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.

Related Posts

Paper versus Digital Media – Environmental Impact

Stack of Newspapers with Notebook Computer

Which is greener, paper books or ebooks, paper magazines and newspapers or their digital counterparts? Are your reading habits harming the planet?

Reading is a good thing, right? Is paper or pixels a more environmentally friendly way to read? The answer is, well, um, it is complicated. Making an apples-to-apples comparison of the environmental impact of paper versus digital media is difficult, if not impossible.

A paper book, magazine, or newspaper is a tangible item that you can pick up and hold while you are reading it. A digital book, magazine, or newspaper is an intangible virtual item. The thing that you touch or hold in your hand for reading is an electronic device like a desktop computer, notebook, tablet, e-reader, or smartphone. Unless you read on a uni-tasking e-reader, these devices do a lot more than providing reading material.

A direct comparison may not be feasible, however, you and I can learn about the environmental issues associated with paper and digital media and explore how we can green our own reading habits.

Paper and digital media do have some common environmental issues including:

  • Extracting materials, whether it is logging trees or mining minerals and metals, damages and pollutes the surrounding land and water harming wildlife and people.
  • Making paper and manufacturing electronic devices requires huge amounts of energy and water.
  • Transporting everything from raw materials to finished goods via fossil fuel powered trucks, ships, cars, and airplanes produces greenhouse gases and air pollution.
  • Manufacturing facilities, warehouses, retail stores, data centers, and libraries require energy and water to operate.
  • Throughout its life cycle, each product generates nontoxic and toxic waste, including during recycling.

To me, the top environmental issue associated with paper is deforestation and the worst environmental problem with electronic devices is e-waste.

Deforestation

Making paper requires trees, hundreds of millions of trees. Thousands of things are made of wood and paper so it is not just books, magazines, and newspapers contributing to destroying forests.

A forest is a complex ecosystem containing many different species of trees, plants, and animals all working together for their own benefit and giving us oxygen, water filtration, and beauty.

Industrial loggers clearcutting a forest
Industrial loggers clearcutting a forest

Industrial logging destroys the balance of forest ecosystems. The trees, plants, and animals that used to live in the forest are killed in the process, must flee the area if they can, or die out in the aftermath.

People living in or near devastated forests suffer unintended consequences like erosion, flooding, and water pollution. Walking through a forest that has been clearcut is a heartrending experience.

Paper companies point out that trees can be grown and are therefore a renewable resource. Technically, this is true. However, a tree plantation containing a specific type of tree planted for harvesting (perhaps on land that used to be a forest) does not replace a forest ecosystem.

E-Waste

At the end of their useful life, desktop computers, notebooks, tablets, e-readers, and smartphones contain both valuable materials that can be recycled and toxic materials that require special handling.

Recycling processes can recover valuable materials like gold, palladium, platinum, rhodium, ruthenium, selenium, iridium, indium, copper, nickel, and cobalt.

Other materials in electronic devices are toxic and need to be disposed of carefully including lead, mercury, cadmium, brominated flame retardants, antimony trioxide, polyvinyl chloride, and phthalates.

Unfortunately, our society places a higher value on replacing obsolete or broken electronic devices than on repairing or recycling them. We also do not include the harm caused to the environment or to people in the cost of goods and services, which keeps prices of new products low.

Child sitting among toxic e-waste
Child sitting among toxic e-waste

There is little financial incentive for recycling so the majority of unwanted and obsolete electronic devices end up as e-waste in landfills where they leach toxins into the soil, air, and water. Even worse, we ship tons of e-waste overseas where people, including children, recycle items by hand with no safety equipment.

Both paper products and electronic devices have significant environmental impacts.

You and I will probably continue reading and electronic devices are ubiquitous so what can we do? We can evaluate our reading materials and make more environmentally friendly choices.

Greening Your Reading Habits

Over the past several years I have been attempting to green my own reading habits. Here are a few examples and some thought starters.

Stop Subscribing

The thing about subscriptions is that they are easy to renew without giving much thought to it. Do unread newspapers wind up in your recycle bin on a regular basis? Are magazines stacking up on your end table waiting to be read? Perhaps it is a good time to let your subscription expire.

I gave up magazines when I realized I never seemed to get around to reading them. These days, I occasionally treat myself to a magazine and then pass it on.

Go Digital

Over 15.2 billion pounds of newspapers and 2.5 million pounds of magazines were generated in the United States in 2014. Newspapers and magazines have a limited shelf life so switching to digital versions is a green thing to do.

Nowadays, I subscribe to a daily digital newspaper that I read on my computer and a small local weekly paper that is delivered to my mailbox.

Sharing

If you are not ready to give up your paper newspaper or magazine, then consider sharing a subscription with a neighbor, friend, or coworker. If everyone did that, it would save an enormous number of trees.

Sharing paper books that you purchased by giving them to friends, donating them to a library, or selling them to a second-hand bookstore is an eco-friendly practice.

I am a book lover. During my lifetime I have bought hundreds of books and donated many to the library, but I still had a sizable collection. A year or so ago, it occurred to me that perhaps holding onto books that I am not going to re-read or use for reference was, well, um, selfish. So, now I am giving away and donating most of my books except for a few of my favorites.

Smart Shopping

If you switch to digital newspapers and magazines, first try reading them on an electronic device you already own. If you choose to purchase a new device, skip a uni-tasking e-reader and buy a multi-purpose piece of equipment that you can see yourself using for several years or more.

When shopping online for paper media or electronic devices, beware of shipping. Selecting expedited shipping (regardless of whether it is free or not) can hugely increase the carbon footprint of your purchase if it is shipped on an airplane.

Visit the Library

The greenest option is to not shop and visit your local library where you can read paper books, magazines, and newspapers to your heart’s content and use an electronic device to read many digital items, too.

National Library Week runs from April 9 to 15, 2017, so this is the perfect time to stop by and find out what is available at your local library.

Related Posts

Resources