I think we can all agree that getting good value for money is something to which the majority of shoppers aspire. We all work so hard for our money (while our purchasing power seems to be dropping like a bag of wet cement), why wouldn’t we try to make our dollars go farther whether by waiting for sales, using coupons, hunting for deals or repairing goods to extend their life span.
I was reminded of the latter recently, in trying to breathe new life into an old flashlight. The flashlight and I have been through a lot together. It has always been there for me, dependable and reliable, having seen me through power failures, tripped breakers and burned light bulbs. It has also been my guiding light, helping me search for lost items in deep, dark, scary household crevices. Even though it stopped working, I was certain it still had a lot of life left in it.
The first order of business was to try replacing the massive 6 volt lantern battery. Easy enough, but even after stretches and warm-up exercises in preparation for hauling the beast of a battery home, unfortunately, the flashlight still didn’t work. The next step was to try to replace the teeny tiny little light bulb. What an ordeal!
Maybe it is because so many newer flashlights use LEDs as their light source, but this little light bulb of mine seems to be getting hard to find. After about 5 stores, I finally found some, so I bought enough to keep old faithful alive for another couple of decades.
But during my scavenger hunt, the prospect of having to throw out a perfectly good flashlight because of one broken part was heartbreaking, not to mention, illogical to me. After all these years of fine-tuning my waste diversion strategies including washing containers for recycling, breaking down cardboard boxes and combing through kitty litter to remove Miss Ivy’s “presents” to put only the clean litter in the green bin, I was determined not to give in and toss out a perfectly good flashlight. I’m not usually stubborn like that, but my landfill depended on it!
Call me old-fashioned, but I can still sing all verses to “There’s a Hole in the Bucket, Dear Liza”, a fun song we sang at camp that extolls the virtues of fixing household objects, as sung by an unfortunate couple who seem to have a house full of dull knives, useless sharpeners, straw growing out of control and a hole in their beloved bucket.
The message behind the song is timeless. With a little maintenance and care, the useful lifespan of objects can indeed be extended. As a consumer, why shouldn’t I expect a refrigerator to last 30 years? Why couldn’t a flashlight, used 4 times a year, stay with me for decades? Why couldn’t a favourite pair of classic, gently-used shoes be re-soled and remain my favourites through several seasons?
I can only imagine what a conundrum it must be for manufacturers, trying to find efficiencies to try to remain competitive from a pricing perspective, while at the same time, still remaining mindful of sustainability.
Are the two concepts mutually exclusive?
Even if a product costs just a little more, in return for better quality, more durable materials, longer life and the availability of parts to fix the product, are we not farther ahead as consumers and as responsible citizens concerned for sustainability of our landfills?
I have heard many stories from my elders about having very little during the Great Depression and during World War II. Mending, fixing, repairing, repurposing and handing down were not the exception, they were the rule. A favourite doll was truly a favourite doll after being repaired dozens of times and handed down through many loving and proud owners.
But at what point did “disposable” become more socially acceptable, while the word “mend” became a four letter word? Have we lost our sense of pride of ownership? I think Sheryl Crow responds perfectly to that point in her song “Soak Up the Sun” with the line “It’s not having what you want, it’s wanting what you got”.
I was delighted to read a recent article in which the Swedish government will be introducing tax breaks to its citizens on the cost of repairs to goods, in an effort to discourage the “throwaway culture” mentality. This was absolute music to my ears and I hope that other countries follow this lead. Check it out:
Even though I would not consider myself an environmentalist or an advocate, I’d like to think I have been doing my part for the environment, keeping my garbage output low, in diverting recyclable materials and in sending gently used goods to where they can still have a useful life.
I am hoping that Sweden’s example is the beginning of renewed interest in truly durable goods that mean it! I also hope that this is a sign to companies to maintain the availability of parts to repair products, to keep them running longer and to keep them out of the landfills as long as possible.
I would like to think that “Dear Liza” and “Dear Henry” were right about fixing things, and were way ahead of their time! What an inspiration!
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