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Thrown Away

Last week was a bad week for the electronics in my home.  If it plugged in, it was probably going to die. These things happen, though I was starting to wonder about timing.  In the span of about 10 days, the list of ‘broken’ kept growing… 5 lightbulbs, my e-book reader, my mobile phone, my computers’ mouse, my alarm clock, the church answering machine, my stereo, my landline phone… you get the idea.

Needless to say, I had to spend some time (and money) getting certain things replaced. A few of things that I can either do without or had extra copies of anyway, but the other brought frustration.  My e-reader just decided to die after 2 years, so I called customer service again to investigate repairs.  Their response? The device is too old to repair; they don’t even have access to the parts anymore, they suggested I buy the newest model.  Too old after 2 years?  My mobile phone was a similar story.  2.5 years into a 3-year contract, I plugged it in to charge the other night, and woke up to a completely dead phone. Even trying a new battery produced no results; I would have to either buy a brand new phone, or sign into a new 3-year contract.  Even a previous handset was useless as the security codes could not be broken.  Then the saleperson admitted that they would never sign a 3-year contract because none of the phones they sell are designed to last 3 years.  Seriously?!

I’ve known for a while that society in general tends to prefer the disposable these days.  I’m annoyed and frustrated, however, that there are fewer and fewer options out there for people like me who would prefer to repair things rather than replace.  I’m bothered that even when things CAN be repaired, society is being encouraged to replace them – last month my 2-year-old laptop was in for repairs under warrantee, and the people there were already trying to sell me my next computer, claiming it might be better for me than the machine that I have now.

So what happens with all this ‘old’ stuff that we throw away?  Is it recycled just because we toss it into a blue bin, or does it eventually end up in a landfill?  And what about the ‘new’ stuff that we accumulate- where did the materials come from to make it? Was it made using ethical practices?

And how do we as Christians respond to our disposable society?  Does our faith influence our consumer habits?  Should it? I think it should.  I think that we, as people of faith, should be showing the world leadership in all that we do – what we say, how we act, what we buy.  It may mean that we choose to buy fewer things of higher quality to decrease our waste.  It may mean that we research where our things come from and how they are made, then choose to purchase things that truly respect the dignity of every human being and the integrity of God’s creation.

I think that being a Christian means that everyday we have to make difficult choices, and one of those is to do our part to reject the disposable society.  We’re called to be leaders in the world, and we can’t do that when we’re willing to simply cast aside and throw away something for something new and shiny.  The Earth and her resources are finite, not disposable.  The people of God are beloved, not disposable.  Our faith is strong and enduring, not disposable – and the choices we make every day can show the world just how strong that ‘old’ faith can be.

About Laura Marie Piotrowicz

I’m a high-energy priest, now serving in the Diocese of Niagara, catching glimpses of the kingdom in daily life. I consider church to be a verb, and I’m passionate about prayer, eco-theology, and social justice. I love travel, reading, canoeing, camping, gardening and cooking, playing with my dogs, and drinking good coffee.

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0 Responses to Thrown Away

  1. Kyle Norman

    And yet how do we do this without driving us into an attitude of ” New = Bad.”  I completely agree that I think we are called to think deepely about our purchases, and our involvement in the disposable society as you mentioned, but what makes it ‘bad’ to have a cell phone?  Sometimes this is where the conversation goes.  “Christians need to be against the over-consumption and mass marketing of the economy. (True!)  Therefore, Don’t buy an e-reader!”  (really?)  I think sometimes we make these leaps because we actually don’t know how to speak about these things because faith is sometimes so removed from how we interact with the systems and structures of the world.

    I think before we get to some of the nitty-gritty of practices, we need to develop a language and theology around the topic of consumerism, equity, stewardship, and witness.  Hopefully the likes of LauraMarie can lead us in this charge.

  2. I’m loving this conversation!

    Thanks Jesse for sharing some of those resources; they’re all good basic stuff – good starting points for the general public.

    While I like to think of myself as an eco-geek, I also know that I am a consumer who does not necessarily like to go without the gadgets and gizmos – I do buy these things, after all!

    That being said, part of my process in purchasing decisions is to think about what the product really is and why I want it.  Do I want it because it’s neat and new and shiny?  Or do I want it because it will make some of my work easier or life more pleasant?  For example, I do have a mobile phone, I will be replacing my electronic reader, etc.  But when I do make these purchases, I try to consider the bigger picture of them; right now I’m saving for that new reader, because I intend to buy one where the ethics are better than others, one that’s higher quality and so a bit more durable (though a bit more expensive). It’s a compromise; it has to be.  I don’t think our consumer world right now has the perfect product, and I don’t want to be doing without (cloistered life is not my calling)!

    The notion of theology and language of consumerism &c. is a good idea… maybe I’ll have to work on that as a winter project!

  3. — just to interject a a little observation, I hope no-one uses his/her mobile or cell phone while driving his/her car 🙂

  4. Amen Charlie!!

  5. It’s good that you brought up this topic. Over the last two months, my dishwasher, my husband’s iPod, my little daughter’s portable DVD player for the car and my vacuum cleaner just broke. Of course, none of them could be repaired. The dishwasher would have been the only realistic candidate, but it had gradually fallen apart: door handle broken and only some family members had developped a technique to open it anyways, cycle button not advancing on its own any more, so that we had to push it  manually from “rinse” to “dry”.  So when the pump broke, we didn’t even try to have all of it fixed.

    We did one house cleaning without the vacuum cleaner. But  it was no surprise that it took longer and remained dirtier with just a broom and a mop.

    So we ended up buying stuff. That will last for a little while.

    It’s really not easy to consume less or find electronics that’s supposed to last and to be repaired. Quite often, there is no “repairable” alternative available and the only way to opt out is not to buy at all (which is not easy in a 6-people-2-working parents household for a dishwasher or with a 3-year old in the car for the portable DVD player. )  At least, this spring, I got rid of my (still functioning) big freezer (sold it cheap on kijiji). Didn’t regret it, because we are no big fans of frozen dishes anyways.

    In fact, instead of purchasing 3-year replacement warranties, I would like to be able to purchase a 10-year repair-option.

  6. A repair warranty? That’s an incredible idea, and the first time I’ve heard it suggested!

  7. I too love the idea of a warranty that lasts longer than the average headcold. One of the things I like about the computer company I go with is that they will repair – or replace only the broken parts – of the machine (of course they try to upsell, but I’m getting good at saying ‘no’).

    Tech can be great if it’s used for a purpose.  Phil, I also used to tell my students that a well-thought-out no-tech presentation was better than a flashy but empty multi-media one.  We need to think about why we have stuff, and whether it’s a need or a want.  “Ooooh! Shiny object!” may be my default first reaction, but certainly not what makes my final decision.

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