from scratch to avoid packaging altogether. And of course I still recycle…but there’s so much less than there used to be.