Repairing Things is the Antidote for Our Throwaway Society

Let’s make fixing stuff the norm, not the exception.

Be a rebel and join the repair movement. Declare your dissatisfaction with our throwaway society by fixing things instead of tossing them in the trash.

Whether you like it or not, if you are an American, you live in a throwaway society where people routinely throw broken things away instead of fixing them. It was not always so but today the influx of inexpensive products and the constant bombardment of advertising influence our repair and buying habits. The price of products does not include the cost of damaging our environment so low prices and convenience makes it tempting to buy a new item instead of repairing a broken one.

Throwing away damaged and broken things or sticking them in the back of the garage and then buying new replacements is harming people and the planet, but you can help change our culture by joining a growing movement of people who believe in repairing things instead of trashing them.

Repairing Things is a Green Thing to Do

Everything we use in our daily lives has an environmental impact that results from mining, logging, extracting fossil fuels, processing materials, manufacturing products, transporting goods, and disposing of waste.

Another perhaps even more compelling issue to consider is that our planet does not have unlimited resources or land.

We can conserve Earth’s dwindling resources and protect our land from more waste dumps by repairing things if they get broken or damaged and using them as long as possible.

Everyone Can Participate in the Repair Movement

The essential attribute for participating in the repair movement is the willingness to consider repairing things instead of automatically throwing them in the trash.

You can learn repair skills and/or get assistance from friends, family members, coworkers, repair professionals, and a wide variety of sources that did not previously exist.

For instance, the Internet is chock full of step-by-step instructional videos on how to replace parts and repair thousands of different products from leaky faucets to malfunctioning automatic garage door openers to broken smartphone screens. Community centers provide tools and equipment for people interested in pursuing artistic endeavors, tinkering, and repairing things. Imagine being able to fix your vacuum cleaner handle using a part printed on a 3D printer. Repair cafés and re-skilling events bring people together to share knowledge and learn new skills.

Below are two examples of repaired items, one I did myself and my spouse helped me with the other one.

A Tale of Two Repairs

My dad was Mr. Fixit and repaired many things around our home when I was a kid, including our cars. The fixit gene passed me by so I am not too handy when it comes to repairing most things. Luckily, my mother taught me how to sew, which means that I can mend clothing tears and replace missing buttons.

Rain Coat Repair

Over twenty years ago, I needed to buy a rain/warm coat for a business trip and since it was the off-season where I lived, my two choices were hot pink or forest green. I chose the green coat and wore it for many years before the bottom button fell off and was lost.  Initially, I attempted to ignore the problem, but the cool and windy climate where I now live motivated me to address it.

Rain Coat Repair - New Top ButtonFinding a replacement button to match the existing buttons was not possible and I did not want to replace all the buttons.

My solution was moving the top button to the bottom and sewing on a new black button at the top where I think it looks less odd.

I was able to accomplish the repair myself by spending a couple of dollars on a package of buttons and a few minutes with a needle and thread. Now, my coat is ready for a several more decades of wear.

Weed Whacker Repair

About five years ago, I bought a Black & Decker battery powered weed whacker (string trimmer) for $99.99. It is made of metal and plastic components and uses a rechargeable nickel cadmium battery (cadmium is a toxic material that requires special handling when disposing of the battery).

A few weeks ago, as I was wielding the weed whacker around our wild yard in preparation for fire season, the motor stopped working. I looked up the model number online and discovered that Black & Decker had discontinued it and replaced it with a similar model available for $69.99.

The environmentally sound solution seemed to be to try to repair it so I asked my mechanically inclined spouse for assistance.

After taking the weed whacker apart, my spouse determined that a tiny piece in the motor assembly had failed. Although some replacement parts were available online such as the handle, cover, and battery pack, the motor was not. Fortunately, a similar motor was located online and purchased for about $20 including tax and shipping. Once the new motor arrived, it took my spouse less than an hour to install it and reassemble the weed whacker. I was back in business.

If there is a moral to this story, it is that repairing stuff is possible if you are willing to make the effort and that keeping our planet habitable is a group effort.

Let us stop being a throwaway society and become a repair nation where fixing stuff is the norm, not the exception. Please share your repair story with other readers.

