Stuff and Hard Rubbish

It’s been hard rubbish collection time around our place recently. For those of you who are unaware of the concept, this is where you chuck out all of the stuff that won’t normally fit in to a bin. In the old days this used to have a very different feel. First and foremost the entire street (if not the entire neighbourhood) would be able to fit their hard rubbish into a large skip. The second notable difference was the the hard rubbish was more likely in workable order or at least repairable. In fact at times it felt like hard rubbish collection was more 1/2 trip to the toy store and 1/2 opportunity to relocate all the stuff you probably got off the hard rubbish collection last year.

But things have changed. The amount of hard rubbish is staggering, not only because of the sheer volume but also because of what it is. The thing that really stands out is the amount of electronic waste or e-waste. Clean up Australia reckons that e-waste is increasing at three times the rate of general waste and that in 2008 17 million televisions alone were sent to landfill and that only 9% of the computers thrown away were recycled. This is waste predominantly because people ‘need‘ that bigger, flatter, sharper, blacker TV. The fact that these stats are five years old I’m sure also vastly underestimates how many are being thrown away now.

There were also a great deal of things being thrown out that by all rights should have been repaired, and I’m afraid I have to admit that I was part of this, not a willing part but a part nonetheless. I acquired (3rd hand) a mitre saw some years ago. It’s old and clunky but, well it’s a saw and it cuts, so it’s good. Sadly my mitre saw decided that it would stop working. My father pointed out some of the workings of an electric motor (which I am depressingly ignorant about) and showed me that the problem was probably two small carbon brushes 6mm x 13mm in size. Replace these, do a bit of remedial cleaning and it should work.

So I went to the place that used to sell these saws, who looked at me blankly and without any hesitation told me they had no idea what I was talking about. I then did what any vaguely tech savvy person would do and used the internet to track down the distributor.  The Australian company were un-responsive but I got a vaguely positive response from the New Zealand company until I sent pictures of the brushes to which they responded that they did not have them and could not get them. Undaunted I kept going. I sent emails around the world to ‘brush suppliers’ and even a slightly speculative one that may or may not have been the original company in China. It could also have been a manufacturer of small cuddly stuffed guinea pigs for all I know because the website was completely in Chinese, but the logo looked right. All these efforts came to naught.

My final effort was to contact an engineer we know and ask him where he would go. He recommended a shop, and so we tootled down in the cargo bike to have a last crack at fixing this thing. The repair desk took one look and flatly told me that they didn’t have it and couldn’t get it. He suggested that the company probably didn’t make it either but had it made under license at another company and that they would have just done a huge batch and then moved on. The real kicker though was when he described it as a “throw away saw”. This appalled me at the time and still does. This is a power tool for goodness say, not a take away coffee cup. But it’s a power tool that is designed not to be fixed but simply bought and thrown away when broken or even better out of fashion.

I’m not sure how we have come so far away from the idea of buying something of quality that can be repaired to buying single use power tools. But it reminded me of a video that I saw some time ago called ‘The Story of Stuff’ which I thought was worth sharing.

I think this is a really powerful video and makes a good point that our consumerism is planned, as is our waste.

For my part I have got together with a number of friends and we have agreed to pool our tool resources so that not only do we have greater access to a wide range of tools but we can purchase higher quality tools that we will be able to repair. I have also been checking out a local tool library that lends tools out so that you don’t have to own them yourselves but can just borrow them when you need them.

But there are other ways as well. The ‘Sharehood’ ( is a community organisation that seeks to link local people with stuff to people who need stuff and at the same time build the community. I see that this idea has taken off in the commercial world too. Check out this snippet from “The Checkout” which is not only informative but also fairly amusing.

I really like this idea. We’re on sharehood with a range of tools and expertise to be shared in our area but I’ve also been busy checking out some of the links around car sharing (since our scheme is still yet to launch in our area), tool sharing and music sharing. I even saw another report on collaborative finance where rather than borrowing from a bank you borrow from a group of people.

I really like this idea particularly of the potential for mass adoption. It’s one of those ideas that actually makes a whole heap of sense and really gives you the feeling that not only could it work to reduce consumption but will do so in a way that most people would probably feel comfortable with.

It’s not going to solve all our problems but it’s a pretty good step, so get on board and lets get sharing.