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Okay I admit it, newspapers are dead. But maybe in China they aren’t. Or are. Because in a local bargain shop I discovered a cache of wastebaskets in three different sizes made entirely out of newspapers: Chinese newspapers to be exact. And that started me thinking.
It seems probable that in China, or somewhere near there, an active recycling program is taking place. Instead of shredding or burning them for landfill, some sort of manufacturing facility is turning clean, bright and seemingly unread newspapers into functional everyday objects. Does this mean that the newspaper industry is suffering in China? Is there a surplus of printed newspapers? Are more Chinese people getting their news from digital media than print? Who can say. My phone calls to the Chinese embassy consulate in Toronto about these pressing issues were not returned.
Here’s what interests me most. Someone- a business comrade perhaps or (possibly the government) found an unwanted resource and turned it into a useful product: a repurposing of dead media.
The irony of wastebaskets made out of, well, waste, is not (ahem) wasted on me.
These products are powerful “green” metaphors produced in one of the most polluting nations on the planet. The industrialization of China is full steam ahead and damn the torpedoes. Consumer goods? They want everything we have, so it’s hard to claim any moral high ground. Anyway, there is an environmental statement here, intended or not. I’m just not sure what it is.
On the other hand, they are just really fun and handy wastebaskets that feel great when you pick them up by their long, soft handles. I kind of want one.
In Jennifer Baichwal’s film Manufacturing Landscapes, about Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky, we learn there are whole towns in China dedicated to breaking down and “smelting” the useable metals out of discarded electronics. When you choose to buy a new DVD player because it’s cheaper than repairing your old one, this is likely where your old one goes. Apparently you can smell these towns a mile off. The Chinese government sure knows a thing or two about recycling. But what would it cost to do this kind of metal recovery safely? What would it cost to make baskets out of the millions of unread, discarded and obsolete print newspapers in Canada?
*This article was originally printed (somewhat ironically) in print and online Summer 2010