How A $40 Gadget Costs A Whole Lot More

By Jane Mountain | March 3, 2012

Leaves On Patio

Right now I’m working on a post about environmentalism as religion (and why it isn’t). It’s turning into a monster two-parter that I’m just not happy with yet.

And next week is the first installment of Should I Eat This? A Guide To Food In The 21st Century. So this week I thought it best to leave you with something short and sweet:

We have a Chinese Elm in our back garden. My husband calls it “that fucking Chinese Elm” because it’s ugly as sin and it dumps leaves all over the place. We have gravel mulch between our paving stones, so picking up those leaves is a small pain in the butt.

This morning, he was telling me about this cool gadget we could buy that would suck up the leaves and spit them out as mulch to be added to our compost!

“Isn’t that cool?” he asked.

I gave him a look.

But it only costs $40!

Here’s the thing. $40 might be the price we pay at the store to get that leaf-sucking miracle device. But what’s the actual cost?

Think of all of the materials that go into making such a thing. Plastics, metals, minerals, alloys… whatever it takes to put a shiny electric tool together. And where do those materials come from? Mostly from underground.

How are the raw materials extracted? How are they transported from their places of origin all around the world to the factory? Who is working the assembly line? Who is responsible for shipping the final product out to Home Depot where we can lay down $40 to get it?

From the original concept to the final sale, how many people are involved? How many materials are used? How much energy?

When you start thinking about the whole process, it seems like a miracle a wonder-gadget like this doesn’t cost $40,000.

But it’s not a miracle, it’s economics. Stuff is made cheap for us by skimping at every step along the way. Workers are underpaid, safety is an after-thought, budget extraction methods are used… do you think a company that makes a $40 leaf-sucking thing gives a damn about destroying some wilderness or spewing hazardous chemicals into the environment? Do you think their workers get a fair wage and a safe workplace? Do you think the company cares what air their workers are breathing, what their water quality is like downstream from the mine or the factory?

Not a chance.

This morning, almost as efficiently as the leaf-sucking gadget, I sucked the joy out of the idea of that gadget for my husband.

Still, I think we’ll be happier for it in the long run. Even if it means we’ll spend 10 minutes here or there all summer picking up leaves by hand. Even if, on occasion, there are leaves just lying on our patio.

Got a few more minutes? You might like these:

Hi, I’m Jane, founder and chief blogger on My Five Acres. I’ve lived in six countries and have camped, biked, trekked, kayaked, and explored in 50! At My Five Acres, our mission is to inspire you to live your most adventurous life and help you to travel more and more mindfully.


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  2. Comment by ann

    ann Reply March 3, 2012 at 2:43 pm

    I was trying to find a great quote i remember about leaf blowers (“Imagine the day your neighbour’s leaf blower short circuits and BURNS DOWN ALL HIS TREES”)

    …but i found this instead –

    There is just some amazing mental gymnastics going on here. I find the same thing with religion “God is the uncaused Being that caused everything else to come into existence.”. As if that is an explanation (god luck with your religion article BTW). i KNOW those authors would say the same about your writings (even though they seem perfectly sane and logical to me). how does this happen? how can we use the same language looking at the same world and draw completely different (obviously self-serving on their part?) conclusions?. I want a way to draw these arguments out as mathematical symbols with arrows (conclusions) that MEAN something, where the assumptions and context are all made explicit, where the WE and THEY are clearly defined, where if BETTER actually means RICHER then that has to be stated.

    And, what is clean air worth anyway?

    • Comment by JaneM

      JaneM March 4, 2012 at 11:59 am

      That is the wonder of the human condition. My neighbors have a Ron Paul sign on their lawn and I am a yoga-loving-eco-hippy-lefty and yet we somehow manage to co-exist on the same street. Let’s be honest, it wouldn’t be nearly as fun to write a blog if everyone out there agreed with me.

      Still, I love it when he uses that metaphor of Obama steamrolling America’s farms – since that is exactly what Monsanto and the other industrial farm corporations have done.

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