Tom Hodgkinson speaks out against the box folding phobia which has gripped the nation
Everyone these days is aware of the idea of recycling and saving the planet. Why is it, then, that the same people who go on climate change marches and embrace a meat-free diet seem to be completely unable to flatten empty cardboard boxes before putting them in the recycling?
Call me a petty-minded, grumpy pedant, but this is an issue that enrages me. And I see signs of a general inability to flatten cardboard boxes everywhere I go, so I am often to be found in a state of irritation.
At the fashionable shared office space where I work, there are giant signs by the bins which read FLATTEN ALL BOXES. They are ignored: alongside them are piled heaps of unflattened boxes, left there by millennial tech workers who have three degrees in Computer Science from Oxford and Cambridge but are unable to carry out this basic procedure. Grrr!
My teenage children appear similarly unable to flatten cardboard boxes. They give their cereal boxes a slight squash and then squeeze them into the recycling bags. I see the problem everywhere. When I walk along my street on a Monday morning before the dustmen arrive, I survey the recycling bags which are left outside people’s houses. Again, I see unflattened boxes taking up absurd amounts of space. I think how irritated I would be by this fundamental lethargy were I a worker in the waste industry. Bah! Humbug.
If I raise the issue with my children, they look at me as if I’m really sad and completely insane.
Maybe this is negligence regarding cardboard box management is a sign of a broader unwillingness to take responsibility. Briefly put, people seem to want servants. I often think that Uber’s popularity – and of the gig economy in general – is reactionary: it’s based on the desire to behave like a spoilt medieval king, and be surrounded by footmen and valets. Uber temporarily exalts you to the level of a prince or cabinet minister with your own private coach and six. Same with food delivery companies. They are butlers. We all want our own Jeeves. Thus it is that the middle classes feel it is somehow below them to flatten boxes. Someone else can do that.
But look… flattening boxes is a very simple process, and it’s fun too! You may need a key or knife to slice the brown or black tape that many of them are sealed with. Then you fold them flat and hey presto, you can fit far more boxes in the recycling.
These comments were mailed to us after the above piece was sent as a newsletter. We like to publish a selection and reserve the right to edit them for clarity. Feel free to drop us a line with your stories.
I fully concur with your views on flattening cardboard boxes! Apart from the middle class remark perhaps – because that would imply that the working classes are busy flattening theirs, which I would tend to doubt.
There is a report that every household buys a bag-for-life every week, because many people shop spontaneously or haven’t taken bags for some (possibly legitimate) reason.
So why aren’t supermarkets piling up their emptied cardboard delivery boxes, so people can claim on and take their shopping away in those? This happened when plastic bags were always charged for 30+ years ago. Then flatten the box when no longer needed – I nearly always flatten mine, if not full with other boxes.
I flatten all cardboard like mental. But then again, I am South Devon Top Domestic Recycler (Small to Medium Sized Towns) for three years running!
I’m absolutely with you on this point. I’m a big box flattener and take pleasure in it. When I lived in New York City it was so annoying to see the big recycle bags on the pavement with unflattened boxes in them. The building staff in our building didn’t bother to flatten them and the tenants couldn’t be bothered: most tenants didn’t even sort their recycling.
With you, but just one point. My local recycling also asks us to remove sticky tape from boxes, not just to cut through it to flatten the boxes!