Some musings on recycling from Catherine:
Walking round our beautiful park on a beautiful sunny day recently, my black bag of litter began to tinkle and rustle. It was turning into a two black bag day. There must, I keep thinking, obsessively, be a use for all this great tsunami of shoddy which is routinely thrown away in our society, on the streets, from households, from organisations. The Pacific garbage patch floated vaguely into my mind.
As a practical exercise, I extracted a discarded portable barbecue, removed the immolated sausages for the magpies and the great tits who come to my bird table, and surveyed the remaining detritus.
What can be done with a fairly robust metal grille, an aluminium tray, charcoal ash and some half burnt briquettes? Is it utter trash, or could it be reused?
I stared at the ash. I seem to remember that charcoal ash can act as a fertilizer, so I can put it on the garden, perhaps. My father, in rural Ulster, used to put wood ash on many plants and vegetables; his rhubarb had a particularly fearsome reputation. He had pure wood ash, though, and I would guess that charcoal briquettes may contain additives. My grandmother used an ash based concoction to clean silver etc as she considered Brasso too expensive. A student made the interesting suggestion that the finest of the ash could be mixed with paint and used as a face camouflage in secretive urbex explorations, where one does not wish to be identified, if apprehended. Another former student, an anthropologist who is now working in Columbia, responded to an email on the subject with the information that ash can be used as toothpaste, provided the potassium hydroxide level is high enough. He also suggested that I buy chickens and let them take ash baths, as it can be fatal to avian parasites. Neither option seemed particularly attractive at the time.
The foil container, which is technically recyclable, should have a lot of uses. One suggestion was to use it to sharpen scissors, by folding it into several layers and then slicing it several times with the blades. Flattening such containers out means they can be put under the covers of an ironing board, so the heat from the iron will be retained longer. It’s not easy to get them completely flat for this, though. It looks as if it could serve as a cat litter holder, but knowing how fussy Heaton Moor cats are, they might take one sniff and turn their backs. It also looks serviceable as a mould for making soap, but somehow one never gets around to making soap. Another more feasible suggestion was to accumulate several such foil plates and dishes and string them together around a fruit tree, where their rustling noise would deter birds having a snack. Edward, from New York, reckoned it would be just about fine for storing six baseballs, and for bringing caught fish home from Prospect Park Lake, although he conceded that it probably wouldn’t be cost effective transporting it all the way to the US in the first place.
The metal grille, if one was artistic enough, could be twisted into the shape of a bird, perhaps. Two of the long pieces could be cut out and soldered to form the bird’s legs and then twisted onto some base wire into claws. Suitably altered, the grille could work as a hanging jewellery holder. If it could be cut up, it could be fashioned into soap dishes. All these uses would require soldering and artistic skills which I don’t have. But metal, of course, can be recycled, if taken to an appropriate recycling centre.
It seems there are lots of uses for plastic bottles. In a colleague’s office, there is an attractive case brimming with colourful pencils, made out of a litre milk bottle lying flat, with a large hole cut in the top. The larger bottles, if swathed in colourful raffia or some fabric, could serve as vases. Cut out the bottom of a number of them, and you have some “clam shell” shapes which can be painted and hung together as a wind chime. I’ve seen plastic bottles used as handles on a home-made skipping rope, and have known students to fill them with sand or pebbles to create a makeshift dumbbell.
An ever resourceful friend suggested an organic fly trap, which initially seemed fairly easy: remove the cap and cut the neck off the bottle, about one third of the way down; put some bait into the base, and insert the neck of the bottle, upside down, above it. Then tape the structure together; cut some thin wire into a U shape, burn a couple of holes in your bait bottle, and hang the whole thing up to lure fruit flies and blow flies. When full of dead flies, remove, and empty the contents into the soil in the garden: completely organic! What should I use as bait, I asked? Dog poo is best, came the jaunty reply; it is free and plentiful, it suppurates very nicely, the flies love it, and the smell is so revolting that you will forget you ever worried about litter in the first place.
Any other ideas for recycling litter? Another resourceful acquaintance opines that I should just dump the lot beneath the wooden bench when the smokers and drinkers are there. It’s not as if they’re going to notice.
Some interesting ideas! Thanks Catherine.
Maybe this is an opportunity for an artistic event on a ‘recycling litter’ theme? It reminds me of a rather unusual collection of rubbish that I wrote about here, last year.