family has had an unlucky streak recently with cars and appliances breaking one right after the other. Realistically, we should assume that nothing will last forever, but it is still a shock when something breaks that you thought still had life in it.
Today, there is a premium price for appliances and electronics. With a plentiful supply of choices and products, the market is also competitive. Manufacturers are always looking to capture more market share. There is a constant message that we shouldn’t be happy with what we have and should always want the newest. The by-product of this constant consumerism is that products are not made to last, nor made to be fixed.
Why should they be, when the newest thing will make it obsolete?
Obsolescence hits you hard when everything starts breaking. As an example, some time ago, we replaced our tract house standard-issue electric oven and low-wattage microwave oven. They had survived 15 years but functioned at the lowest standard — the original microwave took twice the estimated heating time.
So we made an investment — the best we could afford at the time — and upgraded. The appliances were not entirely reliable, with parts like knobs, vent covers and handles breaking. We lost a burner and had to replace an element, but everything still worked.
However, six years later, both appliances from two different manufactures gave up the ghost within three months of each other. The microwave broke first. Since I believe it is more sustainable to fix rather then replace, we fixed the microwave. It broke again — the same piece. We fixed it again, then something else broke. We fixed it again, and that lasted four months before it broke again.
We were done fixing it and went microwaveless. It was unfamiliar ground for my kids — a world without instant heating. My husband and I remember the olden days before microwaves. For my kids, it was how the Earth turned, and they whined considerably when we said it would be some time before it was replaced.
Then the cooktop broke into a spectacular burst of flames.
During the regular repair appointments, the repair man had looked at the range. He and I both agreed that it was a bad design. Right below the knobs was the electronic circuit board for the stove and cooktop. To fix one burner, the whole top would need to come off, and all the circuit board and horsetails of wiring be replaced.
As that strategy didn’t work so well for the microwave, I was done fixing inferior appliances. So we bit the bullet and bought another microwave and range. It was an expensive lesson in getting what you pay for.
For me, I have had only one alarm clock in my lifetime, my refrigerator is approaching 30 years old and my freezer, well, is older than I am. I would love to replace all of them for more energy efficiency, but I hesitate to replace something that works perfectly fine when that which will replace it is not expected to last — per industry standards — more than 10 years.
If I had replaced all these items following today’s consumerism standard, I would have saved on electricity but would have replaced each at least three times. That is not a sustainable use of resources.
In our age of consumerism,
we are not buying for the future but buying for the moment with little assurance and expectation of longevity. How many cars have you had in your lifetime? Now change the question to how many cellphones and you see an unsustainable rise of constant purchasing that leads to the inevitable disposal.
Compounded by the fact that what we are buying is not made well, we will run out of resources and landfills before we obtain appliance nirvana. So this holiday season, make sure that your purchases are made well, or the gift will be in the trash and the giving will need to occur again.
For a change: When something breaks, try fixing it. If it can’t be fixed, dispose of it in the proper way at an electronic waste event or the household hazardous waste facility in Stockton, free to all residents.
To make a difference: When you have to buy an appliance or electronics, look for the more sustainable, energy-efficient model. Look for more pieces that can be recycled at the end of the item’s use.
To make a stand: Don’t buy. Find a way to do the task another way without that extra, single-use appliance.
• Christina D.B. Frankel has lived in Tracy for more than 22 years and is an architect and mother of three. Her column, Living Green, runs every so often in the Tracy Press. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.