Sunday, January 22, 2012

Thrift Week Day Six: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Repair Day

I wasn't really sure what I was going to do to for Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Repair Day. I'd done plenty of things along these lines earlier in the month, as it happens: we reduced waste on our last several shopping trips by using the nifty new mesh produce bags that we got in our stockings last Christmas, and we reused by disposing of a lot of unwanted items on Freecycle. The items we've unloaded so far include a box of Sweet 'N' Low packets left behind by a visiting friend, a copy of Your Money or Your Life that I picked up off the "free" table at the last library book sale, and an old IKEA microwave cart that we hadn't used since we moved to this house. (To date, I haven't found anyone who wants the two books of British crosswords, the 2012 "American Landscapes" calendar from my insurance company, or the giant "super liter" plastic mug I got as a souvenir at my senior prom.)

Then, last weekend, I discovered a way to recycle something I'd previously thought was fit only for the trash-bin: textiles. There are plenty of outlets for disposing of clothing in usable condition, of course, including the local thrift shop I visited on Friday—but Brian and I tend to wear clothes until they're no longer wearable, and therefore no longer suitable for donation. Yet in many cases, there's still plenty of decent fabric left on them, stuff that someone with better sewing skills than mine could probably put to good use. My approach up until now has been to stuff all these items into a couple of drawers down in the basement in the hope that the fabric will come in handy for something (though I'm not sure what) one day (though I'm not sure when) when my sewing skills have improved (though I'm not sure how). But I finally admitted that this was an unrealistic hope and decided to find a way to unload them. So I did a little research and discovered that there's actually a recycling bin for textiles in the parking lot of the Edison public library, not two miles from our house. I pulled out most of the contents of one of the drawers, bagged it up, and stuffed it in this bin, from which—according to Repurpose New Jersey, the company that operates the bins—"All textiles are resold to a distributor with proceeds going directly to well-established local 501(c)3 nonprofit organizations."

But since I'd already done those things, I couldn't do them again, and I wasn't sure what kind of waste-reducing activity I could take part in on the day itself. And then, this morning, one of the window blinds in our office neatly answered the question by breaking when Brian tried to open it. Actually, it was just a tiny part of the shade that broke—the little plastic ring that holds the pull cord—but it's a crucial part, one without which the blind can't be raised or lowered. And as Brian noted with some irritation, the way the shade is designed, it's impossible to pull out the broken ring and replace it with an identical one, because both the ring and the loop it fits through are single, solid pieces. Clearly whoever designed this shade didn't really have long-term reparability in mind. (This seems to be a common problem with modern machinery—there's even a song about it by Martin Swinger, called "Little Plastic Part.")

So our best hope of fixing the thing was to patch the broken ring up with a bit of epoxy glue and then hope that it doesn't promptly snap again as soon as it's reinstalled. The epoxy join itself almost certainly won't break, of course, as the epoxy, once dried, will be stronger than the original plastic, but the ring could easily break on the other side. If that happens, we'll have to try and MacGyver a replacement for the ring out of a paper clip or a safety pin or some such device that can be split open, slipped through the fabric loop, and re-fastened. This will make our makeshift replacement device superior to the original, but if manufacturers insist on making these things so shoddily, what do they expect?

Postscript: After we got home from our dinner out, we reinstalled the shade, and it seems to be holding up for now. And, before going to bed, I did squeeze in one more celebration of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Repair Day. Since I ended up not spending anything for the home energy audit I'd requested as a birthday present, I decided that my new birthday gift to myself would be a Maggie Bag tote, something I'd had my eye on ever since my current handbag (a cheapo Merona purse from Target) started to fall apart piece by piece. Available in a wide range of styles and colors, these "eco-chic" purses are made from recycled seat belts, making them super durable as well as green. They cost considerably more than I'd normally spend on a purse (I don't believe I've ever paid more than $35 for one before), but on the other hand, my cheap bags usually wear out within a couple of years. These Maggie Bags, by contrast, come with a lifetime warranty. (It doesn't cover damage from accidents or spills, but the site faithfully promises that "defective or missing hardware, faulty zippers, and loose stitching of the webbing or lining of the bag will be repaired or replaced.") And since I found the bag I wanted on sale at Target, it only cost me around $70 total (including tax, with free shipping). Paying twice as much for a bag that will last ten times as long certainly seems like a good value to me—not to mention all the resources to be saved by buying one bag instead of ten. So with this purchase, I'm actually reducing as well as recycling—and treating myself as well. Happy Thrift Week to me!
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