Have We Made Things Worse By Making Them Better?


Thursday, 9.58pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Reducing and reusing take nothing more than a rethink on the way we shop, and using our imagination with the things that we might once have considered junk. – Sheherazade Goldsmith

You will probably conclude that I have too much time on my hands after reading this.

As you are aware, it’s difficult to go places these days.

So, I spend some time sorting through the piles of paper that have accumulated everywhere.

Most of which have to do with notes that I’ve taken over time.

Over the years I have probably had more than my fair share of time obsessing over note taking.

This could turn into a very long post if we start discussing the merits of bound books versus loose paper.

Pros, cons and angst await us in those debates.

But I had a simpler question.

What was I to do with all this paper?

Do I just throw it out? Put it in the recycling? Shred it?

Here’s the thing, we don’t really think too much about paper, do we?

It’s so easy now to get hold of stuff we want.

Paper comes in reams and books and we fill it and put it in files and piles and pretty soon it’s everywhere.

More comes through the letterbox every day, folded inside other pieces of folded paper.

And we’re too busy to deal with it so it goes onto a surface awaiting dispatch into a recycling bin.

Now the paper that you’ve written on – do you use both sides?

I often write only on one side and lots of printed material also just uses the one side.

And you feel like you should hold onto it – you might need it in the future, and throwing it away seems so final.

What should you do?

Some time back I went to a dinner and met a person who refurbishes computers.

That seems like such a sensible thing to do – many people replace their hardware every three or so years, but there’s still lots of life left in those machines.

I’m writing this on a seven year old machine, I think, and there’s a functioning Macbook in my collection from 2009.

Running GNU/Linux, of course…

Can we refurbish paper?

Well, I am – and here’s how.

We happen to have one of those paper cutting things – and so all the sheets of paper that I find with one side still usable get cut up into A6 sheets.

All of a sudden you have index cards – for free.

Now, the economics are nothing to sniff at…

An index card costs around 3p.

If you use them a lot – say to write a book, you’ll probably end up using a few thousand cards.

£30, you say, that’s not very much.

But it adds up – and remember, you haven’t had to cut down any more trees.

Then there are the envelopes that come through the door stuffed with bills and junk mail.

I used to just toss these.

Now, I open them carefully and cut them in half.

And you have little folders for your index cards.

Label them, put a few sheets in and you have a nice organisation system building up.

But where do you put those folders?

In the box you get when you trim a cereal packet to size, of course.

Now, you might think that this is all a huge waste of time – but actually there are a few points to consider.

Everything that I’m using has been created for one purpose.

I suppose I’m not really refurbishing them, unless you count erasing marks in pencil, more repurposing them.

But by doing that they are extending their use – and I’m using fewer resources and getting more value out of the junk and packaging that we get anyway.

Now, the point I’m making really, is that we have gone to huge efforts to make things better.

In our efforts to go paperless we use huge amounts of energy to keep data alive in servers forever.

We believe that we’re doing good by recycling everything as fast as possible, when perhaps we could do even more good by reusing them first.

Even junk mail has its uses.

Many paper based systems work pretty well actually – the reason we move them to digital is not to be more effective but to get more control.

That may be a debate for another time…

We have such effective methods of production – everything is just so much better and there’s no shortage of stuff.

But would we be better off if we just used things for longer?

Is there anything you could do to reuse the things around you before you recycle them?


Karthik Suresh

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