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Fridge failure a sign of the times

July 16th, 2014 · No Comments

Market forces replace not repair

The other night our fridge made a strange popping sound before the compressor mysteriously shut off. My initial reaction was to start looking for a new fridge.

We live in a world so full of consumption and of constantly replacing old things with new, that I nearly forgot that there existed such a thing as a refrigerator repair person.

This mindset is fueled largely by TV ads constantly telling us to buy new stuff.

Our clothes are barely six months old yet the sin of being out of fashion necessitates a new shirt to replace the perfectly good one on your back right now.

Though my grandmother once taught me to sew on buttons, it’s a skill long out of practice and nearly forgotten (as evidenced by my jacket that’s still missing a button after four months of hanging in the front room as a reminder).

Once upon a time, we called a repair man (I say man because the reality of that era is that they were almost exclusively men) when the TV broke. The man would come over with parts and usually replace the component that wasn’t working.

In recent years, I have known people who replaced perfectly functional television sets because a newer model had come out.

Our mindsets have changed over the decades and so has our environmental impact. Where we once valued resources, local labour seems to be the most expensive constraint to our decision-making.

Resources are sucked out of the ground irresponsibly, and indentured and/or child labour provides us with the rest of the formula required for cheap goods.

Let’s not bother pretending that the person who put together that $5 T-shirt got paid a living wage.

Growing up in the Wal-Mart mentality of “cheaper is better”, I never understood the value of higher quality goods until I was able to make my own purchasing decisions as an adult.

One winter, after parting ways with my worn-out Hush Puppies, I started looking for a new pair of higher quality boots. Failing to understand the value of quality, I balked at purchasing the only pair of boots that actually met all of my boot criteria at about four times the cost of my last pair. Thankfully, I had a boyfriend who, sick of shopping, encouraged me to take the plunge (this was no doubt for his benefit rather than mine).

Not knowing where all the heat vents were in the new house, I made the mistake of storing the boots too close to one. The soles cracked and were no longer waterproof.

Upset that my really expensive boots barely lasted a winter, I took them into Nick’s Shoe Repair on Dupont near Davenport.

No doubt a victim of ageism, Nick took a look at me and said that it would be cheaper to buy new boots than to repair them. As I pulled my boots out of the bag, he smiled approvingly at their quality and agreed to repair them.

Sure enough, the repair cost me as much as my Hush Puppies. Five years later (this past winter) after wearing the heel down, wearing the sole down, and bursting a seam (I don’t know why I thought two pairs of wool socks in my boots would be a good idea), I brought them back to Nick.

Fifty dollars later I have a new heel, a re-glued sole, a fixed seam, and a polishing that makes them look better than new.

This lesson was hard to learn as a starving student but when we buy quality, our things last longer and often turn out cheaper in the long run.

Without a doubt, our carbon footprint is lower when we buy fewer things and repairing goods supports local businesses who depend on a service economy.

I hope the more people understand about the carbon footprint and resource depletion of clothes, electronics, and other consumer goods, the more we’ll be willing to repair rather than replace. Though this might pose a problem for the average fashionista, rejecting those social norms is good for both our sanity and our planet.

Spending money because some beauty magazines say so seems like a waste of perfectly good cash.

Terri Chu is an engineer committed to practical environmentalism. This column is dedicated to helping the community reduce energy use, and help distinguish environmental truths from myths. Send questions, comments, and ideas for future columns to Terri at terri.chu@whyshouldi



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