If you’re a Douglas Adams fan, you’ll know all about the fabulously beautiful planet named Bethselamin. The ten billion tourists who visit it each year were causing so much erosion that they introduced a rule whereby any net imbalance between the amount you eat and the amount you excrete whilst on the planet is surgically removed from your bodyweight when you leave (and therefore, as Douglas mentioned in the book, it is vitally important to get a receipt every time you go to the lavatory).
Yes, it’s a well-worn quote, but I’m beginning to get nervous that it’s starting to come true here on our own little blue-green planet (located, of course, in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Milky Way galaxy). And all because I needed a couple of new batteries for my uninterruptable power supplies.
We have a wonderful battery supplier just a mile or three down the road from here who seems to stock every kind of battery that human endeavor has managed to create, including sealed batteries for every APC UPS made in the last 20 years. That just about covers all the various models I have scattered around my house and office. What’s more, they are considerably cheaper than buying online, there’s no shipping cost, and they take the old ones back for recycling.
OK, so the APC ones do come with a label so you can ship them back to APC, but the address on the label is New Jersey USA. The nice man at our local post office worked out that it would be cheaper to fly over myself and take them back rather than sending them by post – though, of course, I’m not allowed to take batteries on a plane any more…
So, anyway, there I am with a couple of dead RBC2 batteries and a bag of assorted other used AA and the like, when the young assistant asks me for my name, address, postal code, phone number, and where I obtained the original batteries. As he’d been very pleasant and helpful so far, telling him to mind his own business seemed a bit strong, so instead I politely inquired as to why he wanted to know. I had deposited on the counter a selection of coins and notes of the realm in way of payment, so surely all he needed was to grab the cash, stuff it in the till, and I’d be on my way?
No, it seems that he needs to give me a receipt for the old batteries that are going for recycling. Maybe if there’s not quite enough lead in them when they get round to breaking them up, they’ll send me a bill for the balance? Or perhaps I’m only allowed to ecologically dispose of a specific quota of murky sulphuric acid each year and he’s worried I’m approaching the limit? Aha! – more likely it’s in case I stole them so I could sell them for the scrap value (which seems to a little perverse when I’m giving them away free for recycling).
It’s plainly all part of a secretive scheme connected with the move to weigh and analyse the contents of our dustbins, film and record the registration number of our cars when we go to the local rubbish tip, and remotely monitor our energy consumption every hour with the new smart electricity meters. It will all be fed into some huge computer that will send out letters once a month with demands for the requisite body parts to make up the imbalance between our resources input and recycled output.
So it’s probably a good idea to make sure you do get a receipt every time…