If it ain’t broke, throw it away anyway

Our 20 year old microwave broke yesterday. The mechanism still works, but the door opener snapped so that the microwave could no longer be opened. My husband, who has the heart, soul, and incidentally the degree of an Engineer got it down, choked a little on the accumulated dust behind it, and took it apart to see if he could fix it.

Inside he found a piece of aged, brittle plastic that had snapped. And then he asked me a curious question: “So, Lin, do we want a new microwave, or shall we fix it?”

“Is it hard to fix?”

“No, I just need to find a bit of wood or metal, shape it to fit, and screw it in.”

“Ok, I think we fix it, don’t we? By which I mean you fix it, and I’ll stand around looking impressed.” (I’m a software girl. I don’t do hardware. It’s fiddly and I tend to break myself in the process.)

Roughly 20 minutes later the microwave was fixed, cleaned, and back in its rightful place.

What puzzles me is that if I did not have access to this wonderfully talented & obliging engineer-type person, I don’t think I would have hesitated – I’d have chucked it out and got a new one. Sure, the big ticket items like fridges and washing machines usually rate an attempt (generally expensive, often futile) at repair, but smaller items like microwaves and coffee machines are alarmingly disposable. I’m not even sure I could find someone willing to repair a 20 year old microwave, if I tried.

Indeed, when my coffee machine broke under warranty a couple of years ago, the shop did not even look at it, they simply replaced it. Odds are that machine wound up on a rubbish heap somewhere, even though the broken part was simply a piece of tubing that needed replacing.

That’s the act of a society that has infinite resources to call upon. No limit to the metals and plastics we can chew up, and no constraint on the pollution we spit out.

Let me hear you say ‘smogulous smoke’ (smogulous smoke)
Schloppity schlop (schloppity schlop)
Complain all you want, it’s never ever, ever, ever gonna stop.
Come on how bad can I possibly be?
How ba-a-a-ad can I be? I’m just building an economy.
How ba-a-a-ad can I be? Just look at me pettin’ this puppy.
How ba-a-a-ad can I be? A portion of proceeds goes to charity.
How ba-a-a-ad can I be? How bad can I possibly be?

How bad can I be? The Lorax.
There are other signs of a society that believes it has infinite resources. Such a society might, for example, buy a new mobile phone, laptop or tablet device every year. My phone company spammed me incessantly when my contract was up, trying to persuade me to buy a new phone. They could not wrap their heads around the idea that the one I’ve got is working just fine, thanks.
Or it might package food to within an inch of its life (or perhaps beyond) in foil, foam trays, and plastic. It might produce plastic toys that break on the first use, and pack them into plastic packages, tie them down with plastic cable ties, anchor them to a plastic backboard, and shrink wrap the lot in still more plastic.
It might produce an infinite variety of single purpose items that nobody actually needs, like separate cleaning sprays for kitchen, bathroom, and laundry benches, another for shower screens, and still another for the toilet. Oh, and don’t forget the magically different floor spray. (We use a combination of vinegar and bicarb for all of that, and it’s amazingly effective, despite the devastating lack of brightly coloured packaging and almost, but not quite, entirely unreal floral perfumes.)
Such a society might throw away bike tubes every time they puncture. Buy coffee in take away cups every day. Store leftovers in disposable plastic wrap, and take lunch to work or school every day in new plastic bags. It might even buy a single item at the supermarket, put it in a plastic bag, and then just drop the plastic bag on the ground somewhere when it’s no longer needed.
And maybe, one day, such a society might pause and take a good hard look at itself. Such a society might wonder what kind of a world it was handing to its children.
And then it might take a travel mug to buy coffee. It might choose simple, multi-purpose cleaning products, and use reusable containers for leftovers and lunches. It might buy in bulk to minimize packaging, and refuse plastic bags. It might even choose to ride, walk, and catch public transport instead of driving.
And who knows? Such a society might even feel good about itself, eventually.

 

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