Popular Posts

11 February 2011

Responsible Consumerism

This type of winter weather brings out the worst in climate change skeptics.  I firmly believe in the impact of man's habits on climate change but even I love to go out in 1 degree temperatures and yell, "Global Warming, my ass!"

I will not pretend to understand the science of the earth's warming causing blizzards.  Nor will I spend this blog post convincing you that climate change is a real and dangerous threat.

I will spend this post convincing you to make changes in the way you run your life.  But not to help the environment.  I want you to change because the way we are encouraged to purchase and consume is just plain dumb.   We are idiots.  All of us.

Case and point;  we adopted a dog a couple of months ago.  He is big and beautiful and has the kind of fur with which polar fleece loves to cuddle.  As previously mentioned, we're having a very cold winter and my daily outfit of choice is always topped off with a polar fleece jacket, which I wear inside, too, but I digress.   This warm and comfy black polar fleece jacket often looks beige because of the dog fur that is attached to it via the joy and magic of static electricity.  Again, I won't try to understand the science, but suffice it to say if my dog scratches his ear, the fur he detaches from his head immediately ends up on my jacket. Even if I'm 20 feet away.  Or in a different room.

So off I went in search of a lint brush.  I remember the lint brush we had when I was a kid;  a wooden-handled thing with some sort of red fabric on both sides.  We used it the whole time I was growing up and I would hazard a guess that my folks still use it.    You cleaned it by wiping it with your wet hand, transferring the lint from brush to hand.  Then you washed your hands.  Simple.

But it's not easy to find a lint brush these days.  The stores only stock those sticky roller things;  you roll it over your clothes, peel off a layer of sticky to reveal a new layer of sticky and then throw the old layer of sticky away.  When you are done with the roll of sticky, you throw the whole thing away;  a big plastic handle and a plastic roll.  In removing lint, you've created a pile of trash.

And you could have just used a freaking lint brush and then wiped it off with your wet hand.

I went all over town looking for a lint brush.  (Yes, one can lampoon the fact that I used fossil fuels to wander all over the metro, venturing into the vast parking lots and the glut of product that demarcate the big box store.  But let's not go there.)  In my big box spelunking I found ideas based on the old-fashioned lint brush but even these required one to change the fabric attached every month; refill packages were helpfully stocked nearby.  I found sticky rollers galore.  I found one lint brush.  One.  It was made of plastic but had the red fabric I remembered.  I picked it up to test it on my polar fleece.  The handle broke.  I grimaced and took it to customer service.  They shrugged and told me these things often broke and they weren't going to stock them anymore.  They refused my offer of pay and tossed the broken lint brush in the trash.

This lint brush was made by a company that also made the sticky rollers;  I went back to the lint roller aisle and compared the two handles;  the sticky roller, designed to be disposable, had a substantially sturdier handle.  Try as I might, I couldn't break it (I did succeed in catching the attention of the store security guard, but that is another blog post entirely).   The lint brush, ostensibly designed to be fairly permanent, was made as cheaply as possible; designed to break so we would either buy another one or throw up our hands at the uselessness of the old-fashioned lint brush and move our alliance to the disposable sticky roller.

There are so many products like the sticky roller;  the Swiffer instead of a mop.  Lunchables.  Individually packaged small yogurts.  Those tiny bottles of water.  Disinfecting wipes.  Disposable razors.  Products that create convenience.   But these convenience products also create trash.  Lots and lots of trash (yes, I know I said I wasn't going to talk about the environment, but indulge me).

Have you heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?  It's a huge pile of trash, roughly the size of Texas, in the central North Pacific Ocean.  Estimates put the amount at 3.5 million tons of trash. Shoes, toys, bags, pacifiers, wrappers, and bottles too numerous to count are only part of what can be found in this accidental dump floating midway between Hawaii and San Francisco.

How many sticky-roller handles are in this pile?  How many water bottles?  How many disposable razors?

But if this picture doesn't make you gag and swear off disposable products entirely, let's talk about your money.  Disposable products ensure that you spend much more money than you would otherwise.  We used one sticky roller in two months.  That's $27 a year.  If you buy a Swiffer, you have to keep buying refills and  then you eventually have to buy a whole new Swiffer because the plastic broke and the sheets  won't stay on anymore.  You just made a mint for the Swiffer people.  And you'll keep making that mint for them as long as you buy into their product line.   Like their dusters.  You could buy an old-fashioned feather duster but wouldn't it be better to buy a package of disposable ones?  Then you can wipe the dust off of your furniture and throw it away immediately!  A clean slate every time you dust!  How wonderful!

Can you hear the "cha-ching" from the company boardroom?

See?  We're sooooo dumb.

I finally found a permanent lint brush product, by the way.  Something called a Furbegone;  a brush with soft rubber bristles that grab pet hair and lint like a magnet and then rinse clean.   It was on an aisle at a pet store, surrounded by sticky rollers.  I've used it quite a bit and it works very well.  Perhaps a little more labor-intensive than the sticky roller but more effective in the end.  It can also be used directly on your pet, as well as on carpets and upholstery.

A 100 sheet sticky roller costs $4.59.  A Furbegone costs $6.99.  The dumb consumer in us buys the sticky roller because it's less expensive.  But the rubber brush we only have to buy once.  We spend more at the outset but save over time.

So how come the rubber brush is so hard to find?

Because we're dumb.  Duh.  It's easier to find the sticky roller so we buy it.  We don't think.  We just buy.  Dumb.

I could go on and on and on and on.  But I won't because I doubt you made it this far.  I really should include entertaining illustrations in these blog posts.  

So let me close with this;  you may hate environmentalists.   You may want to shoot tree-huggers with a BB gun.  You may have Al Gore's face on your basement dart board.

But putting the brakes on disposable consumerism makes financial sense.  For you and your family.   And if the Great Pacific Garbage patch disappears too?  All the better.