Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Backstage Of Our Lives

Last year I had the experience of taking a van of old furniture to New Cross South London recycling centre. Gary had the van from work, and the Villas were still full with useless rubbish EdB had collected from the streets. We wanted to get stuff out of the way.

As I found out, Recylcing Centre is a bit of a misnomer. We were asked to put the furniture through a giant machine which squashed it to death; it then gets burnt. Heaps of stuff were sorted according to type, and then taken elsewhere.

There was one huge container filled with elecrtic equipment. I climbed the metal stairway to the top of it, from which you would throw the defunct video/tv/streo on the heap. I remember looking with shock and amazement on this mountain of hi-fi. I had been finding appliances in the streets for some time, and I know that most cases it works; when it's broken, the fault is usually minor. There was a NAD amplifier right there at the very top. Should I just take it? I needed one for my room. As so often when I am faced with the sudden promise of freedom, I was not sure what to do. I hesitated for a few seconds; a huge lorry came and towed the container away. It was gone forever. I don't know what they do with hifi. Some elements are toxic. I doubt if they recycle any of it. One thing I knew for sure: no-one's going to even try to fix these things, or even test them.

I remember returning home feeling physically sick. We were supposed to do another run but I said I couldn't. The image of that mountain of discarded hifi kept coming into my mind. I felt like I had just been to a slaughterhouse. It was as if I had seen something which I wasn't supposed to see: as if I was taken to the backstage of a glamorous show, and found everything there miserable, sordid and vile.

Some people say you should eat meat only if you are able to kill an animal yourself; that if you couldn't, then you were a hypocrite. I tend to agree. As I see it, one should be willing to face the consequences of one's actions. I'd like to take this further: imagine each time you were buying new shoes, you would have to see, not pictures of models and sport stars, but the 16 year old indonesian girl who made them. That each time you boarded an airplane, you would be shown the amounts of fuel that your flight will use. That each time you had a drink in a club, you would get a glimpse of the guy washing the dishes in the kitchen for less the minimum wage. That each time you took the rubbish out, you would see the landfill where it goes. Imagine you had to come face-to-face, on a daily basis, with the consequences of the way you live. Surely it would be unbearable.

This is one reason packaging is so important for the way we live. The horrible, boring facts (socially, enviromentally) are constantly hidden behind a shining wrapping. We are kept safe from the real price of it all. We should never be allowed to see the backstage: some of us might not take it very well. It might prove too disconcerting. It might lead us to serious doubts.

The wholesale market, where I go every week, provides such experience. It is an industrial wasteland, quite literally. It is a desert of concrete. It is devoid of any of the joys which the word market brings to mind. It is the reality behind the supermarket shelf. And yeah, it's food for free.

* * *

Today at the market:
Italian fruit season! with organic clementines, kiwis and pink grapefruits (my favourite fruit on earth... after figs); non organic pears
Sicilian courgettes
Leeks, kale
British apples


Electric Sadhu said...

As to what they do with "expired" electronics (and I should know, being one myself):
In Japan, where the electronic-appliance life-cycle is ridiculously short,
they shred it all and make asphalt out of it (for roads and pavements).

mink said...

My dear brother I would never have you shreded and made into asphalt. That would be such a waste.