Friday, April 23, 2010

A World Where Things Last for Generations

As an engineer, possibly the single thing that rubs me the wrong way the most is how disposable our society has become in the purchase of consumable goods. In our attempt to save a buck, catered to us by such giants as Walmart, we have forced manufacturing into cutting every last cent out of what we buy so that instead of lasting lifetimes, these things last a small finite amount of time before it ends up in a landfill and we buy a replacement. Two examples have recently have recently affected me though I see much more than that on a regular basis.

Case One: After filling up my little plastic gas can with lawn mowing gas for the season, I put on the lid and tightened it up only to have it crack. Now the straight plastic spout that I use to get gas into my lawnmower with it ending all over the driveway is functionally useless. I went to the local hardware stores to find a replacement cap only to learn two things. First, my two-inch opening in the gas can is no longer the standard and all I can find are caps for 1-1/2 inch openings. Two, they have done away with the simple straw like hollow tube to go with these gizmos with safety locks to prevent accidental spillage that are just full of small plastic moving parts. That hollow straw tube with the friction fit cap that I currently have works perfectly and I've never had the occasion to store my gas can upside down where leaks became an issue. I have no doubt that if I could buy one of those new fangled gas can lids that it would last all of a year or two before breaking. But what gets my dander up even further is that this gas can of mine, made entirely from plastic, is all of maybe ten years old. My father has gas cans that he inherited from his father that are entirely out of metal and though dented and scraped up, are still working some 60 years after they were built! I want to buy such a gas can but can't find one anywhere. I'm just going to have to hit up the farm auctions and see if I can pick one up somewhere sometime in the future.

Case Two: I have probably destroyed a good half dozen ice cream scoops in the last half dozen years. I first had a solid metal one but the plating started peeling off of it and lord knows what was in the inner metal part that was now unprotected. I then had a variety of those scoops with mechanisms to clean the ice cream out from inside the round scoop. They always ended up with the moving mechanism failing in various ways. Finally I found one with a more robust version of the moving mechanism only to have the molded plastic handle that appeared glued onto the metal tang break off. Meanwhile, my mom still uses the same flat iron solid metal scoop with bolted on wooden handle that she probably inherited from her mother and I don't think I could break it with a ten pound sledge hammer, an anvil and a thermos full of some caffeinated drink.

I mentioned this on another blog not too long ago but if someone could come up with a store that only makes/retails stuff that is made to last generations instead of years, even if it costs three times the price, you would have me as a loyal customer for my lifetime. Plastic would be absolutely outlawed.

15 comments:

R. Sherman said...

I'm with you on this. I always opt to spend a little more for quality construction, because you wind up saving money over replacing things constantly. Examples are decent backpacking stoves I've had for 30+ years and still work perfectly.

BTW, whatever happened to repair shops, where you could get something fixed instead of being forced to buy a new one?

Cheers.

Sage said...

Amen! There is no longer a shoe repair store in town which means I will no longer buy leather sole shoes.

You're idea of such a store is a good idea--but where would we get the products to sell? We'd not only have to redo the exisiting model in retailing, but also redo our production streams...

Everytime I hear a walmart commerical talking about saving you money so you can live better, I want to croak. just because you have more junk doesn't mean you have a better life.

Ed said...

R. Sherman - I own a Whisperlite stove and although very chinzy in the aspect you could crush it with one errant foot step, it is easily fixable which makes it just as valuable as something that is well built in my opinion.

Sage - I think in most cases, where outside interference hasn't driven the industry like it obviously has in the gas can industry, you can still find well made stuff with a little bit of searching. However, they aren't all in one place which is how big box stores attract people. I found after a bit of searching the ice cream scoop that will last my lifetime but I couldn't find a gas can at the same store. I think an internet company would be able to search and find all these items and essentially create the store where you can find everything without redoing our production streams. I also am of the opinion that such a store if given the chance could do well enough it might eventually get companies to cater to it just as they cater to Wal-Mart who wants things at the bottom dollar. That is why boycotting Wal-Mart is so easy for me. It just doesn't cater to my perspective on placing more value on well-built items that save me money in the long term than chinzy items that save me money in the short term.

Murf said...

Only you would be that hard on an ice cream scoop. I found a great one at the grocery store that has a the scoop part in 2 pieces that magically come together when the handle is squeezed. I'll keep my eye out for one and bring you it in August when I see you as a 'Hello! I am really Murf" gift. :-)

Ed said...

