Thursday 23 November 2017

Time to make a clean sweep

Passing on our junk and expensive mistakes can give rubbish a new life, says Aoife Carrigy

It must be spring already. Last week there were reports of daffodils blooming and the Minister for the Environment committing to a long-overdue spring clean. Ten years ago, when we had loadsa money, we invested €51m in a brighter, shinier future in the shape of 7,500 electronic voting machines and accessories such as storage cases, transportation trolleys, tilt tables and tray attachments.

Bertie Ahern warned that refusing to embrace the new technology would mean "this country will move into the 21st century being a laughing stock with our stupid aul pencils", but the nation's desire to keep up with the Joneses could not overcome naysayers' suspicions regarding the efficacy and reliability of the new-fangled system.

We've since spent €145,000 a year storing the lot, while we argued over what to do with them. That's some expensive dust we've been gathering, not to mention the collective guilt of having wasted €54.756m to date on the whole shambolic project.

But enough is enough. Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan is welcoming tenders from parties willing to buy the doomed machines. Or to take them away. Or to be paid to take them away.


It's a shameful waste of money, but one that we can all relate to. Who hasn't got stuff gathering dust in some dark corner of their otherwise happy home, spurring pangs of consumer guilt? The piles of unused bulbs because you never check if it's screw-in or bayonet before you buy them. The expensive juicer that's so feckie to clean that you've reverted to just eating your five a day. The top-of-the-range, flourescent, waterproof cycling gear languishing somewhere because you think your bike has a slow puncture but don't have the right adapter on your pump to check.

The internet is heaving with sites where you can invite tenders from parties willing to buy these doomed dust-gatherers -- or just take them away.

If you're happy to go to D16 to get it, there's an old exercise bike for the taking, which apparently "works well enough, though crappy saddle etc", a description that hints at the deflected disdain that has crept into that relationship.


Others are more wistful. Take the never-played acoustic guitar which the owner "bought in hope". Their full description suggests a lingering love. "The colour is what brought me to buy it: a beautiful cherry wood darkening to black on the outside with a pale tan outline." Aw shucks.

Then there are the ads that might inspire a touch of schadenfreude if we were feeling uncharitable towards those who did have money to throw about at the height of our whimsy-filled boom. (Yes, I'm talking about you, owner of the 2006 Ski Supreme V-Drive 350 boat who is hoping that the "low hours of use" will go in your favour in recouping €29,995 of your original spend.)

Donedeal, Craig's List, Freecycle: all full of half-told tales of abandoned dreams and rejected resolutions and love turned sour. Sewing machines that were going to rescue a wardrobe, if not lead to a new career. Scuba gear and roller blades, yoga mats and keep-fit videos. Hula chairs and weight-loss belts. Espresso machines and cappuccino art stencils. Ice-cream makers and bread makers and toaster ovens. Bearded dragons that come with their own heat bulb and basking rocks.

Then there are all those gifts that just never inspired the love once hoped for them. My favourite, a cello gifted to one Craig's List user a couple of years ago, the neck of which has since snapped off: "So it's really more like 3/4's of a cello, but the other 1/4's still there, it's just not attached." The admirably honest ad continues, "If you're like me and you don't know how to play the cello then you could use it as a coin bank . . . (or) you could saw the front off and use it as a sled. Or give the neck to a baby as like a wizard stick for Christmas."

But then it's easier to be upbeat when you're disposing of something you never were fool enough to buy in the first place. Like ugly ashtrays and half-dead plants your ex left behind. Or almost €55m worth of electronic voting machines. Our Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan, cheerfully dismissed them as "valueless" before quipping that there "may be a market for them in Irish-themed pubs across the world".

Laughs aside, there may be something in it. Perhaps those storage cases could be used as coin banks.

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