Waste not... want more – the danger of 'recycle chic'
Does anyone want my old TV? It's a Sony with a 32-inch screen, in full working order. There's nothing wrong with it except that we've been given a newer, flashier one.
Sooner or later it will probably end up as landfill, along with the 500,000 tons of household gadgets the UK gets through every year. Oversized laptops, iPhones with smashed screens and toasters with broken buttons; the whole anthropomorphised cast of a Pixar movie is sitting unloved on a landfill site somewhere in the UK.
According to a report released last week by the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), the UK's once improving rates of recycling are plateauing. MPs warn that industry must move away from the old linear model of "take-make-dispose" and towards what they call "the circular economy".
If this sounds like the old goal of sustainability recycled anew, it is. Only this time, the economic argument is almost as persuasive as the environmental one.
Manufacturers once resisted modernising their wasteful methods, but rising prices for raw materials may soon force that change. That's the stick.
The carrot is recycling technology much swisher than a Sainsbury's bag for life. Incredible self-mending circuitry means fewer of those minor faults which once condemned gadgets to the rubbish heap. When they do occur, "modular" technology will allow us to replace the faulty component, without chucking the rest.
As consumers we've long since passed the point when an item would have to be broken before we'd decide we "needed" a new one. There is a flaw in the circuitry of the new circular economy, but it's not mechanical. Humans have been conditioned by a century of sophisticated advertising to live in a state of permanently unsated desire. We are so used to relentlessly replacing old with new, that "recycle chic" is in danger of becoming just another consumer trend; in one week and out the next. Not everyone is the type to camp outside the Apple Store overnight, of course, but everyone has some kind of irrational desire to buy.
This week, for instance, my online shopping cursor is hovering over a first edition of the Swedish-language children's classic Comet in Moominland, and I must have it. That's the one where Zen-like wanderer Snufkin offers this tip to consumerism's victims: "Everything gets so difficult if you want to own things. You have to carry them around and watch over them. I just look at them – and then, when I continue on my way, I can remember them in my head. I prefer that to dragging a suitcase."
More understanding, please, for the security guard who failed to recognise Sir Chris Hoy at the Commonwealth Games. She's been ridiculed for demanding ID before letting Hoy enter the ... er ... Chris Hoy Velodrome. However, I interviewed Sir Chris before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and I can confirm that his face is not what sticks in your mind.
The six-time gold medallist later tweeted "She was just doing her job!!", which demonstrates the second most memorable thing about him: his good manners. What is the first most memorable thing about Sir Chris Hoy? His 27in-circumference cyclist's thighs. To see these in the flesh is like witnessing 10 boa constrictors hugging two tree-trunks.
Both his thighs and his manners deserve credit for making Sir Chris the sporting VIP he is, but we can't blame the security guard for failing to recognise these attributes, can we? Neither is immediately discernible at eye-level.