Make the holidays greener

Every year, during the final weeks before January rolls around again, retailers and auto-makers go to great lengths to persuade us to buy as much stuff as our credit cards will allow.

Daytime television shows identify the hottest toys and gadgets of the season, department stores try to lure in even the most budget-conscious shoppers with loss leaders, and television ads proclaim there’s never been a better time to get a better deal on everything.

Admittedly, it’s difficult to resist these overtures. But let’s face it: Our obsession with material wealth is trashing the planet. It’s just not sustainable. Researchers have calculated that it would take one-and-a-half earths to replenish the resources that we are thoughtlessly consuming at the present rate.

If we want America to remain America the Beautiful, we need to clean up our act, and stop being so wasteful. It’s important for those of us who care about good stewardship to take matters into our own hands. There’s no better time than the holidays to commit to reducing, reusing, and recycling, since that’s when we collectively buy a lot of new stuff. There’s also a fourth R: repairing.

Oftentimes, when appliances or gadgets break, our response is to go buy a replacement. This is incredibly wasteful. A tremendous amount of energy, capital, and labor goes into the making of each appliance or gadget we own. To appreciate just how much, we have to trace a product’s origins, from extraction to production to distribution to consumption. Typically, when an appliance or gadget breaks down, there’s only one particular component that’s gone bad, and it can be fixed or replaced. Unfortunately, manufacturers of stuff have made the cost of buying new stuff cheaper than the cost of repairing old stuff. They can do this because they don’t have to worry about the responsibility of disposing of old, broken stuff. If taking back old stuff were their responsibility, you can bet it would be a lot easier and cheaper to get old stuff repaired.

Fortunately, in many cases, old stuff can be repaired, or given new life, at home. For instance, most of us have computers that are about a half-decade old and aging. I recently extended the life of such a computer by replacing the hard disk drive with a lighter and more resilient Solid State Drive (SSD).

An SSD is like a super-sized flash drive … it’s faster and more durable than an HDD because it has no moving parts. On the SSD that I purchased, I installed copies of Windows 7 and Kubuntu. I now have the latest and greatest software on my computer, and it runs several times faster.

There’s no law that says you have to go out and buy something new to use as your Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa gift. You just might make a family member or friend’s day by repairing a beloved toy, gadget, or appliance that’s broken.

If you do just one thing, educate yourself! Go to to learn about where stuff comes from and what happens to it after we throw it out. Host Annie Leonard will take you on a guided tour that you won’t soon forget. Share the video with everyone you know.

EastsiderAndrew Villeneuve can be reached at andrew@nwprogressive.

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