Reduce, reuse, recycle: responsible disposal but criminal waste

November 6, 2010 § Leave a comment

As I have previously hinted, “waste not, want not” is deeply engrained in my psyche and my instinct to reuse rather than throw out sometimes nudges ridiculous extremes. The “second life” I find for some items, like jam jars, toilet roll holders and recently scrap metal, is rooted in my industrious nature. Others are the product of the lazy Mrs M.

As much as I like cultivating the garden, weeding can be soul-destroying. It is a bit like ironing; no matter how much you do there will always be more. Anything that reduces the need to weed is in my opinion a Very Good Thing, which is how I discovered mulching.

In essence, mulching involves covering the soil with a thick layer of material to starve weeds from the light they need to grow. Typically a thick layer of compost or straw is used as these feed the soil as they decompose. The first would, however, require a garden large enough to feed a compost maker on a continuous basis and the second proximity to a farm or stables. Another alternative is black plastic sheeting but I cannot bring myself to buy them – not so much because of the cost but because of my general aversion to pointless oil derivatives. Instead, I resort to a thick layer of shredded newspaper.

Our home recycling system includes stacking old copies of the Financial Times and The Guardian up by the back door where they wait to be torn into shreds and spread on our raised beds. However, as newspapers tend to be a weekend luxury, our pile of prospective mulch grows slower than is helpful.

As I have not yet resorted to knocking at my neighbours’ doors for their old papers and I definitely draw the line at feeding the garden on The Daily Mail and The Sun, I add cardboard packaging as well as discarded A4 print-outs to our mulch. Although recycled printing paper does not biodegrade as efficiently as thin newspaper and the print from an ink jet printing cartridge does not contain the same nutrients as modern soy-based press inks, these sheets do eke out our home-made mulch and reduce both the number of bags left out for the dustmen and hours of back-breaking weeding.

Imagine then the battle of wills I experienced at work this week. As the billable hours amassed over the past months, so did the draft contracts and check lists. By Tuesday I could no longer spot the carpet between the stacks of paper, and as for working out what constituted notes of conference calls as opposed to “thinking aloud on paper”… I had no choice but to organise a confidential disposal bin and set about working out what to send to store and what needed to go.

Like anybody who works in a law firm, I am understandably nervous about throwing out confidential paperwork and conscientiously file documents in the large metal shredding bins. It was however with a heavy heart that I watched a 100-litre bin of potential mulch being wheeled out of my office destined for the incinerator. It may have been a thoroughly responsible act as a lawyer but personally it felt criminal.

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