Wednesday, 6 April 2011


I like recycling. Always have. The idea of re-using discarded things has always appealed and while there are environmental reasons behind this, they are not Green reasons.

The back fence of my garden is six feet high and wood. The boards are spaced, so the wind comes through there like a set of flying knives at times and I have long wondered about putting up another set of boards. On the inside, spaced to cover the gaps in the outside boards. This means the wind can get through so it doesn't put too much pressure on those ageing posts, but it can't come through the slots like some kind of Indiana Jones razor challenge. I've just done the boarding using reclaimed boards that someone else was throwing out. Cost me a little paint and a few screws, that's all.

I am six boards short so I might have to buy them. Six boards, six feet long, six inches wide. 666 - the number of the fence. It goes well with that crocus pentacle.

So what? Well, the boards would have been burned or dumped if I hadn't accepted them. I don't give an ounce of otter vomit about the carbon dioxide produced either way. It's just plant food. It's the waste of perfectly serviceable material that annoys me. Recycling saves waste, saves pollution and most importantly, it saves money. Specifically, my money.

I have insulated my shed with those grey foam tiles musicians use to deaden sound reflections. The ones covered in ridges and spikes. Again, it was free, it works and it has the added bonus of making the inside of my shed look like something from 'The Man who Fell to Earth'. My garage is in the process of being plasterboarded using reclaimed plasterboard - free apart from keeping the helper supplied with booze. Oh, and plaster to fill the gaps and broken bits but it's a garage, not a living room. It doesn't have to be perfect.

Necessary? The fence, yes. I have a greenhouse made of plastic panels and it can get very windy here. Besides, it's pretty neat to be able to sit in the garden in the evening with the wind howling, yet still strike a Zippo and not get four feet of horizontal flame. The shed, well, sheds aren't much use for storage in winter when the temperature gets well below freezing. Paint - forget it, it's ruined by next year. As I found out, even a little bit of water in a power washer can blow the seals when it hits minus 20C. Insulation might help with that.

The garage is a workshop. It's where I build strange things that sometimes even work. I built a four-place fermentor stirrer in there, with a 12V motor and using a bit of spare laminated flooring as a base. All my fermentors are now stirred at exactly the same rate for a tiny fraction of what a lab supplier would charge.

The bare-block walls are really all it needs but again, it gets seriously cold in there in winter. You can actually feel your brain solidifying almost to the point where you consider Cameron to be intelligent. But not quite. Plasterboarding the walls will help as will stopping up the huge gap above the outer door. I could plasterboard over the door but then how will I get my Dalek army out when they are complete?

All these are things that would have cost lots of money but by recycling other people's castoffs, they have cost me next to nothing.

My lab is largely equipped with castoffs too. I have a good collection of retort stands and clamps, all collected from lab dumps over the years as rusted rejects, cleaned, rubbed down and repainted. Lately I hear that lab staff complain they can't seem to get these things any more. Tough. Shouldn't have thrown them out. All they needed was a bit of wire wool, elbow grease and Hammerite. I have two castoff incubators, a dumped microscope that only needed the mechanism dismantled, cleaned and regreased, even my chemical stock is largely composed of stuff that was past its 'date'. You know, most chemicals can't 'go off' but everything has a date on it now, and accredited labs can't use it past that date. Fine by me.

The point is, I have saved a hell of a lot of money by taking away other people's junk, fixing and re-using it. A hell of a lot.

So why do all these Green initiatives cost so much? They are supposed to save money and yet they soak up money faster than a new fence board soaks up paint. Green glass is crushed up and used in road resurfacing. Are the resurfacers getting it for free? Other glass is melted down and re-used which must be cheaper than melting and clearing sand. Plastics can be melted and remoulded. I once tried to make plastic bricks for garden use but it took too long per brick so I gave up. If I had access to a slightly larger scale operation, I could collect all your plastic bottles for free and sell the bricks. Just think - garden blocks that never rot and all based on a totally free supply of raw material. I could even colour them any colour you like. Even brick-coloured for those with no imagination.

