Buying Less, and Why Black and Decker Aren't Green

(NB: I really buried the lede here. To help those looking for the point, I've denoted the important part of the story with a line of asterisks, because the preamble came out way longer than I expected and I'm too tired to edit :)

I have been reading A Year Off Sale, where an entire family is spending this year attempting to buy only things they "need" rather than all the stuff they "want." It's very interesting and something I myself have thought about a lot lately. I give a lot of stuff to Goodwill, and recently it started to occur to me that the lifespan of some of my purchases is really short. If I'm not certain when I'm buying something that it's going to fulfill a specific need, I often end up admitting it wasn't quite right or necessary, and it ends up in the Goodwill pile a lot sooner than I'd imagined. Plus, I just feel overwhelmed by "stuff" so often that I have basically been attempting to bring less "stuff" into my life.

This family is doing exactly that, but very admirably and aggressively. I don't have that dedication right now, but I'm glad to see others doing this. If the demand for crap is lessened, maybe companies will produce less crap, and that can only be good for the landfills.

One particular entry about a badly designed appliance reminded me of an outrage I wanted to blog about a few months ago.

I bought a Black and Decker Toast-R-Oven about a year ago. This was to replace the previous Black and Decker Toast-R-Oven I'd gotten in 2000, which had had a broken door for about two years before recently stopping working altogether. We spent about $100 on the new toaster oven. I could have gotten a similar model for about $70, but I fell into that marketing trap where I figured that we might as well get the slightly more expensive model, because it probably was just a little better--more features, better functionality, etc. It was at least slightly larger, and it matched our kitchen decor.

I was very irritated to discover a few months into our ownership that, indeed, the thing didn't work very well, and definitely no better than the cheaper, older model I'd had previously. You'd think it was toasting your English muffin or bagel, because the timer worked and the light went on. But about 50% of the time, the elements just wouldn't get hot. I think the fact that it worked half the time actually made the problem worse; I didn't take it back immediately because I assumed it would work most of the time. Even when I realized it really only worked half the time, I still decided not to worry about it. I didn't want to waste a perfectly mediocre toaster oven.

The plot thickened the first time I burned myself on the handle. When I realized that the handle was partly constructed of a metal that got really hot when the toaster was on, and this metal was located in such a place that you could almost not avoid getting burned if you opened the door all the way, I started to get mad. When I realized that I was accidentally burning my hand every few times I successfully used the toaster oven, I got really mad. What kind of idiots designed this thing? Were they better or worse than the fools who manufactured it so badly that it didn't even work half the time?

One morning when I had a few extra minutes, I called Black and Decker's customer service as I ran my finger under cold water to soothe the latest burn. When I complained about the fact that I was getting burned all the time, the woman very calmly and coolly told me that there was nothing they could do about that, because the user information that came with the toaster oven clearly stated that one should use an oven mitt when opening the door. I found this irritating--they didn't even care about my customer feedback on their poorly designed product and only seemed concerned with covering their corporate asses in case I was gonna get litigious on them (which I had no intention of doing). I was mad, but I didn't argue the point.

Instead, I went on to complain about the fact that the toaster oven didn't actually work half the time. I figured this was also something that they'd want to know about. Interestingly enough, the woman perked right up.

"Oh, well that's a malfunctioning product, so we can replace that," she said.

Great, I figured. I asked her how I should go about returning the toaster oven. What she told me enraged me even more.

"Cut the power cord off the back of the product and mail the cord to the following address with your name and info," she said. "When we receive the cord, we'll send you a new toaster oven."

What was I supposed to do with the existing toaster oven, I asked?

"Please dispose of it," she said.

I cursed them on behalf of Mother Earth.

Isn't Black and Decker somehow responsible for "properly" disposing of their own faulty products? Isn't it irresponsible of them to fill the market with poorly made crap and then refuse to take it back when people can't use it for its intended purpose? And anyway, the toaster oven worked some of the time. At worst, shouldn't I be able to donate it to Goodwill or give it to my friends who'll adopt it, knowing its flaws, because they're trying to save money? (I also couldn't "cheat" by sending a lookalike cord, because they'd asked me for the serial number on the plug's prongs at the beginning of the call.)

After my anger settled down a bit, I decided to take a stand, however small. I just couldn't bring myself to mutilate a working toaster oven, however crappily it actually did work. I just couldn't hasten its journey to the landfill, and I didn't want any new Black and Decker products in my house, even if they were provided free of charge. I know my friends and family get tired of my environmental crusade, but I do feel the little things add up, and suffering with the stupid toaster oven became one small way to avoid creating more trash. I vowed to write this blog post and send them a copy. It took me a while, but thanks to that other blog, I got motivated tonight.


Boycott Black and Decker! Their products are terribly designed and badly made, and they're environmentally irresponsible! Write to them here and tell them how you feel!



stiill said...

"the user information that came with the toaster oven clearly stated that one should use an oven mitt when opening the door"

That's hilarious. The toaster oven is more dangerous than my oven. :)

jfh said...

i've had good luck with their power tools, but i will write them because now i get burned, too. gosh, our country really is run by corporate greed, isn't it?