Wednesday, May 11, 2016

recycling isn't good for the economy, but that's not the point

Every summer I look forward to volunteering at Portland's Sunday Parkways, a series of monthly events where a section of streets are closed to motorized traffic for several hours and pedestrians, bicyclists, skaters, stilt-walkers and other human-powered travelers are invited to take over the streets. Each month, a route is created in a different quadrant of Portland's east side. (Parkways rides have been attempted twice on the west side, but the hills, lack of sidewalks and bike infrastructure and lack of a grid-style network of streets has made it almost impossible to manage safely, so this year all the events are east of the Willamette River.)

As a Mobile Mechanic (and yes, that's my picture from the very first year of Parkways, back in 2008) it's my job to ride the route and provide assistance to bike riders who are having mechanical trouble.
Although Mobile Mechanics are encouraged to stick to flat fixes, and to send the harder stuff to one of the mechanical stations at the parks along the route, I usually carry enough tools to handle flats, brake and derailleur adjustments, broken chains and the occasional broken frame (nothing that hose clamps and duct tape won't fix -- it did happen once and I was able to cobble the bike back together enough so the rider could get home).

Everything I carry (except the pump) fits in a small cloth bag, which fits in my saddlebag or basket.

As part of my preparation for the Parkways season, I raid the rubber waste buckets behind local bike shops every spring, looking for inner tubes that can be patched and given a second life.  Once they're patched, I label them and carry a few in my saddlebag during the parkways event, because it's faster to just stick another tube in than to go through the whole patching process out on the road. And since they cost me nothing, I don't charge for them.

I also take a few extra tubes to cut up and turn into homemade patches: clean the tube so it's free of talcum powder and grease; gently buff one side, cut into squares and apply some cold vulcanizing glue (school-quality rubber cement works in a pinch but is not as long-lasting in very rainy climates) to the buffed side and place the glued side down on tinfoil with space between each patch. Place another sheet of tinfoil over this one, and place a book on top to keep the patches flat as the glue dries overnight.
The next day, cut the tinfoil apart so there's a small border of foil around the edge of each patch.
These patches cost me nothing but some time. (An 8 oz. bottle of patch glue is far cheaper in the long than buying multiple small tubes of the stuff, and will coat dozens and dozens of patches.)
I use a peppermint candy tin to hold a larger patch kit, with two tubes of glue and more patches. (Extra patches get stored in a coffee tin in my workshop; I usually make up a batch of fifty to sixty at a time.)

I was preparing the inner tubes and making some new patches yesterday, and thinking about the nature of such an approach. Anytime I choose to go to the effort of recycling something, of bringing new life to an old object, it takes time and energy. As I sat in the shade outside my little bike shed, I wondered if this was a better use of my time than, say, devoting that time to something that was some how more worthwhile. The thing is, the very world "worthwhile" is an invitation to a slippery slope, a mindset wherein everything has some sort of market value. We take this market mindset to everything we do, it seems: work, play, cleaning and fluffing our nest, studying, fixing -- even relationships (how many times have we asked ourselves "is this person going to be a massive time-suck?" Admit it.).

So what if we turn this idea on its ear, and instead ask ourselves if learning how to be more self-sufficient, how to walk a little more lightly materially, how to slow down the pace of our lives and not make so much of "busy-ness" -- are more sensible hallmarks of a good life?

I sat and prepared the inner tubes and assembled my tool bag, and thought about how much money I hadn't spent in the process. As I packed the repaired tubes in their plastic bag I realized that this market mindset is all about getting us to shop more. Period. In the end, it's not so much about my carbon footprint or how I spend my money, but how I spend my time.

Time, we are often told, is money. But I don't believe that's so.

Governments can print more money whenever they need to.
But no one has yet figured out how to pack more time into a day.
When we spend the time, it's gone and we cannot make more.
So-called "time-saving" devices and methods are, therefore, an illusion. No one is saving time. The clock is ticking, the earth is turning and it won't stop for any of us.
This makes the concept of how I spend my time much more important, even urgent. Because when I die, I may not have spent all my money; but I will have spent my allotment of time.
NO "time-saving" device will change that.
In the end it seems to be all about discernment.
About choosing what I do and what matters in the time I have left in this life.
Once I figured this out, I realized that it was totally right for me to spend time recycling and repairing things, rather than running out and buying them.
Because if I don't need to buy as many things, then I don't have to work as many hours each week for someone else to support buying them.
Plus, repairing something with my hands requires me to slow down, to live at a calmer pace, which helps me to disprove the notion that time is money.
Time is only time.
And if I am mindful of how I spend my time, than all the time I have -- all the time I get -- is likely all the time I will need.
I hope so.

If you're in Portland this weekend, look for me out on the Sunday Parkways route in outer eastside Portland. And wherever you find yourself, happy riding.

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