Sustainability of household items is becoming an issue to be considered in much the same way we think about the food we consume. I find myself pondering questions — How was this item made? What transportation was involved in production and getting it on the shelves? How will I deal with it once it no longer serves its purpose? I don’t know about you, but I’m beginning to think about all of my “stuff” in a whole new way. If I get a new table, should I buy one that is made from materials that will last longer, has been built with a higher degree of craftsmanship and pass it on when I no longer need it? The longevity of certain pieces of furniture give them innate value beyond one human lifetime. There is something wonderful about eating meals on your grandmother’s table.
Another option is purchasing a product designed with an “end of life plan”. The idea is that you can compost it when you are done with it and it will be completely gone within a year. The company Looolo makes pillows and blankets from natural materials, such as wool felt, that could actually go into your backyard compost bin. There are even sofas being sold as biodegradable. (After learning this, I’m feeling guilty about calling the city when our neighbors started bringing all their furniture out in the yard and leaving it there, rain or shine. Maybe they were just composting…).
The whole notion that anything can completely break down in a landfill is somewhat debatable. For the most part, landfills are layer upon layer of mummified objects unable to biodegrade because they are so tightly packed, dry and interspersed with lots of plastic. It would take quite a bit of effort for even natural objects to “return to the earth” in a landfill.
What’s a consumer to do? Feeling guilty or trying to make others feel guilty is nonproductive. In the end, one benefit of this “recession” may be that we put a little more thought into everything we buy or decide not to buy. The creativity that goes into product design is being pushed beyond the initial use of an item and that’s a good thing. Just realizing that everything has to go somewhere when we are done with it is a move in the right direction.
For more info on this topic: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/08/garden/08biodegrade.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=anti-heirlooms&st=nyt&oref=slogin