Archives for posts with tag: Recycling

I’ve spent a few days clearing out and cleaning up the gardens and inside of a house we own in Ireland’s fair capital. It’s been years since a major revamp so the opportunity afforded by a break between tenants was welcome.

Part of this job involved removing a lot of used and partly used paint cans from the shed, abandoned by the previous tenants who, presumably, didn’t fancy the expense or effort of doing it themselves.

Ireland is pretty good when it comes to waste and recycling. We can recycle most things, and the local municipal tips will take large things like furniture, appliances and so on. One of the few things they don’t take for free are paint cans. For that I had to go to a special waste area where I was charged 70 cent per can. I emerged €13.30 lighter from the experience, but at least I had done a small part to make sure the contents were being disposed of in the best way possible.

I also had a large old plastic container of engine oil, mostly full. The plastic was free to recycle, but the cost to me to empty the oil into a large tank of similar oils was €3.50. I should point out that if I had brought 20 other oil containers the total charge would still have been €3.50, but I didn’t know that until I got there. What’s more, the oil took 10 minutes to empty out.

Add in the €5 for fuel for the 30-mile round trip and the out-of-pocket cost to me is approaching €25. This doesn’t include the depreciation to the car of about the same as the fuel, and the much larger opportunity cost associated with my time.

The cost of being ethical and living responsibly can still be considerable.

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You’re familiar with the phrase ‘who’s policing the police?’. One thing that has recently taxed my brain is this: who’s watching the recycling?

As a nation, Ireland is pretty decent at recycling household waste. Better than the Brits and way better than the Americans, not as good as our Teutonic friends.

Our actual waste wheelie bin is dwarfed in weight by our recycling bin, which goes out every fortnight full to the brim, if bins have brims. We’re very good, as a family I think, at reducing, reusing and recycling.

But, just because we recycle well as a family, that don’t mean a thing once our bin’s contents are upended into the recycling waste truck. What happens then?

I sure as heck don’t know. For all I know, they might be throwing the recycling into landfill. Maybe people aren’t as judicious with their recycling and are adding items that can’t be recycled. How are the waste companies sorting the different types of recycled material? Are they removing non-recyclable stuff? Again, I don’t know. We’re trusting in a process that we have no visibility of whatsoever.

We’re pleased with ourselves at how good we are at recycling, yet we’re not actually recycling. We’re starting the recycling process but we’ve no idea how it ends, or in fact how much of it ends.

Almost everything we do is secondary. Not secondary in importance, you understand. Secondary as in it’s been done before, said before, heard before, tried before.

We spend 99% of our entire school and college lives learning stuff that has already been figured out. We’re getting it second hand and not doing the primary work, the genuinely ground-breaking stuff. Remember that odd time when you stuck your neck out in school or college and wrote what you felt was something new, a product of your independent thought? I bet it was marked wrong, right? You’re treading where thousands of people have gone before, so your new thing is not thought to be right – thought being the operative word.

So much of what we do is secondary. Our working lives are about replicating processes, re-working, recycling, renewing what’s been done before. So little of it is actually new, never done before.

There is a very small number of people doing the primary stuff. Making the law, setting the precedent, inventing a financial mechanism, product, sport, piece of technology, process, creating something new and valuable. The rest of us are studying it, reading it, criticising it, adopting it, using it, benefitting from it, and sometimes improving it.

In the world of doing primary stuff there is failure, mistakes, false dawns, incorrect conclusions, disappointment and a huge amount of wasted time. But also, by an order of magnitude greater, there is fame, fortune, progress, history, satisfaction, gratitude and humility.

What primary stuff are you doing, or trying to do?