by Evan Stair

This is not a story about toys, but it starts out that way. It was some twenty-five to thirty years ago and my brothers and I were very excited when the Sears, Wards, and JC Penny Christmas catalogs had arrived. We passed right by the curtains/ bras/ coats/ and hardware sections to reach our favorite part of the catalog: The toys!

Our quest was to find the most expensive G.I. Joe toys available. We looked at our parents with delight as we scratched down what we wanted in crayon. The anticipation was overwhelming. We wore out the pages of those Wishbooks. Then Christmas arrived and we ripped open the packages and tore open the cardboard boxes not realizing what they would be worth today. We played with the new toys for the next few days, packed them up and drove back home. Once home we continued to play with them, stringing them out all over the basement. Then it happened: My practical father told us to “clean up that plastic junk,” in the basement.

We have not let my father live this down and, in fact, industry has played a dirty trick on both my father and his children. Around Christmas time the chant is “What type of Plastic Junk are we getting this year?” Examine your life and the things that you own. Then think about how many of these things are broken. Here are the things that are plastic which are broken in my life:

Automobiles Are The Worst:
1) The door handle (both cars)
2) A catch which holds the hood support
3) A catch which holds the cassette holder
4) A lens cover on my trunk
5) A section of the weather stripping
6) A wing nut which holds the spare tire in place
7) The rear view mirror attachment
8) The bumper

Then There Are Household Items:
1) The gears on a photographic tripod I borrowed from a friend
2) A channel selector on my TV
3) The computer CD
4) A catch on the drawer of my music CD player
5) Our cat’s litter-box cover
6) A Shower Door Handle
7) Three electric mixers

Then There Are The Forgotten Items:
I am sure that I have forgotten that screw that attaches two pieces of things is breakable plastic. The threads are either stripped or the screws are missing as I didn’t want to repeat the first mistake with the second screw. Then there is that “flexible” latch that shuts tight the cover of a toolbox or even the toolbox handle.

The trouble is that we depend too much on plastic. There was a time when door latches were made of cold steel chromed to a brilliant sheen. Hubcaps and drill covers were made of this same steel. Even tripods made use of metal gears. Now it seems that whenever industry can, it finds a new use for plastic.

Quantity Over Quality
There is nothing more distressing in the nation than the diminishing focus on quality. I quote a photographic supply salesman: “Anything that costs less than two-hundred dollars today is considered disposable.” Maybe I am too hard on my products. I remember when a home kitchen mixer could stir moist concrete. Today their gears are stripped when attempting to build a froth in skim milk.

I also remember when you could drop a drill off of a three-story building and grin knowing that it survived its bout with gravity and a concrete surface. Today if you look at them cockeyed, they break.

My father purchased a photographic tripod in the 1960s that could probably double as a car jack. Now they use plastic gears in tripods and they are so light that they could blow over at the slightest breeze.

Trash, Trash: Everywhere
I used to enjoy a bottle of soda pop on occasion. One would dig a bottle opener out of the drawer, pop off the cap, guzzle the drink made with pure cane sugar, and then put the bottle back in a cardboard container so that it could be returned to the grocery store to be cleaned and reused. You would even get your deposit back. The bottle cap would rust and eventually become one with the earth, and the cork and cardboard carrying case would biodegrade.

Today we have the plastic bottle that is usually just tossed in the garbage and the deposit money is forgotten as being “disposable” as well. Plastic bottles will be around long after us. They are stored with all of those plastic diapers, and plastic trash sacks.

Disposable versus Quality
Economics play the biggest role in our throwaway society. Cheap is too inexpensive just as quality is too expensive. What is the real cost of our throwaway society? Our limited resources fill our landfills three times as fast as they did thirty years ago. Corporations pad their coffers as our pocketbooks empty at the same rate.

Another problem is that our society has thrown up its hands and now accepts the poor quality and disposable products produced by Corporate America. Reduced quality is all a part of the “global” economy. It is no longer sufficient to compete by producing a superior product at a competitive price. It is the goal of all corporations to produce products which are engineered to work as well as the competitor while being priced equally. The only difference is in the marketing.

Whatever happened to the repair shop? That place where one could take an expensive piece of equipment to be repaired. The tripod I spoke of earlier (the new one with the plastic gear) would have cost, at most, five dollars to manufacture and it was constructed with a single screw. However, interchangeable parts are no longer available to the common man. Just try and purchase a replacement gear.

Oh well, I better quit and go buy my third tripod.

This time I will treat it like a house of cards.