In the grounds of Culzean castle (near Ayr, Scotland) there are picnic benches made of recycled plastic. They are coloured to look like wood. Close up, nobody is fooled but from a distance they look right. So, fence boards made of unrottable plastic and with the colour already in them so they never need painting? I'd use them. They don't have to be heavy, they don't even have to be solid. Why aren't the Greens pushing this? Why aren't the government actively looking for businesses to do this?

There might be a reason. In a long-ago episode of Dr. Who, there was mention of a perpetual motion machine made by a company that went out of business. They went bust because if you have a perpetual motion machine, you don't ever need another one. So if you could put up a fence that would never rot and never need any maintenance at all, pretty soon there'd be hardly any fencers left. Or any fence-making companies. Or fence paint companies. Your grandchildren still wouldn't need to do any fence maintenance at all.

Even so, you would think this would be a definite Green objective. Instead they are focused on steel windmills with parts made from rare metals obtained by heavily-polluting extraction methods. Windmills which need fixing every five minutes and which won't have a single original part left in them in twenty years apart from the hundred-ton concrete block holding each one up. Plus, they don't work in high winds or no wind and if it's sunny and windless they use electricity to keep the blades turning so the sun doesn't warp them. Renewable? If the blades and casings were made from melted plastic bottles or beer cans, maybe. They are not. They cost more than they will ever recoup from the paltry electricity they generate. They are a total waste of time.

Why does recycling cost so much money? It goes against all logic. It's like all those people who pay a fortune to lose weight, when losing weight means eating less and should therefore cost less. Somehow, it doesn't.

Anyhow, I have an option on a load of 3-inch square posts. Coincidentally, I have considered a new cold-frame and a bench seat in the garden and one thing I learned from my father was - if you build it, make damn sure it'll stay up. I think those posts might make decent frames for these jobs.

They're free, too. Greenies take note. You too, Prime Monster.

Genuine recycling doesn't need funding.


JuliaM said...

"Why does recycling cost so much money? "

Because it's not a sensible way of reusing usable stuff, but about employing the otherwise unemployable.

Leg-iron said...

Ah, so it's recycling the useless rather than the useful. That explains it.

Anonymous said...

A long, long time ago, before Mother Gaia was the religion and people worshipped the creator, not the creation, we used to have something called Arobr Day. It came once a year in the spring and everyone went out and planted something, preferably a tree, and there was no ideological propaganda had to go along with it, it was just something everyone did.

For decades too, last century, we had glass recycling aplenty. The milk man dropped off the milk in the mornings and picked up the empty glass bottles, which went back to the dairy, were run through a steam sterilizer and re-used again.

Soda pop came in glass bottles, one paid a deposit, returned it to the store and the bottler sterilized the bottles, reused them.

Nobody called it recycling or fell into spasms of religious ecstasy over it nor did governments forces bans to get people to do so. It just happened, as a natural way of life.

There were also smoking bans back then too, only we didn't call them bans, we just called them common sense and courtesy. Some people smoked, some didn't. If someone didn't like the smell of the smoke, they politely would sit upwind from someone who was smoking. If someone who was smoking was aware of someone catching the draft of some smoke, they would politely move the ashtray to a different position or relocate downwind from the other person. In churches and in classrooms, nobody smoked at all. It was just how it was and government didn't need be involved.

Those recycled plastic picnic tables made to resemble wood, it was funny seeing you mention that as I just saw an ad here that came in the mail about building materials for decks and it featured fences and decking material made out of recycled plastics. However, the cost is much higher than wood, extremely so. So cost might be a factor.

Nice article, reminds me of when I grew up and all that kind of stuff was normal standard recycling and we didn't need government to interfere with mandates, laws, regulations and bans. And nobody had to work themselves up into a religious state of ideological stupor over it either, we just did it.

PT Barnum said...

My milkman no longer delivers milk in glass bottles, only in plastic containers. Crazy. Or is there some EU H&S directive about it not being safe to reuse glass bottles?

We used to call recycling 'made do and mend'. If it could be fixed you fixed it. If it couldn't you tried to find another way of using it. Or hung onto it until it was useful. No money there for big business or green zealots.

View from the Solent said...

".. all collected from lab dumps.."

LI, expect the helicopters soon.
Daily Fail

Zippo said...

