Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Three Cheers For Recycling


The other night I successfully completed my first attempt at creating a photo book, and I used recycled materials:
  • cardboard from Amazon.com shipments
  • ribbon from gifts received
  • an old tablecloth dug out of David's junk storage containers
It's amazing how much stuff can be recycled rather than buying things new. At the same time, I can't believe the things that people throw away. Just the other week I saw two perfectly usable ride-on toy cars that kids could still use, sitting on the curb. Every seven days the same neighbours put out no less than FIVE giant rubbish bins on wheels stuffed to the gills. We barely fill two medium-capacity bags between two adults, so how does a family of five manage to accumulate 400% more garbage than we do???

I went to the dollar store yesterday near our house for the first time, and I'm feeling guilty as a result of it. Why?

I found large numbers of items which EASILY cost more than $1 to produce. Dollar stores are everywhere, and how they manage to make a profit is that everything comes from China, where the labour costs next to nothing. I've never been entirely comfortable with the idea of supporting an economy with such an atrocious record of human rights violations, especially one where obviously people are not getting paid a working wage. If they were, we'd be paying more than a dollar for many of those goods on the shelves. I'm not saying most of the inventory is worth much more than that -- the stuff barely holds together after it leaves the store -- but there's still the cost of human labour in addition to machinery, importing, distribution, etc.

It's not that I wish to pay ridiculous sums of money for cheap goods at a big box store rather than a dollar store. Dollar stores have a limited selection of goods, anyway, they're not direct competitors for any one type of store. There will always be a market for cheap goods. But what makes things worse is that because the items are so incredibly cheap, we don't think twice about throwing them away. Then buying more of the same! It's not really the act of buying that I'm railing against, it's the consumption-quick disposal-consumption cycle that gets fed by the steady increase of a wider selection of disposable goods at prices which cannot support fair costs for labour. They may not label themselves as "The Disposable Goods Store", but society views dollar stores that way. Either our desire for quality items (manufactured by people getting paid properly) is diminished, or our consideration for the energy that is required to make a product is superseded by what we're willing to pay for it. In other words, we don't care if Chinese people work for pennies as long as we don't pay more than pennies.

How this relates to me fumbling around with making a photo book from recycled materials is that it took me so long to create the damn thing that I had time to ask myself the following questions:

"How much would I pay for someone to make this for me?"
"How much is the other person worth to me that I would make this for them?"
"How much easier it would be if I just BOUGHT one?!?"
"What can I do to make this easier next time?"
"Do Chinese people ask themselves, 'Why would a Westerner pay for such crap?'"