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Nov-27-2012 01:07printcomments


Despite the hypocritical lip service, recycling is not a capitalist value.

(CALGARY, Alberta) - Despite the hypocritical lip service, recycling is not a capitalist value. It is, in fact, anti-capitalist and in the minds of the business community—anti-American. The health of the economy depends on citizens consuming—buying more and more of what they need less and less of. When there is high unemployment or a depressed economy, consumer confidence is polled and policy makers try to find ways to kick-start the economy which means, fundamentally, how to get more money into people’s hands and encourage them to spend it.

I discussed this issue in September 2009 in my review of Vance Packard’s 1960 book The Wastemakers in “How Capitalism Destroyed American Democracy: Part 1” (

In his book Packard asked the question that people in the Western world have yet to answer or even address: “What will happen to the dignity of man if he finds that his contribution is to be a consumer rather than a creator?”

I am not much of a consumer. I live in a recycled apartment and I mean that literally. I live in a fourteen-story building in one of about a hundred apartments. The end of the month is of particular interest around here because that is when people move and move out and, in the process, discard perfectly serviceable items. I’m looking around my place and here’s an incomplete list.

I’m sitting at a desk which I bought new in 1992. But I am sitting in a leather office chair that someone put out behind the building. One arm was fairly ragged but I taped if up and it’s as good as new. It doesn’t look new but it’s completely comfortable. It swivels, leans back and does everything it could do when it was new.

Staying at the desk, I’m writing this on a Pentium 4 computer with XP Pro that I bought for $99 in 2005. There are three hard drives in it, two of which I reinstalled from a previous computer. The only thing wrong with it is the Ethernet card crapped out a few weeks ago and I have to use another (also recycled) computer to send and receive email and access the Net. As soon as I can recycle a bit of money, I’ll replace it.

Until about two years ago I was using a monitor that I bought new in 2001. It was still good, but the image was no longer 100% sharp. Then, one night, I spotted a monitor someone had left out for me that was the same size, just newer. Still works great and no need to replace it for the foreseeable future.

Sometimes my apt feels stuffy, so I usually have a fan going. In this case it is a huge fan, a couple of feet in diameter, that I found a couple of years ago.

There is a nice couch in the living room. Wood frame with six cushions. I couldn’t (legally) bring it into the building today because there was recently a bed-bug infestation. I didn’t have any and I suspect that most places didn’t, but they came in and sprayed every apartment. The rule now is that if anyone is seen bringing in furniture from outside, they can be anonymously reported. Of course, there is a bed-bug infestation that is North America wide and it has nothing to do with the economic class of the residence. They’re everywhere, now, after being virtually wiped out for decades. They are back with a vengeance. You can potentially find them in a shack in Mississippi and the most expensive penthouse in New York. People are even nervous about going to movies because they can travel in clothing, transfer to the seat, and go home with you.

Meanwhile, back in my apartment.

Beside my bed is a two level, recycled, night table with two doors on the lower level. Very functional and it is completely undamaged or marked.

Most of my books are against one wall on recycled bricks and boards shelves. With only a few exceptions, all my books have been purchased at second hand stores. It’s been that way since I was in my teens.

I have two vacuum cleaners (found the same way) and am just figuring out which is the better one to keep.

I’m a great movie fan and have a large collection of VHS movies (also purchased second hand). Last year I found a TV with a built in VHS player which replaced my old TV which I had bought new in 1991. I could have more TVs if I wanted them. At least once a week a TV appears out back. What I suspect is happening is people are buying new flat screen models and the old ones immediately become “worthless”. Not even worth selling. That’s my theory.

Moving into the kitchen we are well recycled there. We have two coffee makers and a complete cutlery set. We have some good pots and pans (not your cheap dollar store stuff) and all sorts of odds that ends that have been found in boxes at the end of the month.


I draw the line, however, at food. There was an article a couple of years ago in a local magazine about two guys who go into dumpsters and get perfectly good food. This may be true, but for me it’s not just being fastidious, but I wouldn’t trust what might be found.

