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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Green vs. Green

So, here's a quandary.

I'm all about the reduce/reuse/repair/recycle kind of lifestyle. A large part is, yes, environmental awareness. An equally large motivation, however, is plain old frugality. I didn't get this way by joining a recent "green" trendy bandwagon. Rather, it was encoded in my DNA by two Depression-surviving grandmothers and several generations of family living at or below the poverty line. "Waste" is the cardinal sin for my people.

(I am also, therefore, a packrat. I save all sorts of small scraps of things--especially craft supplies--with the notion that someday I may need them. And in my defense, sometimes I do find uses for them. But finding storage in the meantime is another issue altogether...)

I tend to think, and rethink, before considering replacing an old item which may still prove to have some "life" left in it. It's wasteful to buy a new item if you don't *need* it. Not only are you spending money that might be used toward other purposes, but you're keeping the current item out of the landfill just a little while longer.

But what about when those possibilities overlap?

Case in point: a while back, my digital camera died. Well, not really. Only the flash died. Now, digital cameras are apparently a bear to repair. Very little useful information could be found online or otherwise for a DIY job, and the only camera repair shop that would even consider handling the job charged almost as much for the *estimate* as the replacement cost. My other option--manufacturer repair--was a mere $15 cheaper than buying a new camera, which was a later model with better features. By the time I considered the cost of shipping/handling plus the repair, it made more sense to go to the (local) store and buy a new camera than to fix the existing one. I sighed, paid, and passed my ailing camera on to a friend who hadn't yet gone digital (it still photographed well in good light)--so I hope that its life was at least extended a little while.

Now I'm faced with a similar situation. A favorite pair of shoes are falling apart. The soles are cracked, but the rest of the shoe is in good shape. New retail cost is around $115, but I have found a similar style (same manufacturer) at an online outlet for around $35. I have not yet gotten a repair estimate (I just discovered the damage and all local shops have closed for the evening), but I suspect that it may work out to be nearly the same price.

And if it's more? Ah, there's the rub. It's very difficult, when bills are tight, to say "let's throw more money at a repair rather than buying new" just for the sake of keeping material out of a landfill.

I hate that we've become such a throwaway society, but sometimes it really does come down to the bottom line. I suppose at some level we can blame shoddy manufacturing and poor quality materials. (In this latest example, however, the shoes are very high quality and simply a result of normal wear.) What really saddens me is that we as a consuming public aren't more outraged over this. My mother is still using several appliances that she received as wedding gifts in 1970. In 7 years of my own marriage, I have already replaced two irons, a toaster oven, a blender, and three food processors. Sickening.

They say that the best way to influence the marketplace is to "vote with your dollars". Which is easy to say when you have the funds to choose a more expensive, better-made product from the get-go. Yes, in the long run it may end up to be the more frugal choice since you won't be replacing it. But in the here-and-now you might not be able to wiggle your budget enough to justify spending twice as much (or more). It's a sad reality for many.

So what to do? I'm honestly not sure. The motivations to save stuff and to save money are equally strong with me. I wish that it wasn't so often a choice between.

1 comment:

  1. I am right there with you. No surprise. ;-)

    I go through the same process all the time.

    Although I am far from a packrat. I have not trouble gifting or donating almost anything I am not needing right now. (I like decluttering and do it constantly.)

    "Built in obsolescence" drives me absolutely batty. Manufacturers make choices to use cheaper materials and then we have it built in to the product to last less long. ARGH!

    As for the shoes, if you choose not to repair them, donate them. Even needing repair they will be a blessing to someone who has even less.

    That's how I manage. I remember to donate (or gift) everything I can. And then I buy much of what we need (like clothes, especially kids' clothes) from the thrift stores.

    My depression-surviving maternal grandmother would be proud. :D