The Western Riverside Waste Authority Recycling Facility is the latest mouthful of a name for Wandsworth Dump. I’ve been a frequent visitor of late, hauling low loads of bollocks in the Audi before trying to work out which bin to put things in. “No vans” says the sign as you turn right into the driveway. I remember my brother and I in our early twenties swearing and pulling the van onto the pavement and walking in carring a load of crap. You couldn’t do that nowadays. It’s heavily monitored. CCTV everywhere.
The entrance has been turned into a long line, like a passport queue or a ski lift – designed to cut back on traffic on Smuggler’s Way by folding the cars together. As you move down it, over aggressive bumps, you pass lit up displays telling you all sorts of things you have to do. When you get to the end a man in hi-vis ignores you, but a sign tells you you have to reverse park into one of the bays. You get to see the range of skills that still manage to pass a driving test in the approach to this maneuver. Woe betide anybody who goes in front first. I’ve seen how the hi-vis people talk to them. It would make anybody feel stupid.
Once you’re in a bay it’s a free for all. It’s busy at the moment. Huge bins are in a constant state of filling as we all do our lockdown DIY. The categories are limited. Organic Waste. Wood and Timber. Small Appliances. Clear Bag Mixed Recycling. General Rubbish.
The general rubbish one fills fast, and there’s a reason for that. Even if they’re trying to recycle things, they give up quite easily. I had a good pane of glass the other day. “Where do I recycle this?” “General Rubbish.”
The little bay where you leave things for others to take is closed for the Cove. People have still been trying, unable to take that last step. When I arrive I run my eyes over a load of pictures propped up on a bin. I don’t want them but they’re attractive. Prints, and a large framed photo of The Eiffel Tower. No resale value, but somebody clearly hoped they’d find new life. While I’m emptying my car of bits of bed I watch one of the hi-vis people grab all the pictures in batches and impassively sling them into Mixed Rubbish. His movements are slow and sustained. I hear the frames shatter, while he appears not to. There’s a finality in it. They’ll go to landfill, along with so many other things that might recycle if reduced to their component parts but his job is not to break things down, his job is just to keep the pathways free of nasty things that might infect us, like art.
Batteries are efficiently sorted in bins. Fabrics are overspilling from all the new lockdown Kondo acolytes. Cans of hazardous liquids sit in the sun waiting to be attended. I carry my old hoover over to “Large Appliances” and place it neatly by another one. I tried to fix it. I really did.
When I was a kid I learnt to tinker. I got pretty good at it – fixing up appliances. I can usually backwards engineer something and work out where it’s gone wrong and do something to make it work again. I’m nothing on Brian, who I once saw take apart a smoke machine and improvise a hotfix in less than twelve seconds in time for the start of Carol. I take longer, but I don’t like giving up on simple electrics. But I tried all the obvious things and concluded that it was just fucked. I imagine somebody at the dump will go “this one just needs a new ooplamagork”. But I drew a blank after checking all the stuff I knew.
Seeing all the discarded items it helped bring home to me how disposable everything is these days. Growing up we had the same Hoover for decades. I’ve been through three of them in a year, and that’s not even counting the steam mop and Brian’s carpet cleaner. Even things full of rare minerals like mobile phones – we’re encouraged to upgrade them every couple of years and they start to scramble themselves if you have them for too long.
New stuff isn’t better than old stuff that works. We should all try to get better at fixing things generally. YouTube can teach us to fix anything so long as we can put up with the personality of the person doing the teaching. My friend Mel taught me to reattach the fan belt on her washing machine over the phone once. It can be satisfying, working out how something works and fixing it. So long as you don’t electrify yourself, it’s worth having a go while we’ve all got a bit more time. I changed my plug sockets in April and put up a load of chandeliers. If I can work it out…
Learning plumbing would be the real win…