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What To Do With Old Stuff



Landfills are full of our old stuff. Even gently used products are thoughtlessly thrown away. But we are running out of space for all these things we don’t want anymore. We need to figure out what to do with all our old stuff.


One of my favourite songs by Tom Waits is Old Broken Bicycles.


The lyrics start out,


Broken bicycles, Old busted chains, Rusted handlebars Out in the rain.

Somebody must Have an orphanage for these things that nobody Wants any more

September’s reminding July It’s time to be saying … good-bye. Summer is gone, But our love will remain.

Like old broken bicycles Left out in the rain.


As a result of this song, I started noticing all the bikes that people left behind for some reason. It became a bit of a photo project.


In a big city, you will often see them, still locked to a pole, slowly being stripped of the essentials. It’s incredibly sad. As I photographed them I would often think of the possible back story. Who left the bike behind? Did they move away, did they just stop wanting the bike, stop caring?


This song came to mind lately as I considered what to do with a lovely set of antique dishes sitting in my garage. The set was designed by Theodore Haviland and is called Limoges. It was quite the thing in its day. The set I have was my grandmother’s good set for special occasions. While it is quite pretty it is also very delicate and not appropriate for modern living, meaning no dishwashers. I have held on to it for sentimental reasons but I was afraid if I started using it the pieces would fall apart in my hands.



So I thought maybe it might have some value and a collector would want it. Selling on Ebay was a total bust. Not even a nibble. I tried an antique dealer that specializes in dishes and even they were completely not interested. So what am I to do with an incomplete set of antique dishes?


In the end, I have decided to just start using them. If they break so be it. If the gold edging comes off in the dishwasher so what. At least they will be put to use. And when they do start to break, I will use the pieces to create flagstones throughout my garden.


Like my antique dishes and those bicycles, the world is full of things that people don’t want or can’t use any more and most of those things will end up in a landfill. But this behaviour is completely unsustainable.


Yes, we need to change how we make new things but we also have to figure out what to do with the stuff we’ve already produced. Remember the movie Wall-E? We can’t keep using and disposing of things until there is no place left to put them and then fly off to Mars.


Our oceans are drowning in plastics and we are quickly running out of places to stuff our garbage underground. In my dreams, someone designs a way to take ALL the garbage, both buried and being produced and turns it into fuel or building materials or something.


In the meantime, there are some cool things happening around the world.


There is a mall in Sweden where only recycled goods are sold. You can bring things in to be recycled and shop for something else that is recycled or repaired.


There are repair shops opening up where you can not only bring in things to be repaired, you can learn how to fix them yourself. We need more and more of these types of places.


And there are initiatives like Precious Plastic,


Precious Plastic is a global community of hundreds of people working towards a solution to plastic pollution. Knowledge, tools and techniques are shared online, for free.

Or there is this one in Columbia where they have turned old plastic into building blocks for new houses and finally, this one in Ghana where they are recycling plastic into roads and roofing materials.


I love to read about initiatives like this but if we are to make a difference moving forward, these things have to be done on a mass scale. There has to be a global change of attitude toward the production and use of everyday things if we are to get our waste issues under control.


As Tom Waits writes….


The seasons can turn on a dime,

Somehow I forget every time;

These things you’ve given me

They always will stay

They’re broken… but I’ll never throw them away