But there is a great deal of food wasted in our society. I worked in a Safeway store a few years ago and got to know one of the deli guys. Every day he went through the sandwiches and took out all the stuff that was at its best before date. It was all thrown out. Couldn’t it have been given away to a shelter or some such, I wondered? No, he said, because it would have been “expired” and there was some health regulation that prevented it from being redistributed to the “public”. And, of course, the food couldn’t be taken by or consumed by staff because if that were allowed, you could easily see people abusing the privilege.


Clothing is a real surprise. Quite often there will be shoes and clothing left in the laundry room with a “free, help yourself” sign. I am wearing now a pair of Nike runners which are my size. They were brand new. They had no price tag, but the nylon ring still looped them together and the laces hadn’t yet been threaded.

A couple of years ago a man I knew casually from the office building I worked in asked if I wanted some shirts. A friend of his had died and he inherited a bunch of clothing. The shirts didn’t fit him but they were my size. So, I accepted them. It turns out that they are all custom-made shirts—top quality. Probably $100 shirts if I had bought them myself. I don’t have to wear office clothing, so the shirts will last me years, if not decades. (I’ll probably be cremated in one of them).

A couple of weeks ago I found, at a bus stop, an excellent winter jacket. I washed it and it is like new. (Not exactly my colour, but when it’s –20c and snowing, who’s going to notice, or even care?) I also got an expensive leather jacket from the laundry room. It is virtually new and really good looking—a little heavy for the summer, but with fall approaching it will be perfect.

Speaking of washing, we’ve been in this apartment for over three years and until about six months ago we had free washing and drying (normally $2 each). The first couple of months we were here Ben got talking with a woman in the laundry room and she showed him a secret code for the washer and dryer that activated them. There was one washer and two dryers the code worked with. The laundry company has changed the system so that all are now activated by cards that you load with money-credit from your debit or credit cards. Hard to estimate, but at an average of six loads/month, we’ve saved in the neighbourhood of $1,000+.


We live in a consumer-oriented, capitalist society; it’s been that way particularly since after the Second World War. But, as Senator Joseph S. Clark of Pennsylvania put in his 1964 book: Congress: The Sapless Branch

The goal of our economy is not the production of more consumer goods at all. The goal of our economy is to provide an environment in which every American family can have a good house for living and shelter, a good school to which to send the children, good transportation facilities and good opportunities for cultural and spiritual advancement.”

As John Kenneth Galbraith sums it up:

The individual serves the industrial system not by supplying it with savings and the resulting capital; he serves it by consuming its products. On no other activity, religious, political or moral, is he so elaborately and skilfully and expensively instructed.

It’s the main part of our educational system that works as it is supposed to.

Daniel Johnson is a born and raised Calgarian. He is currently working on a book The Occupy Wall Street User Manual which is scheduled for publication in spring 2013 by Polymath Press. In 1990 he published his first (and so far, only) book: Practical History: A guide to Will and Ariel Durant’s “The Story of Civilization” (Polymath Press, Calgary) Newly appointed as the Deputy Executive Editor in August 2011, he has been writing exclusively for since March 2009 and, as of summer 2012, has published more than 210 stories. View articles written by Daniel Johnson

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Ralph E. Stone November 27, 2012 6:28 am (Pacific time)

I believe people can get in the habit of recycling if given the chance. In San Francisco, for example, each household has three cans: one for compostables, one for recyclables (cans, bottles and paper, and one just for non-recyclables. We have recycling centers. We have recycling centers, collecting cans and bottles, Goodwill has centers to take useable furniture, electronics, etc. Also, it is common practice to put useable items on the sidewalk with a "free" sign on it. Thus, with a little help from local government and private enterprise, consumers can be taught to recycle. Actually, much useable items like clothing is shipped overseas. In South Africa, we saw flea markets selling used clothing that came from the U.S.

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