Is it really cheaper to replace it?

Cool Tips for a Hot Planet series

By Ginny Colling

Ginny Colling was passionate about the environment before retiring from teaching college communications students. After retiring she trained with Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project and has presented to numerous groups about the climate crisis.

Say you have a budget for the year and spend everything you have in seven months. Then, to get by, you rack up credit card debt.

Earth Overshoot Day shows us we’ve been doing that for decades. Last year overshoot day fell on July 29.  In the preceding seven months we had “spent” all the earth’s natural resources that can be replenished in a year. After that day, humanity was into “environmental deficit spending.”  Basically, we’ve been borrowing from the kids.

But that date is based on a global average.  If everyone consumed like Canadians or Americans, overshoot day would fall on March 13. Ouch!

Many of us know we have too much stuff.  That’s why de-cluttering guru Marie Kondo’s book shot to bestseller status a few years ago. One solution is to stop the clutter at the source.  Before opening that wallet, we could ask ourselves: Do I really need this?  How often will I use it? As Kondo says: Does it spark joy?

We can also shrink our environmental footprint by following some of the many “R”s – not just reducing, but remaking, repairing, reusing.

Reuse: We all know about reusable mugs, shopping bags, and cutlery. Then there’s the wealth of second-hand items at local thrift stores or the Restore. 

But we can also work hard to keep used items going. Three years ago we needed to replace our plastic toaster – it had melted around the slots.  I was shopping for a metal one when I acquired my mother’s Sunbeam Radiant Control toaster (circa 1980), previously owned by her mother. Online these toasters are hailed as among the best ever made. Lesson: Over time, quality saves money.

Repair:  When I brought that toaster home there was a revolt because it had a habit of charring everything.  But YouTube came through.  A video outlined how to adjust the internal thermostat and voila – it’s still in use. If that didn’t work I was heading to the closest appliance repair shop.

The same goes for clothes. When the zipper broke on my favourite jacket I turned to a local tailor to replace it.

Remake:  My sister impressed me to no end when she followed directions for remaking low-rise jeans so the waist is much higher.  She didn’t need to buy new jeans and the old ones didn’t go to the landfill.

Actions like these can save money as well as the earth’s finite resources. And increase business for repair shops.

Sometimes it seems impossible to repair an item. A friend of mine needed a gear for his paper shredder, a part that was never available. He took it to Pinnguaq Maker Space in Lindsay where they used a 3-D printer to manufacture the part for him.

Nationally, we can support Right to Repair legislation like Bill 272.  The federal bill would make it much easier to fix our smart devices.  Unfortunately, a broader Ontario bill that would have required tech companies to make spare parts and manuals available was shot down. Our legislators argued it was against Ontario’s “Open for Business” policy.

But we need the right to repair on a finite planet. These days my least favourite phrase is “It’s cheaper to replace it.” 

Not so cheap for the kids who will have to pick up the tab for our environmental debt.

3 Comments

  1. Judy Kennedy says:

    If you are the least bit resourceful and handy, it’s amazing how easy it is to find a YouTube video that shows you, step by step, how to repair anything from a household appliance, computer printer, to a toilet, to a vehicle, simply by searching YouTube with the question, “how to repair, replace, reset, etc. the item in question. Recently, my five year old Epson Ecotank printer stopped printing and sent me a message that the ink dump pad required replacement and to take it to a service repair partner, which seems to be non existent in Canada. Replacing the printer, at a cost of anywhere from $400 to $900 really goes against the grain, when there is a possibility that it can be repaired and kept out of the landfill. A quick search on YouTube resulted in step by step instructions on how to remove and replace the pad and a secure website, where I could purchase a reset code to get it up and running again. A quick search on Amazon.ca for the make and model of the replacement pad and the subsequent purchase of the reset code, once the pad had been replaced ended up costing around $30.

    I have repaired anything from an Inkjet computer printer, Laser printer to a refrigerator that had a blocked water drainage tube, to a car heater, simply by searching YouTube. There are lots of clever, resourceful, Eco-savvy, wonderful people who have recorded how-to videos to help you save money and keep these items out of our ever growing landfills, and kudos to them.

  2. Ginny Colling says:

    Agreed. YouTube is a wonderful resource when it comes to repairs. Kudos to you for your work in keeping items out of the landfills!

  3. Richard Procter says:

    Excellent article Ginny! Thanks for the positive messaging. I think the full solution here must also come from accountants. They need to find the subtraction button on their calculators. A cost to future generations is a cost. Trouble is, nobody is paying it because nobody is subtracting it from the income made by selling the product – or in other words, adding it to the consumer’s cost.
    By not factoring in future costs, we allow this tragic and monumental sleight of hand in our economic system to continue. It is so pervasive that it is now textbook doctrine. In that system, air, water, landfills and third-world countries are free or cheap dumping grounds for a vast legacy of toxics or e-waste or textiles or you name it. Ditto on the manufacturing side, mining, energy, oil and gas – all heavily subsidized by future generations or paid for by environmental and social destruction in genuflecting countries with few alternatives and dirt cheap labour. “Growth” is hailed as an absolute imperative, the measure by which we supposedly live or die economically – so you don’t dare question it. Politicians are tripping over themselves right now to ramp it up as much as possible.
    Nothing should be cheaper to replace, if fixable. Perhaps if real-cost accounting started to happen, and if economists could actually add and subtract, that goal might be reachable. First, let’s understand how we got here in the first place.

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