The 4 “R”s
I recently came across a blog entitled Say No To Trash. Sarah McGaughey and Kyle Glover are attempting to go a month with creating no garbage in Toronto. The more I think about it, the more I appreciate how ambitious an undertaking it really is. It’s a worthy read.
Recently, they reposted an article that originally appeared in The Eye about why recycling is the worst of the 3 “R”s. Having read that, I agree that recycling should not be the focus of any drive towards sustainability. After all, recycling still requires energy inputs, where reduction or reuse don’t.
However, I contend that there is another “R” that is missing entirely that needs attention in our increasingly disposable consumer product economy: Repair.
Like it or not, the 50’s are back, and everything is disposable. Thanks in part to dirt-cheap labour in China (and our insatiable appetite for what it can produce), many products are now cheaper to replace (a 5th R? shudder) than to repair. Ink jet printers, for one; you can now get an inkjet printer with two new cartridges for less than the cost of the two cartridges on their own. The result? If you run out of ink and don’t feel like trying to get your cartridges refilled at a service like Island Inkjet, you landfill the old printer and buy a new one (with new features, better performance, yadda yadda). And that’s just one example.
Electric toothbrushes are another. Go down the toothbrush isle at your grocery store or drug store and look at the children’s electric toothbrushes. Most of them are brightly coloured and shaped like their favourite characters. Almost NONE of them have replaceable toothbrush heads, and all operate on disposable alkaline batteries (which you can replace – how does that make sense?). So now instead of just throwing out a toothbrush, you’re also tossing extra plastic and rubber, an alkaline battery, and a small but perfectly functional electric motor. I simply don’t get it.
Back on topic – Repair. Instead of just saying “I can recycle it”, we have to get back into the mindset of reduction, reuse, and introduce repair to the mix. We assume that because something is more expensive to repair than to replace that we should do the latter, but looking at the world through a purely economic perspective got us to where we are today with climate change, so we need to change that approach. What can be repaired should be, especially if it can keep something otherwise servicable from going to landfill.
My cherished cordless drill is getting old. One battery stopped holding a charge this past summer, and the other one is starting to show signs that it’s too will stop working before long. The drill itself works fine, but the cost of a new battery is more than a new cordless drill (there’s that economic perspective again). Thankfully, instead of tossing the whole drill away, I can have the battery packs rebuilt for me.
The Source, as I found out, offers a battery rebuild program. I can get my old packs rebuilt, and get more capacity by rebuilding than I’d get buying new to boot. They claim that the service could cost “substantially less” than the cost of a new battery pack, but in the case of my drill that doesn’t appear to be so. Luckily, there are DIY instructions and other rebuild services as well. Laptops? Electric toothbrushes? Anything with an internal battery can be repaired – we just have to get people to realize that it can be done, and encourage a battery rebuild econony to form.
That’s just one example of repairing instead of replacing. Recently my electric clippers stopped working properly. Thankfully, through Grand River Intentional Communities I met someone that used to do small appliance repair, and he managed to fix them. Replacing them would be inexpensive, but these clippers should last me a lifetime, if not longer. Now they will.
Reduce, Reuse. Both excellent. Recycle? Has its drawbacks, but better than landfilling. Repair? Most certainly – we just have to start thinking more like Sarah and Kyle.