Rubbish

Here are some things I have thrown away over the last month:

Two sandwich toasters.

A full set of Ikea cutlery.

A two-pint glass with “beer monster” printed on the side.

A fridge that was probably fine.

A load of wooden beams for roofing. (“That is good wood!” said the man who works at the recycling centre, incredulously, as my husband pitched the slats into the big skip for waste wood.)

A scratched but sound table top. (“That’s wood, not bric-a-brac,” said another man who works at the recycling centre, waylaying me and ending my hopes of sending the table on to whatever the furniture version of going to live on a farm is. “It’s not good enough condition.”)

A perfectly fine bedstead. (This I slung bitterly into the wood skip, not willing to risk another bruising rejection of my rejected possessions.)

After the savage dismissal of my table top, I sat in the car and cried for a bit. Not just because I was 13 days into a two-week process of house clearance and moving, though I was, and that seems like a perfectly legitimate reason to have a brief sob; it was the waste that got to me.

My own detritus was painful enough. When you move, it’s sensible to carry only what you want to take, and in the preceding month, we unloaded uncountable bin bags of stuff to the charity shops of Bath. I don’t think of myself as profligate or wasteful, so this evidence of both my profligacy and my wastefulness was unwelcome. Clothes that didn’t fit or didn’t suit. Toys our children had neglected or outgrown. Books – not many of these, but the packing made it undeniable that a whole mass of volumes have sat on our shelves, unopened and unliving.

But then there was the other stuff, other people’s stuff. The house we were moving into had been student accommodation for most of a decade, and the whole cellar was tightly packed with boxes of possessions no one wanted to take with them, and no one wanted to throw away.

Someone had left a full wardrobe of clothes and a collection of manga in a zip-up bag, all now lightly mildewed. There was set after set of crockery and cutlery: plain white economy porcelain, or the mix-and-match assembly of spares from mum and dad. Person after person had come to this house, each bringing their own offering to the underworld of homewares in the foundations.

My husband and I hauled everything out. We were Jesus of the unwanted pots, harrowing the hell below our living room floor. And then we ditched it all – some we donated and some we kept, but more that I would have liked went to the tip. Guilty as I felt, I decided the original sin of this stuff was in its making, not its junking. All of it had been wanted at point of sale: the doughnut maker, the “beer monster” stein, the cock-and-balls cookie cutter with optional depresser for marking a biscuity bellend (student house). And none had been wanted after.

This seems an abjectly terrifying use of human ingenuity and natural resources. It seems so hideously inefficient: shouldn’t there be some kind of system so the owner of sandwich toaster one could inform the owner of sandwich toaster two that an operational sandwich toaster was already in residence, so no need to add your own to the small electrical graveyard? A register of unnecessary objects.

But I know also that this stuff is all necessary in its way: these are the tokens by which wealth is circulated, production maintained, employment created. All this festering junk is the waste crapped out by a functioning economy, and we fill first our homes and then the land with shit.

Further On Fashion

Portfolio magazine on luxury fashion’s vague shrug towards responsible manufacturing practices.

In a January report, investment research firm Innovest’s list of the 100 most responsible corporations included no luxury conglomerates […] Innovest’s list, oddly, does include two leading retailers in the wasteful “fast fashion” movement—H&M and Inditex, which owns the Zara chain. It’s hard to be truly green with a business model that compels customers to frequently throw out what they own. Unfortunately, luxury fashion has begun taking cues from fast fashion, putting itself at odds with its exclusive nature. Whereas couturiers once made design statements as part of an ongoing evolution—creating new jackets that would go with last year’s dresses—fast fashion introduces clothes nonstop, zigzagging through multiple styles each season. Forced obsolescence drives consumers to buy more. This may sound like a shrewd business practice, but overproduction leads to overconsumption: The more we buy, the more we discard. That’s environmentally heedless—and it’s ugly.

For Portfolio, one of the key points here is that by chasing the throwaway fashion dollar, luxury fashion has been unwittingly degrading its own marketplace. A jacket that matches last season’s skirt implies a select clientele of repeat customers, picking out essential pieces season after season. The novelty-hungry trend seekers who rummage through H&M and Zara are, by their nature, not very loyal: they don’t have a relationship to the things they buy, and they don’t have a relationship to the places they buy them either.

Couture design and crafting can’t respond to the rapid turnover of street fashion. By inciting a furious desire for new beauty every season, the designer brands have summoned up a demand for copycats who can supply quick-turnaround product. Susan Scafidi’s solution to this problem is to espouse copyright protection for fashion designs – a proposal which, despite my sympathy for designers, seems neither very workable nor fair nor desirable. It doesn’t serve to change the self-immolating business model which Portfolio picks up on, either. Portfolio offers a different remedy which combines sustainability with exclusivity:

try to imagine a high-end fashion giant responding to our overtaxed environment by embracing traditional methods that are both more luxurious and less ephemeral. Now that would be a radical new design.

For domestic knitters and tailors, this isn’t that radical at all – if you are a competent needleworker, then you’re all set to be your own couturier. Luxury fashion is racing to catch up with your knitting bag…