Our disposable culture needs a fix that will help our environment, too

A tale of two broken-down appliances tells a bigger story about our throw-away society.

Tale of 2 broken-down appliances tells a bigger story about our throw-away society

How many Garbage Hills does a Prairie town need? Let's stop throwing everything away and start fixing what's broken, Joanne Seiff says. (Gil Rowan/CBC)

In the last week, I've had two appliances fail. It happens — things break.

We realized that the washer has been doing its duty — 15-30 loads of laundry a week — for more than 10 years. (We cloth diapered twins.) It might have been overdue.

When the washer quit while my husband was doing laundry, full of water on a Saturday night, it seemed like an emergency.

I took a deep breath, Googled appliance repair in Winnipeg, and immediately sent out three emails.

To my surprise, one business responded, and by 10 p.m. on a Saturday night, I had a diagnostic appointment set up for Sunday afternoon. By Monday afternoon, the broken switch was fixed and the washer was back in business, working away on the loads of dirty laundry that had piled up.

The repairman said this washer was a workhorse and should keep going a long time.

I was relieved — the part was available, the repair person had the right expertise, and it could all be done quickly. The bad news is I paid roughly a third of the cost of a new washing machine to have it repaired.

It was necessary but not cheap.

In comparison, I give you the case of the bread machine.

I started baking bread as a teenager and I love doing it by hand. When I had twins in cloth diapers though, I needed a little help to make bread, so we bought the bread machine.

It does a great job of kneading and managing the timing required to turn out a decent homemade loaf. It's not perfect, but it's a good gadget to have.

I was scrubbing out the pan after use when part of the paddle at the pan bottom came off in my hand. We figured the heat-resistant gasket that held it in place had disintegrated.

A workhorse washing machine was a pricey fix, but someone was willing to take it on. A bread machine was a bit more of a challenge. (Africa Studio/Shutterstock)

I Googled the machine, which is about six years old, and could not find the part available online, but I figured I wasn't the expert.

I called a small appliance repair place. They cheerfully said they didn't fix these and gave me the 1-800 number to call in Mississauga.

Things got worse from there. The person on the other end of the line woodenly told me that this part was no longer available. He had no response when I asked if their intention was to have me throw out an entire working bread machine because of this one small part.

I couldn't hold it in — I snorted, "What a waste!" and hung up.

I looked up bread machines in newspaper advertisements. If I acted fast, I could possibly buy an entirely new machine — another huge piece of plastic and metal — for half price.

But I really didn't want to throw this into the landfill. I just wanted to fix what I had.

I was so frustrated I wanted to hurl the parts at the closest wall

I put the relevant pieces into a bag, leashed my dog, and walked to the neighbourhood hardware store. The man behind the counter kindly explained he didn't have the part I needed, but suggested ordering something called a snap ring from an auto supply store.

By the time I got home, I was so frustrated I wanted to hurl the parts at the closest wall.

My kind husband calmly ordered a kit with a selection of snap rings online for $13.44 (including shipping and tax). When they arrived, he found the right size, and I used needle nosed pliers (and smaller hands) to attach the paddle.

It may not be a perfect fix, but I have since used the machine to produce dough again.

The tale of the two broken down appliances tells a bigger story.

We live in a throw-away society. It's incredibly easy to throw things away and buy something brand new. Getting something fixed is sometimes not substantially less costly than throwing the broken thing into the landfill.

Meanwhile, we're bombarded with ads, all trying to get us to buy ever better and more expensive things to fuel our economy and to satiate our desire for everything shiny and new.

If we're serious about caring for the environment, this cycle can't go on. We need to figure out how to fix what we've got, reuse what we can't fix, and recycle what's irreparably broken into something new.

We can't keep throwing out bread machines simply because a gasket broke, and the company that won't supply a replacement for something so small is definitely part of the problem.

I can't claim that I've always put the time in to fix things when it requires this much know-how. It would have been far easier to drive over to Canadian Tire and buy a new bread machine.

Did I save money on the snap ring repair job? For now, I've saved about $50, and however many loaves of bread I get out of the repaired machine.

It's a worthwhile investment when I consider the kids who eat this bread, and their future.

How many Garbage Hills does one city need?

If we all throw out a bit less stuff and promote a culture that fixes and reuses things, a lot less could end up in the landfill.

That would be a great start toward protecting our prairie landscape for the next generation.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

Read more opinion pieces published by CBC Manitoba.


Joanne Seiff is the author of several books, including Knit Green, about textile sustainability. She works in Winnipeg as a freelance writer.


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