LSS: Value loses its meaning

I walked past the display and stopped. Taking in the item and its price took some time and effort.

How could they be selling a canopy tent (10×10) for $29.99? Surely, that was a mistake.

So, I took a closer look.

There it was — a full canopy tent for sale for $29.99. I thought, “I can’t pass this up.”

So I bought it.

Our family doesn’t have a lot of use for canopy tents, but when Mardi Gras rolled around and we were going to meet friends for a day of picnicking, parading and partying, I was happy to tell our group that I’d bring the canopy tent.

I’ll readily admit putting it up was easy. That afternoon, a light shower rolled in just as we were packing to go home. Two friends and I began to take the canopy tent down. First, one pole broke. Yes, a metal pole literally broke. Then the tent began to disconnect from the remaining poles. Then one of the hinges went the wrong way and came undone. There was nothing to do but throw the whole thing away.

What should I have expected for $29.99?

But that’s a problem. A throwaway society, just like that canopy tent, cannot stand for long — and certainly won’t weather a storm.

Several friends are fed up and quick to supply examples of our throwaway society.

One of my friends says her experience trying to purchase a quality badminton set brought her level of frustration with poor-quality products to a head. She said there were three badminton sets at her local sporting goods store (in Texas). All three were made in China. All three had plastic stakes and poles. She bought the middle priced set for $70.

“We played with it once and two stakes and one pole bent and broke,” she wrote to me. “I returned it and decided to do more research on badminton sets.”

According to her research, she simply couldn’t find a quality badminton set.

“I was really surprised to read reviews on how people have resolved to buy a new set each year since the sets don’t last,” she wrote. “What happened to buying a product that will last you several summers? We have become a disposable society where the norm has been if it breaks just go buy a new one.”

And clothes? The changes in the ways clothes are made and constructed are shocking.

Whether the item is made in China or some place else is not the issue, but the issue is complex. Our consumer society responds to cheap prices and the market delivers at whatever cost necessary. The easiest way to get there is in decreasing the quality of the parts and final product. The best way to get there is through innovation. Sadly for our lives (and our landfills), we get more of the former and less of the latter.

Stacy Mitchell in an article in Grist.org wrote, “Cheapness — and the decline in durability that has accompanied it — has triggered an astonishing increase in the amount of clothing we buy. In the mid-1990s, the average American bought 28 items of clothing a year. Today, we buy 59 items. We also throw away an average of 83 pounds of textiles per person, mostly discarded apparel, each year. That’s four times as much as we did in 1980, according to an EPA analysis of municipal waste streams.”

So, what are those of us ready for the cheap, poorly made trend to slow and start heading in the other direction to do? Even my greenest, most earth-conscious friends admit that they too are complicit and participate, to some degree, in our throw away society. After all, how many of us are complaining about the 42″ flat screen plasma television we bought for $309?

There is no simple solution. I do know that changing the way we make thoughtless purchases is a part of the key. Think before buying something. Is it something you need for now or is it something you need for long-term? If you only need it for now, do you really need it? Could you borrow it? Do you know other methods to be smarter consumers who don’t contribute to our throwaway society? I’m open to your ideas and suggestions.

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One thought on “LSS: Value loses its meaning”

  1. Jan,

    I read your article yesterday in Lafayette, Louisiana’s The Daily Advertiser. The nomenclature to your article is summed up in two words: PLANNED OBSOLESCENCE. This idea has been going on for about 80 years and likely won’t go away any time soon. It’s far bigger than just China or U.S. consumers. Read more about it in Wikipedia, in which it offers reading sources on the subject. I just watched a documentary about it a few weeks ago.

    Brad

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