A view backstage at Beverley Minster

A load of hot air

Neil Pickford starts thinking

It all began when I was clearing away some of the debris from a parcel I’d received a few days ago. It had contained a rather fine collection of OO gauge cement wagons that complemented a splendid industrial shunter I’d been given for Christmas and so was durable and well-padded.

You’ll probably accuse me of doing something terrible to the future of the High Street by buying on-line but it was entirely understandable: this was a unique offer from a real shop in a real High Street in Merseyside and so I was actually assisting an established real retailer to fight against the rapacious hordes of warehouse-based internet shopping. I’d even been able to select the goods from a printed catalogue which gave the whole thing a suitably authentic and 1960s feel.

Anyway, that’s not important right now.

I was separating the packaging into its component bits to put in the relevant recycling bin: cardboard outer case – tear apart and fold flatly into brown bin. Plastic bubble wrap into blue bin. And then I had a thought. What happens to all the air inside the bubble wrapping? What was the correct thing to do about it?

For a start, is it ‘proper’ air in the first place? Do enormous bubble-wrap-producing plants (probably somewhere in a foul, polluted part of China) just suck up normal free-range air and seal it inside a nominally bio-degradable container, leaving it to lament its tiny, imprisoned existence for the next few dozen decades.

Or is this processed air? You know – factory-produced stuff with all the goodness taken out, and possibly just a bit of horse mixed in to give it added body?  In which case is it better to leave the foul muck trapped and removed from the atmosphere of Planet Earth. In other words, is it in my own self-interest as an inhabitant of Gaia, to keep said air bubbles trapped, allowing fresh air to roam without adulteration. Or am I contributing to my own destruction?

Is it, in fact, a cunning ploy by invading lizards (who already control us via Google) to remove all the good bits of our atmosphere, one internet parcel at a time, until we find ourselves gasping our way to extinction, and handing them the easiest conquest in the history of interstellar war?

Which is the right answer: should I diligently stand with a sharp pin and conscientiously release life-saving ether, bubble-by-bubble, or instead wrap the whole thing in dense packaging to ensure it disappears into landfill, and thus save the world? Well, it’s not an issue on which I feel I can merely stand by and do nothing.

After all, I estimate that there was enough gas in the bubbles surrounding my six Pressflo Blue Circle Cement wagons to fill a good lung-and-a-half. Multiply that by the number of similar parcels sent out by just this one innocent Liverpudlian trader over the course of a day and you’ve probably got the same amount of gas that an average person would inhale during a hearty lunch. Then multiply in all the other traders in the same city who do mail order; then the whole country. Add in the amount that tax-dodging, High Street killing monsters like Amazon seal away every day all around the world and suddenly it’s a worrying statistic.

If I liberated all the sealed bubbles my home has received so far this year I suspect it would be roughly equivalent to the amount of gas I inhale each day at the Minster (including roof tours) and, if my maths is correct, we might run out of free-range air in less than 100 years. Forget saving the rainforests – maybe we should campaign to ‘save the air,’ or: ‘let my people breathe’.

I won’t be able to sleep tonight for worrying about it.


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