Returning to landfill

You join me in an eco-crisis meltdown. See why a bathroom leak and a replacement cabinet helped me discover some disgraceful facts and helped me rethink my buying habits.

Article Info

May 7, 2024 5 mins

I am having an eco-crisis this morning. 

Let me set the scene, due to a leak I am replacing my bathroom (and it transpires when I dig deeper, part of the wall and floor to boot), I like DIY, it challenges brain and brawn, feels good and it’s going to look great, but in going through the process I realise we have had to order a lot of materials. 

One of which was a new sink and cabinet, ordered online from a large plumbing supplier. Here’s how it started (in short) it arrived not as described on the website – don’t worry this isn’t becoming an ecommerce consumer rights article.

I got in touch with them about this, and this is their response, verbatim: “I have arranged a replacement for you, and this should be with you Friday if you can dispose of the other unit that would be great if you need it collected please let me know.”

Today is Wednesday, excellent service I thought. 

But just as quickly, the word “dispose” slapped me round the face, my gormless mouth wide open to the ridiculous idea that we could manufacture a cupboard that gets disposed of instead of returned, and that this is one transaction of how many exactly?

Then I do some reading and it gets worse. My brand new return ends up in landfil, its cheaper for organisations to throw it away than restock it. Oh god, so now I can “dispose” of it or send it back for them to throw it in landfil.

But, this company might not throw it away, so the optimist inside me says return it, there’s an environmental impact to that but at least it will find its forever home the next time out. 

But it won’t, will it? 

If I don’t think this item matches the picture, even if they do take it back into stock, it will be shipped out for the next sucker to return it. Is there anyone at this massive online supplier reviewing items that are being perpetually returned? I doubt it. 

I now picture an infinite loop of travel for this small bathroom unit, racking up more air miles than Tom Stuker (a quick aside on that appalling link, I did a quick calculation that the shameless impact of that one human is 6,000 tonnes of C02 emissions).

So I am now numb with overwhelm and eco-anxiety, I resent the world a lot more, hate myself for buying something new and for the first time I join the dots that my decision not to accept something because it didn’t meet my aesthetic expectations has an environmental impact.

Guilt. Shame. Sadness.

With no real idea how to end my story, I turn to my business partner. 

“A radical change of thinking and a radical story would be – how long can I live my life without buying anything? (not very long, for sure) or throwing anything away? (probably even less time)

If you think about it then in a truly sustainable world the answer should be ‘for my lifetime’ to both questions. I can make my clothes, grow/hunt my food, build shelter and that’s sustainable. It isn’t the life we aspire to though and the life we aspire too will always involve buying stuff, every day for the rest of our lives – we can buy less stuff and make it a bit less bad for the world, but still, we’re unlikely to escape buying many of the things we consider essential. 

So what can we do? 

We can use our skills to tell stories about these issues – something that you already do. 

We can use our business to persuade and shift values – something that you already do. 

We can try to engage others in doing good things and helping the environment – something that you already do. 

We can donate money – something that you already do. 

We can learn and become better informed about the state of the world and we can pass that knowledge forward – something that you already do. 

There are more things that we can do and we will – it’s a journey and sometimes it’s an overwhelming one because I know, beyond certainty, that whatever we do now my kids are going to have it harder than I did and their kids will have it harder still. 

For me the anchor is to maintain, as much as possible, an active hope – a practice that involves thinking about and confronting these issues, the emotions that they bring up and the actions that we can take in the moment. 

It can be hard to do and I’ve certainly found that to be the case recently but talking about these shared issues and emotions really helps a lot.”

It’s a journey.

Soothing words I needed today, inspiring words for action tomorrow.

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