Saturday, August 31, 2013

Social Justice Saturday: Stuff

Neon Sign - Appliance
"Stuff" might not seem like a topic associated with social justice, but bear with me.  A blogger friend recently mentioned that she was reading The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard (also associated with the short film by the same name), so I thought I'd take a peak at it, too.  At first glance, I thought it was an academic tome that would put me to sleep at night; but it's not.  Leonard first became interested in the story of trash and ended up learning how everything is connected - the environment, the economy, our health, and social justice.  And it's the social justice aspect I want to talk about.

Last month I shared my failed attempt to keep my washing machine (my second one in 10 years) out of landfill.  Both machines were front-loading machines that I had purchased because they were supposed to use less water and so be better for the environment.  With the first washer, I our repairman told me that it wasn't worth fixing, that the parts and labor would be close to the cost of buying a new machine.  Naive as I was, I went out and purchased a similar machine, different brand, of course.  With the breakdown of the second washer, after trying to fix it myself, I called our repairman and got the same bad news - he didn't recommend fixing it.  So, in addition to sending two washers to landfill, I have spent a small fortune trying to prevent that very problem.

This past week we had yet another appliance go out.  This time it was our 8-year-old Rinnai tankless hot water heater (again, purchased for environmental reasons).  Our energy provider came out three times before it was determined they couldn't fix it.  I called the manufacturer and learned the part was still under warranty.  Yay!  The authorized dealer came out, ordered the part from Rinnai, and took the box with them so it could be repaired when the part came in.  Yesterday, they brought it back, installed it, and presented us with the bill.  Only the part was under "warranty" and the cost for labor was astronomical!  We would have been well on our way to purchasing a new unit - this time a regular hot water heater on a timer - with the money we spent.  Obviously, I'm not pleased with Rinnai's service - that kind of so-called warranty is worthless.  

Getting back to the social justice aspect, all of this stuff that is designed to be replaced comes with not just an environmental cost.  Going though the journey of our things from The Story of Stuff - extraction, production, distribution, consumption, and disposal - there is a human cost to all of these things we use up.  At each point along the way, poor people around the world are negatively impacted by our desire for stuff:   their communities are polluted, they work in unsafe conditions, their health is damaged, etc.  All so we can have our baubles and conveniences.

But sometimes even those of us who try to do the right thing don't have much of a choice.  Often we're forced to pay an outrageous amount of money to repair our things - when it is even possible - or to constantly send things to landfill.  It's a very frustrating situation to be in - spending almost as much to repair something as it is to replace it doesn't make sense, especially when you know you will have similar repairs later on as your equipment ages.  When I think about what my "needs" do to the people involved with the journey from raw materials to broken products, I feel ill.  Sometimes I have to choose between my pocketbook and social justice and I don't want to.  I've already told my husband I'm ready to buy and renovate a vintage travel trailer and move into it.  Less stuff to maintain and replace - better for both my pocketbook and the world.  

On a positive note, my new washing machine is a top-loading one that I believe is actually better for the environment.  This Energy Star rated machine doesn't have an agitator and is supposed to use less water than a standard one.  Since the tub holds more clothes and the cycles are much shorter than my old machines, I'm washing much less which means I'm using less energy.  Let's just hope this one is a keeper because I don't want a new one.


Lisa said...

Yeah and nothing lasts as long now as it used too. I've been looking at ovens because we know ours is on it's way out and I want a coil top because they are easy to fix yourself. There are hardly any options anymore! They want everything to break all the time so we have to buy new ones. It's frustrating!

Shona~ LALA dex press said...

Um... I'm happy to hear you took my suggestion since I just made another book suggestion. and I had the same thought- am I really going to be able to get through this? Yes, in a matter of days! The next book I suggested actually lets you off the hook a bit (like I said, it's not heavy handed and very inspirational) and addresses the personal issue of taking on the burdens of the world via our consumer choices. I like your idea of living in a travel trailer, heck you have the land and good eating.

Man, my comments are long today