Murf - I'll bet the stamped one piece one I have now outlives your two plus piece one. The perfect one I have now is all I ever need. How about you bring me an all metal gas can with a screw on lid and metal "straw-like" spot without any moving parts. That is a better "Hello, I'm really Murf" gift. You already know that my "Hello, I'm really Ed" gift is going to be all you can eat sushi.

sage said...

Another solution to the ice cream scoop debate is to have a crappy freezer so your ice cream is always soft and you can use a plastic spoon to dip it... Or buy ice cream sandwiches... just my two cent worth.

Ron said...

I have a few metal gas cans from an auction I'll sell you. They leak though. :)

I know, I know, I can repair them... when I get the time...

Ron

Three Score and Ten or more said...

Sage came up with the comment about freezers, but what about Ice Cream freezers. Another product corrupted by plastic (I like a lot of plastic things, but things with gears don't appreciate plastic.) I have a metal one that is older than I, but it is wearing through. I have four with plastic parts, but the gears won't fit the old one. Sigh.

Vince said...

The only thing I bought in ages that fit to the idea of the multi-generational tool was a Mattock made in China. You call it a Grub Hoe I think. But the designer of this thing came from the same school of thought as yourself.

edifice rex said...

Go to a commercial construction supply house and you can still get the heavy duty metal gas cans; they have red for gas and blue for diesel. Allen backed over one of mine with the tractor and it still works. they also have these handy spouts that attach to the cans for easier pouring. The spouts are plastic but are heavy duty.

Woody said...

Cheaper Than Dirt...is a surplus vendor that has gas cans.

Ed said...

Sage - I have enough crappy things so I'll pass on the crappy freezer. :)

Ron - Fortunately, I'm not in a hard way since my plastic jug still works. I've glued the cap back together but don't yet know if super glue dissolves when exposed to gas. With enough pressure, which is what cracked it in the first place, it shouldn't be exposed to gas so maybe I'll get some more use out of it until I get to a garage sale or auction where I can buy a "real" gas can. Even if it doesn't, it just means I have to use a funnel which I have and it is metal so guaranteed never to fail.

3 Score - Because I am still younger than 2 score, I assume you are referring to what I call ice cream makers? I haven't seen one of those in years but I remember my grandfathers all metal one inside a wooden slat barrel to contain the ice and salt. There was nothing finer than homemade ice cream on a summer evening.

Vince - When someone gets my website up and running, I'll contact you to get the specifics so I can list it. I bought a hoe a few years ago at one of those box stores and broke it an hour later. I later found one of those old ones with a cast iron shank that allowed for replacement oak handles to be inserted as needed at an auction and bought it along with a whole bundle of other old hand tools for a dollar. But it came with an old oak handle already and it hasn't broke yet since I've owned it.

Ed said...

Edifice Rex - I'll have to check the yellow pages because I'm not sure if we have those in our area. Most construction crews around here come from the Chicago area, a long ways away.

Woody - The Cheaper than Dirt site that I googled mostly sells ammunition and gun supplies? Anyway, the only metal cans I found on that site where ammo cans.

Beau said...

I hear you on disposable everything. And I have a gas can post mulling about somewhere... but for whatever reason, my old plastic "cans" seem to be holding up pretty well. My beef is with those newfangled nozzles you speak of. I think I could still buy a metal can around here at a few places? Oh- and we use the solid scoop too :)

geri said...

I bought a $20 CD player for my 3 year old. It was the cheapest I could find in Best Buy. Didn't last us a year. It is one of those times I wish I was in the Philippines because for sure I will find somebody to fix it for me. This goes for smaller stuff like an umbrella.

We have 3 computers that needs to be fixed or upgraded in order for the newer programs we need to run. It's cheaper to buy a new one. To have someone even take a look at it here would cost $100.

Even back in the Philippine I've already heard the famous saying "it's cheaper buy a new one than getting it fixed" when talking about the U.S. It really is frustrating. I now understand why so much stuff here are thrown out.

I have Adobe Creative Suite 3 in my computer, I got it 3 years ago. Now Creative Suite 5 is apparently out. I am betting that if I look for jobs, it will require knowledge for CS5. I like using things for at least 10 years but there seems to be a conspiracy among companies to make us spend more money and make things disposable whether we like it or not.

Now I'm sure with iPad in the market a lot of laptops will be ditched. And what will happen when iPad 2nd generation comes out?