We are constantly advised (sometimes harangued) to reduce, recycle, reuse, repair, reimagine, repurpose, and reclaim. (Did I miss any?!) The overriding, environmentally correct message is to repair what one has if possible or make do, to find new homes for unwanted objects, and not to ride mindlessly on the crowded consumer train, Last Stop Landfill. Please understand, I am all for not being wasteful. I recycled long before it was mandated, I shop at thrift stores, make simple furnishings from scrap wood, and have no qualms about snagging good stuff by the curb. I’m resourceful. I shall have you know I am the woman who made 2 little peg legs for an otherwise good electric skillet that was missing an end piece for cryin’ out loud! Wait – this demands a picture:
I expect I save more from landfills than add to them. Sure, in addition to not making a big cloddish footprint (a pretentious word I promise never to speak aloud in this context), I also want to save money – that’s always a given – but moreover I feel an ethical obligation not to be lazy and sloppy with the abundance available to me.
My gripe, though, is how difficult it can be, how time-consuming, expensive, and sometimes woefully impractical and even counter-productive to do all that is recommended to be a good, environmentally-correct citizen.
Little example. As most know, the government has recently said sayonara to incandescent lightbulbs. Some of the newer bulbs are not supposed to be thrown in the regular trash, but taken to special drop-off locations. Now, you’d think there’d be LOTS of places around to dispose of these bulbs, but not so much. Um, gov’mint decided to stop all production of old-style bulbs but did not provide or subsidize easy disposal of newer ones? Does anybody really think most people are going to chauffeur all their used light bulbs to their final resting place? And if they do, isn’t the excessive driving around taxing the environment, wasting gas, etc.?
That last point irks me when it comes to the matter of getting items professionally repaired as well. As demonstrated, I’m somewhat handy and willing to experiment – you should see how I “repair” electronics – but I can’t fix everything, and as we know, mass-produced/shoddily-made stuff breaks. First an appropriate repair place must be found. Sometimes the item is supposed to be mailed off to its rehabilitation destination, but once all the costs are accounted for – mailing the item, the cost of the repair itself, and shipping it back – the total can match or exceed the price of simply buying a NEW object. Which can be had in days as opposed to usually waiting weeks on a repair. And, being brand new, may well have a warranty, and naturally, ALL new parts, instead of just the one new or repaired part.
The part the electric skillet was missing is case in point. I couldn’t bring myself to pay what they wanted for the crummy piece of plastic nor do I use an electric skillet enough to warrant buying a brand new one. (I already feel vaguely guilty about the electric crock pot I’m not using enough, primarily because plugging it in and leaving the house or toddling off to bed seem like bad, not fire-department-approved ideas, no matter what the manual or online recipes say.)
The issue is much the same when it comes to escorting a broken item or one in need of a replacement part to a local repair shop yourself. Even in a metropolitan area, the destination for this task is usually at a distance, in an off-the-beaten-track industrial park or other weird spot that is nowhere near the usual cycle of errands. How is it environmentally sound for thousands and thousands of individual people to be doing this? Moreover, if you don’t have a car, or live in a rural area, it’s not remotely practical to haul stuff to a distant shop and that’s providing a repair shop that does the needed work or has the necessary part, is even found.
To wit: I’ve got a lightweight stick vacuum that I purchased several years ago. It’s great, very handy. Smaller than a typical vacuum and meant for bare floors, it can reach into corners and under furniture, or it can be separated to use just the hand vacuum section. Instead of paper filters, it houses a permanent filter which is then cleaned after each use. Over time that filter has worn down and no longer works as well, plus it’s harder to clean (issues I was not aware of upon purchase, assuming a permanent filter was, you know, PERMANENT, naive me).
The filter itself can be replaced, BUT it costs more than half the price of a whole new stick vacuum! I’ve been frozen in place for many weeks because of this quandary (welcome to my world). Should I buy the overpriced filter or just get a whole new stick vacuum? To by-pass the dilemma, I even wondered if I could make a new filter myself! If I buy a new vacuum, I will feel guilty because other than needing a fresh filter, there is nothing wrong with my current stick vacuum. I could try to locally Freecycle the old vacuum, but somebody else will then have to buy a pricey filter (although it’s not a terrible bargain; for the price of a filter they’d get a working stick vacuum WITH the instruction book).
I am very resistant to being cornered into buying a new vacuum (I could go without and simply go back to “ye old” broom and dustpan, but they never were very effective for cleaning big areas, mostly stirring up and rearranging dirt and dust particles). And I’m EQUALLY resistant to paying for a plastic filter replacement with a huge screw-the-consumer markup.
It burns me when puny little citizens are supposed to do all the “right things” vis-a-vis the environment, and corporations and manufacturers either don’t or take advantage. If they make junky products that need repair, or more often replacement, it sure feels like that undermines all the efforts the consumer is supposed to be making. You kind of wonder what’s really being accomplished. I’m not so jaded as to give up doing my miniscule part, but I reserve the right, as I sit here with my peg-leg skillet and poorly functioning stick vacuum, to be perturbed.