Old TVs out for hard waste collection by Alpha People in my street are preparing to nest for the winter. There are roof repairs taking place, and central heating being installed and serviced. And my neighbours are cleaning house in a kind of reverse spring clean. It seems they are buying new comfortable things and discarding old uncomfortable things – up and down the street there are piles of stuff waiting to be collected by the council’s hard waste removal contractors. As well as empty paint tins, odd bits of piping, chunks of fencing, there are pieces of furniture, old televisions and plastic toys. And of course barbecues – there are always barbecues.
So I have been thinking recently about the nature of rubbish. Dictionary.com defines rubbish as “
On the surface, this bed frame is not worthless, though apparently unwanted. I grant you that being made of wood with “wrought iron” bars it is ugly, but it’s still serviceable – surely it could be out to use in a homeless shelter or sold in a thrift store? That would, of course, require an additional effort – dropping it off or calling a charity to come and collect it. Or has that already been done, and the offer declined? I suppose that with its missing mattress it would seem to have limited value, but I assume that the mattress is being recycled on a new bed frame (because I am not going to knock on the door and ask).
Perhaps the frame is in fact damaged as well as ugly. But it could possibly be repaired and rehabilitated – substituting new wood for old, a coat of paint, removing the ironwork – I can see there’s the potential for a “new” bed to arise from the old. That would take time and effort, and perhaps require the purchase of tools. I’m not sure that many would be interested in that, it’s so much quicker and easier to pop out to ikea to buy something new. Which leads me back to serviceable but unfashionable.
The only reason I have ever discarded a bed was when the relationship that went with it broke down. Who wants to sleep in the bed your partner has irrevocably left? Tempting as it might have been, I did not throw it in the trash, I gave it to charity to give someone else a chance with it. I replace my mattresses every decade or so, and have recently discovered a service that reconditions old mattresses for use in shelters etc., and it was tremendously satisfying to give them their required fee and let them take custody of it. Which makes me so sad to see the mattresses in other piles in the street. Are we too stingy to make “proper” provision for our waste?
The inherent (or essential) nature of something is its most basic and permanent quality. Can rubbish have an essential nature? I’m not sure that’s possible. Rubbish is more properly the end result of a chain of action. The abandoned bed frame is no different now to when it was first purchased, aside from being older – given the opportunity it will still serve the purpose of suspending a mattress above the ground. It is still wood. It is still metal. Perhaps it has lost a tiny component – the screw that gives it structural integrity – perhaps that cannot be replaced. But having said, given a little thought, I replaced a plastic pin with a metal hairpin, so surely a tiny component can be replaced with something similar? Or is it that things really aren’t made to last these days?
It seems more likely that its owner has merely changed their opinion. At some point, a switch in their brain was flicked from wanted to unwanted, acceptance to rejection. I know my friend Katy would feel deeply for the abandoned bed frame, seemingly weeping in today’s gentle rain. And I feel with her – how capricious we are to abandon something because we don’t think it’s pretty anymore. How shallow to care only about form and not function. Yet that happens so often when we replace our clothing, so why not our furniture as well.
I admit that there us a vast difference between the tray the supermarket packed your meat in and a bed frame, with one more obviously less useful than the other, but both of these kinds of waste can be avoided by taking a different approach to shopping. (In bulk from a butcher for example).
So looking at these piles of rubbish, could it be that the inherent nature of modern rubbish is oldness, or maybe unfashionableness? What do you think?