It’s that time of year when people are placing large unwanted household items (or ”waste”) out in front of their residences in preparation for the annual Brisbane City Council kerbside collection.
Indeed “one person’s waste” can be “another’s treasure” and quite often I spotted people placing a pre-loved set of golf clubs, children’s bike, or old washing machine in their boot or on the back of a van. Curious as to what was appearing on the kerbs in my immediate neighbourhood, I scouted around and documented what was being placed in front of people’s homes to see if there was a pattern of disposal occurring.
This is what I found:
- Furniture (desks, lounges, couches, indoor chairs garden patio chairs & tables, shelving, drawers, cabinets, TVs, bed mattresses, foam bedding, blankets, cupboards, cushions, light stands, kitchen benchtops, dressers)
- Timber (structural house framing & weatherboards & VJ’s; toolboxes, doors, windows, glass panes, fence posts, fence palings, garden edging & retaining walls, pallets)
- Garden equipment (hose reels, hoses, rakes, camping chairs, tarpaulins, gumboots)
- Metal items (clothes racks, 44-gallon drums, iron trunk, Toolboxes, wire fencing, BBQs, sheet metal, drain pipes, washing drying racks)
- Cardboard box and styrofoam box packaging (from electrical goods like computers, stoves, fridges etc)
- Kids toys (games, play yard equipment like swings basket ball rings and back boards, shell-shaped paddle pools/sandpits, radio controlled cars, table soccer, hula-hoops )
- Electronic waste / e-waste (computer towers, monitors, & circuit boards, vacuum cleaners, Sound system speakers, oil heaters, faxes, printers, fridge)
- Sport items (gym equipment, gold clubs & bags, bicycles, boogie board)
- Plastic (waste and laundry baskets, milk crates, plastic pallets, storage boxes, buckets & pails)
- Baby equipment ( prams, baby playpen, cot)
- General household goods (mop, books, video cassettes, CDs, DVDs, photo albums, magazines, CD rack, photo frames, window blinds, suitcases)
- and many more other items!
In general where items were broken, they could be repaired. Where they were worn, parts could be replaced. Where they were obsolete,thay could re-purposed. If used passed on or reused.
Our council website states what can and can not be placed out for kerbside collection and many of the above items do not comply. I made a telephone enquiry to the council officesto learn that it that there are several contractors who participate in the kerbside collection who specialise in reclamation of metal waste, furniture, and household goods (which are cleaned up and resold at Council “Tip Shops” which is heartening) and also white good items (e.g. fridges, washing machines).
However there is a lot of material that still ends up as landfill meaning on many cases that they become a lost resource. Considering that the council has a Towards Zero Waste strategy to reduce waste going to landfill using the waste reduction hierarchy of avoidance>reduce>reuse>recycle>disposal, it is surprising that there is no mention of upcycling, which is the process of converting old or discarded materials or useless waste products into new materials or products that maintains or increases its value by being more useful, of better quality, or having a different and more valuable purpose. This is not only an important waste reduction link, but also a critical finite resource consumption-reducing link that is a natural addition to recycling. Through upcycling, new products are created from waste streams that have a higher value than if they were just disposed to landfill. For example, by reclaiming metals and constructing or refashioning something new from them, obviates the need of mining new metal from the earth thus reducing fuel/energy consumption and environmental impact. Tyres can be refashioned into water buckets, plant pots or sandals! Creative reuse has become very popular amongst arts & crafts and homeware & gift suppliers. Others are taking this further by using upcycled products with a net-positive design approach.
In fact many of the items listed above would be seen as a resource boon to those living in developing countries where reclamation, re-use, jury-rigging and repurposing mwaste materials can be critical for providing shelter and housing, an income, or reducing urban pollution. For more info see Junkyard Planet and ideas/inspiration here.
So if you no longer have a use for something, don’t throw it, get it repaired, repurpose it, pass it on, recycle it, or upcycle it!
Postscript 6th November 2014
It was disturbing to witness the council refuse truck arrive on the day of the kerbside collection in my street. During the short 30 minutes it took for them to “clean up” the street, I observed the council workers place the kerbside items into the compactor hopper of the garbage truck, hydraulically crush the items to fit into the truck, and then drive off (ultimately to the landfill site to dispose of their load of “rubbish”).
A wasted opportunity… !
We live in a world that is increasingly being clothed in concrete (or other man-made “garments”… like asphalt, steel, terracotta tiles, cut timber and corrugated iron).
In his book ‘Architecture of Density‘ photographer Michael Wolf displays a masterful visual record of some of the cityscapes we are creating and is perhaps a timely nudge to those who think that urban development is “boundless”.
His photographic style of follows that of Bernd and Hilla Becher (who are renowned for creating a typology of industrial buildings and structures in a grid-like fashion). Wolf’s visual documentary approach of Hong Kong is formal, and unsettling. He frames his images face-on so that the sky and ground are removed, and you are confronted with a flat, uncompromising, concrete-dominated, brutalist, and seemingly unpopulated view of only a microcosm of a much larger “mega city”.
His images evoke dystopian scenes from ‘Metropolis‘, Fritz Lang’s 1927 German expressionist epic science-fiction film. After viewing Wolf’s graphically stark images, one is left feeling somewhat claustrophobically trapped by the weight of the structures pictured. A rising clamour of wanting to be “let out” is furthered by the endless repetition of patterns washing over each page of the book without a view of a clear field or open space in sight – almost like being caught in a hall of mirrors by endlessly repeating images with no obvious avenue of escape discernable.
The patterning or splashes of colour sometimes break up the monotony of dull painted concrete, but even in themselves appear to be a contrivance exhorting occupants to lead bright happy lives in the “communal hives” they inhabit. The absence of human figures in this work may leave the viewer feeling a little emotionally detached from these relatively cold and implacable subjects, but the odd signs of occupation are present, as evidenced in the form of man-made scaffolding, washing hung out of windows to dry, or open and half-closed windows inviting us to look in from afar.
The relentless repeating patterns of windows, balconies and towers is similar in effect to that used by Andreas Gursky in his supermarket shop shelf image ’99 Cent’ where product packaging is the recurring pattern unit used to create seemingly endless rows of shelving.
Wolf’s images are not dissimilar to works by other photographic artists who have portrayed the built environment clashing with and supplanting the natural environment. Many popular works were generated through the 1960-1970’s “Topographics Movement” which included the likes of: Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Frank Gohlke, Stephen Shore, Nicholas Nixon and Henry Wessel. Most of them featured in the seminal 1975 exhibition “New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape” which showed images of the changing landscape and abuse of the earth in a stylistic way that highlighted anonymity in a characterless or deadpan way of documenting the landscape. Their work influenced many photographers in how they photographed landscapes and although today’s photographers shoot in a visually more contemporary style (e.g. Edward Burtynski & Robert Polidori), there is still an underlying or unspoken premise of a need of human connection with the natural environment amongst the ever-increasing urban sprawl of outer cities areas or within in the confines of continuous urban re-development or renewal within city centres.
Perhaps this why the world is seeing the upsurgence of roof top and vertical gardens in cities, in the imaginative revitalisation of old cityscapes including Vo Trong Nghia’s House for trees project in Bangkok, or community driven greening of abandoned industrial-scapes in Detroit?
Perhaps a re-imagining of how more finite or less expansive populations might live on this planet, having a much improved sustainable ecological footprint, may well be the seeds of transformation that both humanity and the environment really need?