Wednesday, April 12, 2006

What. Where. How... er... When?

Post the Ideal Home show we have decided to pursue some issues that were thrown up by visitors to our stand, which inspired me to write the following. As it stands an awful lot of folk are employed and being paid an awful lot of money with an awful lot of resources to have either been unable to help, or come up with an awful lot of reasons why they cannot.

I carry a powerful memory from our recent participation at the Daily Mail Ideal Home show. It is of the lone ‘All Waste Paper' recycling bin that eventually appeared outside the entrance of the recycle now stand, beneath an endlessly looping Eddie Izzard commercial exhorting us to 'recycle - the possibilities are endless’.

I was there to do so, but the thin slot was well and truly blocked by a plastic bottle crammed into it.

As a metaphor for the show (theme: Recycling and Sustainable Living, though one would have been hard-pressed to guess, let alone experience or practice any such things) it seemed appropriate. But also symbolic of a greater disconnect I believe exists across the land.

While there was a small fortune being spent telling people what is good to do, there was little in evidence to point people in the right direction, or facilities in place to actually do it. Hence small motivation to try very hard to comply. 

My 'business',, is primarily about reuse, but we are more than keen to encourage proper recycling should those 're's’ higher up the enviro-chain not be possible. But I do wonder why it is still so hard for the poor old consumer to know what to do... or where.

If there were two things that we were challenged on mostly at our stand, from people attracted by the fateful words 'Ask us!' on one of our posters, they were a) what to do with endless ISP CD-ROMs, and b) what to do with a loft full of old IT stuff.

On the reuse front we were coming up a bit shy. There are only so many allotment bird scarers required, and other than turning an old iMac into a aquarium, we were pretty stumped there too. So if anyone has a good idea... tell us! We’ll all make a fortune.

Hence on to disposal, and we have started to try and find out. Because we are happy to admit to our users that while we may not have an immediate answer, we probably have a slightly better chance of knowing a 'man who can' or 'a lady who is savvy'.

So far, it is not proving too encouraging. Especially as the enquiries pour in from around the country.

Cans, no problem. Bottles, cinch (though where is that green glass mountain?). Paper, surely (however, perhaps not in Earls Court). Cardboard, mostly. Plastic... er... erratic but getting there (and there is always a paper bin in Earls Court). TetraPaks? Well, best if you live up North. Waaaaay up North. Batteries? Used to be France, but now there are a few collection points around, though I'm betting most don't know where and lob them in the bin.

But for a lot of other stuff that people do seem to be pretty concerned about, it still seems a barren plot. Take our very own nifty IT 'grey-yard': dead printers, slow CPUs and lifeless mobiles (yes, I know that there are many 'schemes' out there, but we are also interested in provenance chains with our disposal options, which is worthy of another story on behalf of poorly-informed consumers). is a journey of discovery, so I am happy to admit I... we... are learning all the time. And so far, in our attempts to help folk (we're not being altruistic as every such enquiry and, with luck, result adds to the knowledge base we can share on our pages), it has been pretty discouraging. And let's not forget, we do know a tad more about where to try than most of the general public.

Websites; local authority and otherwise. Actual exchanges with endless officers. Industry bodies. NGOs. Businesses. Not much to show, from the vast logistical investment that has been made so far, that gets us any where near dealing with the item(s) we're interested in deposing of at all, let alone responsibly. There's a lot of 'stuff' out there. But outside of the kerbside-friendly 'goodies' endlessly solicited, when push comes to shove not much at all that translates into actually helping an individual get rid of something , either easily, practically or cost-effectively.

To dispose of my CPU, so far no organisation listed on local official sites wants to know, and as an individual the closest I have come is an invitation to visit Leeds, London or Luton.

I just hope that it is not going to prove to be because there's no money to be made, or the targets are not sexy enough. 

Now that would be a real waste.

Flights of Fancy

It's worth repeating our dictum that in matters green, things are seldom black and white. Hence I read with interest an article about an aspect of governmental internal behaviour, namely the use (and abuse) of air travel: Ministers use the Queen's Flight 'like private taxis'

I actually have some sympathy, as many criticisms do not reflect the realities of modern life. Can't very well have the PM unable or not present to make a decision on some new global excitement because he's waiting for the No 37 bus. Or for that matter, have the leader of our country standing around in the open at all, lest a Father for Jihad in a funny outfit decide to go for the front page of the Sun.

However, as with all things, we get to matters of degree. And it all gets complicated when one weighs 'efficiency' (of time, etc), with economy and, latterly, security issues and the environment. 

So we have that: "The Prime Minister has used the aircraft on 677 occasions since 1997 and spent about £140,000 on five trips abroad, mainly devoted to family holidays." While "senior ministers, including Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, have regularly used the Queen's Flight to ferry them from London to Brussels rather than take the train." And my personal eyebrow-twitching favourite: "Margaret Beckett, the Environment Secretary and the minister in charge of Labour's response to global warming, is also under fire for regularly ordering the aircraft, based at Northolt, near London, to fly to East Midlands airport, near her home in Derby, to pick her up for Government trips."

I can go along with the security issue. And, in the national interest, the time efficiency one, but this does of course start to drift into whose time is more important when we are told to do something that is patently not done by those telling us to do it. Especially when the disconnect is so grotesque: "In a statement on behalf of Mrs Beckett, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it was entirely reasonable for aircraft to pick her up near her constituency home, especially if it were a Monday morning.' I still recall her on a radio show during the election justifying helicopter tips because she was 'very busy', like the rest of us are not. Sorry, this is not the right person to lecture us on how to be green.

And it seems a spokesman for the fiscally prudent Mr Brown has said that using the Queen's Flight to Brussels was cheaper than even standard class in Eurostar. That seems a pretty damning indictment on the attractiveness of train travel. But imagine the fiscal and environmental gains all round if they'd opted for a few seats with the masses on what I imagine to be a not-dissimilar levels-of-exhaust-venting aircraft operated by such as EasyJet? 

And finally, I must sigh when I read the now inevitable: 'It said that, "conscious of the environmental impact of aviation", all ministerial flights during Britain's presidency of the European Union last year were "carbon offset", partly by paying for environmental projects overseas.'

For a start, 'It is said that..' seems pretty blooming vague. Were they? Yes or no? And why only during Britain's Presidency? And what projects exactly? It would surely be no great effort to get taxpayers to fund the environmental consequences of all the jollies as well as those that are valid, but I for one would certainly like to know where the money is going and and why. 

Money talks and politicians should, on occasion, be made to walk.