9 Days of Green: Reuse 2.0

(Day one of the ReJAVAnate Bag contest, first topic is a new old one of mine here at Dyslexic Research, Reuse. Comment to enter. Everyone but Grant and myself are eligible.)

While waiting in Manila for a flight to Dumaguete, I flipped through a current Dwell Magazine. This issue was about the popular topic of green building / sustainability and one article in particular sparked my thoughts about what is the most green thing one can do with building or buying anything. The article was about someone’s modern expansion and makeover of a home with new green, recycled, processed, and organic materials and its design process. It’s a very beautiful home but I can’t help think about all of the energy used to make these new recycled panels, parts, and materials, not to mention of the fuel needed to power the equipment used to build the house. Sure they utilized biodiesel fueled trucks, processed hay, denim insulation, special insulating windows, solar panels, and low-VOC paint but what if first they took a trip down to the local recycled materials store (KC Restore, etc) first for windows, doors, sinks, wood, flooring, and tubs.

Reusing what isn’t “new” is the best way to keep trash out of dumps and not use time, money, and energy to produce a product. This obsession with “new” is what is truly wrong with the American lifestyle. We all are obsessed with “new”, you suffer from it, and I suffer from it. If we all just stopped at the thrift store first for some clothes, not all, but some, it would reduce some of that time, money, and energy needed to produce new clothes. Just being satisfied with the furniture we have or with the current layout of our kitchen, should be considered just as green, if not more so than some LEED’s certified property built from the ground up. Okay truly if we have to build something new, then using and investing in these new recyclable or more sustainable materials is great and needed, but not reusing older, perfectly fine materials and goods is just reckless, snobby, and wasteful.

Go back just 100 to 200 years ago to America and farmers would use as much wood as they could from the old barn to build the new barn, the old bath tub in the old house would get transferred over the to the new house, the old sink was the new sink, and on and on. The products were typically more robust then, usually made to last a little better than our current throw away society.
Somewhere in Americana, we all started to want “new” and more “new”, and in order to afford the variety of more “new”, we needed cheaper and cheaper stuff. First came the old Sears and Roebucks and then came out Wal-Marts, providing us with all of the crap we wanted as cheap as it can get. At one time the little closets in the old houses Americans owned fit all of the clothes that a person held, all of them. Now we need so much stuff that huge closets and rooms are needed to pack all that crap in. More stuff, more crap, more space, and it all has to be “new”, that is the problem (somewhere I hope George Carlin is smiling). Enjoying what we have, or reusing someone else’s perfectly good stuff, is the best, most green solution. Magazines may never write about it, media may never promote it, but there really is just no better thing to help the green movement than to reuse.


David Csonka said...

What I wonder is, which came first?

Do we desire to have new things because products now-a-days are made so cheaply, and so we risk having faulty items if we acquire used ones?

Or are the products made cheaply so that people can afford to buy them at the unused retail price?

MJ @ Dyslexic Research said...

I believe your second comment came first. Sometime we went from saving up to buy quality repairable items, to just wanting everything as cheap as we can. When I have thought a lot about this it was that need to have everything that drove this overusage of credit as well. Truth is that everyone couldn't afford all of that stuff even if it was cheap. Downward spiral...

Erik said...

Interesting posting, however wanting something new when you need it isn't necessarily a bad thing. The problem is what is a "need" and what is a "want". To reuse old items and extend their life is a solid choice and should be commended but who determines when something is truly worn out? I'm sure everyone's standards are different.

For example, the computer you used to post this blog on, when did you get it? How old is it? Why did you replace your old one? Were you no longer able to type on your earlier computer? Did you truly "need" a new computer or just "want" one. Now if you are typing this on an Apple II or an IBM 5150 I stand corrected, but if you have purchased a computer with in the last two years there is a good reason to believe you just desired superior performance rather then needed a new computer.

Again, I agree we should conserve but the difference between need and want is probably more accurately the problem rather then new vs. used. Still though, I enjoyed the post.