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Arbor Day 2017 – Hug a Tree, Plant a Tree

Linda Poppenheimer The Unlikely Environmentalist at Green Groundswell
Author hugging a tiny fir tree on Mount St. Helens, WA in August 2014

In honor of National Arbor Day on April 28, 2017, hug a tree and then plant a tree.

“He who plants a tree plants a hope.” —Lucy Larcom

Arbor Day Beginnings

Julius Sterling Morton, a Nebraska pioneer from Detroit, Michigan was instrumental in bringing about the first Arbor Day. He advocated planting trees for practical reasons and probably because he and other pioneers missed the trees they had left behind in their more forested native states. The first Arbor Day was on April 10, 1872. Nebraska gained nearly a million trees that day.

The Arbor Day movement grew and spread to other states and to other countries. At some point, the last Friday in April became the official day to observe National Arbor Day. However, dates vary by state and country to coincide with the best tree-planting weather.

Trees Give Life

Trees are beautiful in their own right. They collaborate with other trees, plants, and wildlife to form complex and self-sustaining ecosystems. People know that trees are important but we do not necessarily understand how everything ties together.

Long before people came along, trees were growing in most places on Earth.

Once we arrived on the scene, our ancestors soon discovered how to make use of trees whether it was just enjoying their shade on a hot day, harvesting fruit or nuts for food, or gathering twigs and branches and burning them for heat and cooking.

At some point, people realized they could cut down trees and make a myriad of things from wood like buildings, furniture, and paper. We also figured out that certain trees contain medicinal properties and produce useful items like latex and resin. Later we learned about how trees grow and function, that they take in carbon dioxide and emit oxygen, store carbon, prevent erosion, filter water, and influence rainfall.

So you would think, or at least I would, that we would protect the trees growing now and replace the trees that have been lost through natural causes or our own folly.

I am trying to do my part on our little plot of land and supporting tree planting in other areas. Please do your part by either planting a tree yourself or enabling someone else to plant one on your behalf.

I was a Tree Hugger before I became a Tree Hugger

Trees have always been fascinating to me. Each one is unique. Trees are beautiful swaying in the wind or silhouetted black against a fading sunset. They make their own music with the rustling of dry leaves, the whispering of pine needles, or the roaring of trees whipping back and forth in a windstorm.

Trees are smart working with other nature community members to the benefit of the whole. They are also competitive and strong. The trees that grow towards the sun and spread their branches the fastest get the most sunlight. If injury or illness befalls a tree, it will attempt to heal itself even giving up a limb if necessary.

I talk to trees and I have hugged quite a few trees. It would be cool if trees could talk to people. Maybe trees can talk, but we do not understand their language, yet, or perhaps they choose not to talk with us.

It would be interesting to hear the stories trees could tell about what has occurred around the location they have occupied for decades or even centuries.

Imagine living your entire life in the same location. I do not mean the same house or the same town I mean the same exact spot. That is what a tree does.

A bird, bee, animal, the wind, or gravity transports tree pollen or seeds to a location. If something or someone does not eat it and the conditions are favorable, a tiny seedling sprouts. Healthy soil, adequate water, sufficient sunlight, lack of predators, and genetics all contribute to helping the tree grow and live to a ripe old age. When the tree dies, it nurtures the soil and wildlife where it lived, completing the circle.

I observe trees and wonder about things like how does a tree feel when its neighbor falls over in a storm and ends up tangled in its branches. Is the tree wishing it could shrug off the fallen tree? Does it try communicating the tree equivalent of “Please get off me?”

Does a tree feel sad when a tree that has been standing next to it for 75 years dries up and withers away during a drought? Does it feel survivor guilt? When seedlings appear beneath a grown tree, does it happily welcome them as new members of the family?

Where I live now, in the heart of struggling forest of Monterey pine trees that have suffered 5 years of severe drought, I feel bereft whenever a tree dies and joy whenever I spot a new seedling.

I love trees, yet I am a heavy user of wood and paper. What can I do? What can you do?

  1. Go hug a few trees and thank them for everything they give us.
  2. Be mindful and grateful for the things you use that are made of wood and paper, and do not waste them.
  3. Make planting at least one tree an annual tradition. If you cannot plant a tree yourself, then support someone who can. If Arbor Day is not a good tree-planting day where you live, then pick a day that is.

“Acts of creation are ordinarily reserved for gods and poets. To plant a pine, one need only own a shovel.” —Aldo Leopold

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