This phrase, from author Adam Minter, has become my newest mantra.
There is a phrase I have used in numerous articles for TreeHugger. "There is no away." For me, it sums up perfectly the idea that, just because something is no longer in our possession or sight, does not mean it isn't in someone else's. Broken, used up stuff all has to go somewhere – and usually that's in the backyards of less advantaged people who have fewer tools to fight its arrival. Think of the stories of Malaysia and Indonesia becoming inundated with North American plastics, things we thought we were 'recycling' but are really just sending as far away as we can.
This morning I read another phrase that resonated with me. In an interview with NPR, author Adam Minter said, "There is no green heaven." Minter has just published a book called Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale, and explained how erroneous it is to think that our personal belongings can have some sort of happy, eco-friendly ending. While the odd thing might go into the backyard compost bin, everything else has to die somewhere, and that's either in the landfill or the incinerator.
"That's the fate of stuff. That's the fate of our consumerist societies. If we spend our time thinking this is going to be used perpetually, forever, even the best-made garment, the most robust smartphone, we're deluding ourselves a bit. Eventually, everything does have to die... It's sort of the ultimate story of consumerism and it's the dark side."
It is deeply uncomfortable to move the conversation about waste beyond single-use packaging (an environmental flashpoint these days) to include every single other item that we buy and own. The most well-intentioned shopper may take reusable containers to fill at the grocery store, but fail to consider the car they drove to get there, the shoes they wear inside, the wallet they use to pay – and the fact that all of these things must die somewhere, eventually. There is no green heaven. It's a harsh realization.
The absolute best thing we can do as individuals, Minter says, is to buy less. This curbs manufacturing, which is the biggest driver of environmental damage, from mining and resource extraction to air and water pollution and more. Prolong the life span of your belongings to the absolute limit, and buy the top quality you can afford, as the benefits of this are felt down the line. Minter explains,
"The goal really should be to keep your stuff in use for as long as possible, whether it's by you or somebody in Ghana or somebody in Cambodia... because if somebody in Cambodia is using your phone, they're probably not buying a new cheap handset there."
I was about to tell my husband I could use a new pair of gym shoes for Christmas, but after reading this article, I'm going to squeeze another year's use out of them. Some Krazy Glue might do the trick.