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Where does your trash go when you throw it away?

But Then Again ...

Climate change will not be solved by solar panels and electric cars alone. It will not be solved until we all realize that there is no “away” to throw things. We need to rethink our relationship to stuff.

The self-storage industry has exploded in the U.S. over the last decade. We have accumulated so much stuff that it no longer fits into our homes. Our attics, basements, and garages are all full so we rent space to store the overflow. And, as often as not, we leave it there to become fodder for reality TV shows. And then what? All that stuff does not cease to exist.

The pressure to buy new cheap everything is relentless. And for far too long we have been willing to fuel the race to the bottom; buying the cheapest rather than the best. But as consumers we must push back. We must think about what we are purchasing and what happens to it after we are done.

My iPhone is six years old. It works just fine. I was hoping to get many more years out of it, but Apple will stop “supporting” it soon as they have done with earlier models. No more security fixes. I will be forced to replace a perfectly good device so that one of the richest companies in America can become even richer. And we all go along with it.

Recycling, as it stands, is a fig leaf. We are getting better at separating out “recyclables” from trash: a necessary first step. But there is no one willing to take the recyclables and actually recycle them now that China no longer buys them. It is not cost-effective, without slave labor, to process the materials we collect. We cannot rely on “market solutions” to solve our recycling dilemma.

Worse still, we deny the rest of the world the chance to reuse our castoffs. Well-meaning officials have outlawed shipping any non-working goods to Africa in order to stop the dumping of e-waste. That means that countries that thrive on reuse and repair are denied the materials they need to continue ecologically sound practices.

Corporations should be held responsible for the end of their products. They should pay for the costs of recycling their goods. They will be incentivized to build goods that last longer, can be repaired, and will eventually be dismantled usefully.

Dell computers already does this. They collect and repair old computers and resell them. Everyone wins. We need to expand this to all manufacturers. You built it, you have to help dispose of it.

Madewell, Patagonia, Eileen Fisher and Arc’teryx are experimenting with refurbishing used clothing and reselling them. That is a good beginning, but we are running out of time. The stuff we buy doesn’t disappear in a puff of smoke when we are done with it. It doesn’t disappear when we give it to Goodwill. It doesn’t disappear at all.


Lisa Wright divides her time between her home in Lakeville and Oblong Books and Music in Millerton where she has worked for nearly 40 years. Email her at wrightales@gmail.com.

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