I had a trailer project going a while back, now finished, but I could have got all the big metal bits out of the skip at our local council recycling place if only they'd let me have them. I'd even have been willing to pay a bit. But no, once it's in the skip they won't let you have it under any circumstances, it has to go off and get melted down and made into new bits of box section & angle iron, which presumably you can buy at your local steel stockholder for an exhorbitant price.

Five or so years back there was no problem getting stuff out of skips in the same place, nobody gave a toss if you took stuff away, why would they? it's been thrown away by someone who doesn't want it anyway, but not now ... that's progress for you!!

Anonymous said...

LI, I've probably sent you the link before, but there's a great episode of Penn & Teller's: Bullshit! on why recycling's...well...bullshit. Not proper recycling of course; money-making recycling.

Season 2 Episode 5

There's also a bloke called Mike Reynolds - an architect who's been around for donkeys years - who makes totally self-sufficient "houses" from recycled tyres, bottles, cans, mud etc. called Earthships (yes, yes, all hippy and tree-huggy). The difference is you can design your own and they're habitable in almost any climate.

Ok, some of them might look like a bag of shite (they are built by hippies after all) but you can make them look how you want, and I'd be quite happy with something a bit quirky.

The things that makes me smile, and think he's onto something, is that the US government's tried stopping him building them since the very beginning, and as ever, after one reason gets shat on, they've come up with more and more.

Good documentary about him too. Sure it'll be on YouTube somewhere

Dr Evil said...

Interesting point about the unrottable fence and the perpetual motion machine. Does this fit right in to the crazy world of tinfoil hats when you read stories of oil companies buying up the engines that run on water (no, not steam engines) or the carburettor that gives you 150 MPG or other such urban myths. Or are they? Or are they? How many tiers of thinking are there in these crazy conspiracy theories?

Anonymous said...

No, not consspiracy theories, Chalcedon, it's called "planned obsolescence". "They" can't be having shit that helps "us".

nisakiman said...

As Anon points out above, a few decades ago stuff was recycled as a normal course of events.

When I was a kid, my family (four kids) hardly generated any rubbish for the bin-men to collect. As mentioned, most bottles were re-used, my mother would shop at the local grocers, and most stuff would be weighed out and put in a paper bag. (None of this triple layers of packaging.) Veg peelings went on the compost heap, scrap meat went to the cat(s) and very little went to landfill.

"Anonymous PT Barnum said...

My milkman no longer delivers milk in glass bottles, only in plastic containers. Crazy. Or is there some EU H&S directive about it not being safe to reuse glass bottles?"

I have a feeling that they don't re-use glass bottles anymore simply because it's cheaper to buy new than to collect and wash them. Mind you, it wouldn't surprise me if there was some EU directive in there somewhere that places unnecessary burdens on the bottle-washers!

The thought of Leg Iron in his garage lab, surrounded by his recycled retorts and bubbling chemicals rather conjures up an image of the archetypal mad scientist! What are you up to in there, LI? Hatching some feindish plot to turn the staff at ASH into nicotine addicts?

Anonymous said...

My milkman still delivers the milk in glass bottles, I'm pleased to say.
I'm sure it tastes nicer than it does in plastic, though M&S milk in plastic is close.

I'm a bit particular about that kind of thing.
My morning coffee counts as medicinal, verging on sacred.


Leg-iron said...

View from the Solent - there was a time, only a few years ago, when taking something out of a skip meant the skip-owner had more space to put more junk in. They were happy to have rats like me rummaging. A lot of my early computers came from there.

Then it changed to 'taking my rubbish is stealing because I don't want it but I don't want you to have it either'. An attitude my father used to refer to as 'bitch with a bone'.

Now I pre-empt skips by letting it be known I will take most crap if I can use it and I won't charge for removal, so it never gets to skip stage any more.

Besides, in the north of Scotland, it has to be totally useless before most of these buggers will dump it. Skips here have little of use in them.

Leg-iron said...

Scan - I've seen a lot of Penn and Teller's bullshit stories. They do a great job of breaking the illusions in a lot of cases.

Leg-iron said...

I remember getting a bag of bottles in lieu of pocket money. Take them back to the shop and buy sweets with whatever you get.

Then the bottles were marked 'No deposit, no return' and a major source of preteen funding just vanished. As did the easy way of getting rid of the bottles.

Where were the protestors when we really needed them?

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