Toss or Recycle?by Linda L. Rigsbee on 07/13/14
When my father came to live with us in 2011, he brought with him the toaster that he claimed to have received as a wedding gift. Since they were married in 1946, I assumed that he was mistaken. I looked it up and discovered to my amazement that he was not mistaken. He was still using a 1946 Toastmaster toaster! Dad died in June of 2012 and we are still using that toaster daily.
At some point, Dad replaced the cord on the toaster, but otherwise, it has lasted all these years. Toasters haven't changed much in the last 68 years, aside from the addition of two or more ports for toast and a wider slot for bagels. On the other hand, I have a Hamilton Beach Model 702 Food Processor that my mother gave me over twenty years ago. It still works great. I even have the original manual (though it is food-stained). But food processors have changed a lot in twenty years. Now they are smaller and more powerful.
I got a small hand mixer as a wedding gift that lasted about 20 years through heavy use. Finally the motor burned up, so I bought another, and then another a year later when that one burned up. Mixers haven't changed much in technology over the years either, but apparently the quality has.
Why can't we make a mixer that lasts longer? We recycle plastic, cardboard and glass to keep it out of the dump, but we toss our mixers every year? We upgrade cars and computers. Why can't we make a mixer that can be repaired or upgraded? Why can we no longer make an economical toaster that lasts 60 years?
Economical is probably the key word here. When I got my first mixer, the cost was around $10 to $15. I was making less than $2 an hour, so that would have been about a day's pay. Today that mixer would still cost about the same, but minimum wage is over $7 an hour, so it would only be a few hours work. Proportionately, the cost of that item has gone down. Mass production is the biggest reason. As quantity increased, has quality declined?
Of course, we can't lay all the blame at the feet of manufacturing companies. As price goes down, we find tossing the item and buying another makes more sense. Certainly it makes no sense to pay someone $7 to $15 an hour to fix a $10 item. As technology grows, fewer of us are able to fix our own electronics.
Technology and style are other reasons to toss perfectly good equipment. We want to upgrade to something that does more and looks better. Do manufacturing companies build the market or do consumers set it? If consumers and investors demand that products last longer, they will. If we demand items to be repairable, they will be. We have the capability. Do we lack the willpower?
Ultimately each of us has to make our own decision. Upgrade, repair, recycle or toss it in the dump. We have to decide which is more important to us in each case and realize the answer isn't always going to be the same. Sometimes we have to toss things, but often we have a choice.