Monday, October 01, 2007

An all enveloping experience

Carbonlite is in the living room, surrounded by mounds of paper, glueyrubbish and scissors. I glance down at his feet where several bulging carrier bags spill onto the carpet. Each bag is stuffed with used envelopes. A multitude of once healthy trees, pulped, posted and nowpacked into plastic bags.

I lift a bag onto the table. "What are you doing with all this?" I ask him suspiciously. While I'm glad he's moved the piles of bags from the downstairs toilet, I'm fearful of the implications on my tidy living room. "Well, if you look here you'll see I'm snipping the plastic window out of this envelope and cutting out the gum and paste." he says, manoeuvring his scissors around the envelope. "Those bits can't be recycled you see. And now I'm cutting the rest of the envelope into a small usable square. If I stick all these squares together I'm thinking maybe I can make a little book." I struggle not to smile. " A book?" I repeat. "Yes, a little book of paper, perhaps the kids could use it for colouring or something," he explains. "Or we could give them away as Christmas presents."

He looks at me, I look at him, and we both start to laugh. "It's nuts isn't it?" he acknowledges. "But if I don't have a go then what will I do with all these envelopes? I can't put them in with the newspapers for recycling because of all the plastic and glue. There's always the option of composting the ungluey bits on the compost heap, but it's such a waste of good paper. What would you do with them?" We both know my answer before it's even formed. I glance at the bin and then glance away before picking up the scissors.

"I like to do my bit to save the planet," I happily tell Carbonlite as I snip away at a pile of envelopes. He pauses, then sighs. "You know it's a trap, this 'doing your bit' attitude. Cut up a few envelopes, recycle the milk bottles and reuse a bag or two by all means, but don't pretend your 'doing your bit' to stop global warming. You’re still driving. You still use the tumble drier. You flew to Slovakia earlier this year. Do you know how many bags you'd have to re-use or refuse to pay for that one flight? Millions of the things. A mountain of bags the size of Helvellyn. Doing your bit isn't about doing what’s convenient for you. It's about completely changing your life," he says, still snipping out miniature squares and dropping them onto a table now resembling a haphazard mosaic.

I check the time. "Well it's nearly school pick up time and I've got to take the kids swimming later so I probably haven’t time to change my life right now," I tell him, "but I do have time to make a little book or two. Come on, we can road test them on the Carbon Copies." I snip a small square of paper out of a large white envelope, and try to work out how many carrier bags would have to be reused as payback for this afternoon’s drive to the swimming pool. Then I recall Carbonliteonce told me a six mile drive produces roughly the same weight in carbon emissions as a bag of sugar. I reflect on this as we enjoy some quiet companionship, cutting and assembling bits of paper.

"We’re home Dad," shout the Carbon Copies, dumping their wet swimming kit on the table. "What took you so long?" asks Carbonlite, sipping on a cup of tea in a living room free of paper, scissors and envelope."Oh, just doing our bit," I say, plonking a bag of sugar on the table. "We cycled to the swimming pool and saved a bag of sugar,"cries the youngest Carbonlite. "No, we saved the planet and bought a bag of sugar," corrects his brother.

Carbonlite smiles when I explain the relevance of the sugar. "That’s great, because I've made all the Christmas presents," he says opening the kitchen door with a flourish and revealing a wide selection of tiny assorted recycled books. "The only trouble is, I can't find an envelope to package them up."