Can technology make a silk purse from a sow’s ear?

One of my favourite films is Disney’s Robots, the story of a young idealistic inventor who journey to the city to meet his inspiration, only to find that the world is being taken over by shiny new robots, with old and damaged ones being sent to the ‘chop shop’

In our highly disposable world, the film offers a message that there is often a great deal of value in older things that were perhaps built to last or repairable.  For instance, in my childhood, cars were simpler, and it was a common sight at the weekend to see people tinkering with engines.  I remember a trip to the breakers yard for a carburettor for my old Triumph Herald.  A second hand one set me a back a few quid and an afternoon tinkering with my brother.  Today’s vehicles are highly technical, often requiring them to be plugged into computers for a diagnosis.  When they become too costly to maintain, we ditch them for a newer model – leaving us with a growing mountain of old cars.

We cannot keep ditching our stuff in favour of new.  We have to find an alternative if we are not going to be overrun with rubbish.

Lebanon reached crisis point a few years ago when their main dump closed, and the private contractor, with nowhere to take rubbish, just stopped collecting it.  This led to increased interest in repurposing materials.  Construction waste has been used in 3D printing to make tiles; installations and art have been made from recycled plastic; prayer vessels have been formed from coffee grounds and newspaper, and traditional glass blowers have turned to recycled glass for their raw materials.

Fashion designer, Stella McCartney, has turned to old fishing nets and other discarded nylon waste to make high end fashion travel bags that can be recycling an infinite number of times.  She is using Econyl from Italian yarn maker Aquafil.  The nylon is processed using a cutting edge regeneration system to turn it into high quality yarn that will not lose its performance.

I heard recently of a Council scheme in the Midlands whereby on two Saturday’s a year, one in spring and one in autumn, you can put any large items you might want to get rid of outside your house.  The scrap merchants have first pick over any items they may be able to use or sell on, private individuals can they collect anything they feel they can use, and lastly the Council take any left over items.  This ensures that anything that can be reused finds a good home and less is sent to landfill.

As consumers, we have huge influence over what manufacturers and craftsmen make.  If we use our purchasing power to demand goods that are made responsibly, preferably ones with a long life that can be repurposed or reused in some way, we will be going a long way to reducing our waste mountains.   We need to move on from our ‘Throw Away Society’ and become the ‘RePurposing Society.’

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