In a consumer society taking a purchase decision does not stop at the shop and whether to buy or not, and what to buy. It goes well beyond and includes what to do with what we have bought when we don’t need it any longer. And at that later stage it can be even tougher to take an educated decision.
Recently, I tried to take such ‘educated decision’ with several pairs of old kids’ glasses. Donate? Recycle? Throw away? Many organisations welcome glasses donations – but researching further, the economics behind is far from being solid: what are the chances that these glasses that were made for a specific eyesight issue would fit someone else? – the optician made us change them after 2 or 3 years (we skipped the yearly appointment dictate…) because they didn’t fit their primary user any longer. What is the real probability it will fit someone else? Then, where would they go? If they are sent abroad (and charity websites with photos of African or Asian kids at school wearing glasses seem to indicate they are likely to be sent abroad), what is the cost of shipping them? Would that not undermine any local glasses industry (as clothes donations driven by a mad fashion drive have wiped out Ethiopian clothing industry for instance as it is well documented)? What is the manpower (and other costs) involved in glasses donations and could this time and money be used in a more efficient and sustainable way? A study in the March 2012 issue of Optometry and Vision Science documented how un-green and inefficient glasses donations are. Let alone that new glasses would last longer. Even with a match, these second-hand glasses will be more likely to break or lose a part (which may not be found locally) than a new pair.
That challenges too our real motivation to donate – is it to clean up our homes and try to hide our guilt to over-consume and accumulate “things” or is it a genuine urge to help others- and in that case, wouldn’t a financial donation be a better help? Isn’t there a bitter irony in our economic system where many consumer goods are made in a “cost-effective” way (read: with a huge pressure on workers’ salaries like in the garment industry) who then can’t afford buying the very goods they make but end up receiving them through donations. What kind of “cycle” economics is that?
Still with my stacks of glasses on my desk, having ruled out donations, I looked at recycling and could find only one organisation (based in UK) that takes glasses apart and recycle the parts locally to fund a programme buying new glasses, which seemed to make more sense.
A few thoughts… we- as consumers – have to think further when we purchase something – anything actually – and include what we plan to do with this thing at the end of its life. Consuming less and wearing our things up may be a more generous donation than consuming a lot, depleting the earth’s resources and flooding others with donated items. What about giving what we really value, giving the best of what we have, showing real care for the others and trusting them with what they want, instead of imposing on them the consequences of our consumption patterns – and not take charities as a selfish “feel good” recycling spots, without looking at the real impact.