Ode to a Broken Toaster

From time to time I like giving you a glimpse of Joe Dominguez, the originator of the 9-step program in Your Money or Your Life. We were aware from the mid-80’s that over-consumption isn’t just a personal problem. It’s planetary. The Ecological Footprint is a reliable and respected measurement that shows that we are in eco-debt – in fact, we’re spending down the resources of the planet. In response to that, Joe, a mechanical engineer by training and a Mr. Fix-it by avocation, wrote the following Ode to a Broken Toaster nearly 20 years ago:“Honey, the toaster’s broken. Let’s trow it out. They’re on sale through Friday.”

What did this toaster cost – not to you, but the earth?

The plastic parts consumed ___ gallons of oil to manufacture.

The mining of its steel and chrome sides required:

  • clearing ___ acres
  • losing ___ trees
  • and ___ cubic feet of topsoil
  • and ___ gallons of oil.

The manufacture of the sheet metal required ___ kilowatt hours of energy.

To mine the nickel-chromium heating element ___ acres were cleared, cutting down ___ trees and removing ___ cubic feet of topsoil, plus consuming ___ gallons of oil and ___ kilowatt hours of energy.

The forming of the plastic and the stamping, bending, drilling and coiling of its metal consumed ___ kilowatt hours.

The assembly of its components used up ___ more kilowatt hours.

The cardboard box it was shipped in consumed ___ trees, the Styrofoam packaging created ___ cubic feet of CFCs and it took ___ gallons of gasoline to deliver it to the store.

You drove ___ miles to the mall to buy it, at ___ miles per gallon.

Your daily piece of toast consumes ___ kilowatt hours.

Then the contact points of the thermostat switch pitted (costing less than a dollar).

So you throw the toaster out, consuming ___ cubic feet of landfill.


Currently The Story of Stuff is revealing this same cost of consumer items. Check it out!

Most suggestions about how to reduce personal or ecological debt tell you WHAT to do. Your Money or Your Life gives you a mirror to look it so you decide yourself what you want to do. This Ode and the Story of Stuff are both powerful mirrors.

Have your lifestyle changes been impacted by awareness raising about the cost to the earth of your consumer habits? How so? If not, speak up. Let’s learn together what makes a difference.


9 thoughts on “Ode to a Broken Toaster

  1. yeah that’s great, but TRY to fix a broken toaster now. it’s impossible. you can’t even get the body of the toaster open, it’s just molded plastic, they don’t unscrew like old ones did. it’s all planned obsolescence.

    i wonder if more expensive toasters are more easily repairable? maybe we need to train our kids to buy an appliance for the long haul — pay $100 for a toaster and keep it for 20 years, like our parents did. i’m as guilty as anyone of going for the $15 toaster when the old one breaks. when this current one dies — and it will — i’m going to look into that.

  2. In response to Dianna’s comment, I can say that it’s hard to sometimes know which appliances are most easily repairable. However, it is possible to buy for quality — which for me often means checking Consumer Reports. With the advent of the Internet, we also now have access to rating programs from other users which I’ve also found to be very helpful. I recently did not purchase a pull-out couch, for example, based solely on web-based feedback from other customers.

  3. Right you are Dianna, that’s one of the many reasons our consumer culture is maddening! We used to do all our own auto maintenance, but now there’s too much under the hood that’s computerized.
    Joe wasn’t just talking about toasters, though! He was talking about throwing things away that might have useful life in them, or might, with a little TLC (tender loving care) come back to life. That could refer to fixing a zipper to re-reading the instructions for any appliance to see if you set it up right.

    My adaptation to much of this is to
    hold on to products far longer than most (i had my last car for 20 years, this one is going on 8. I’m still wearing clothes I bought – used – over a decade ago)
    buy those tossed toasters and such at the thrift store or garage sales, rescuing them from the dump.
    put up posts like this one to remind people to think twice before tossing anything.

  4. One problem w/that writing – you noted the dilemma but left all readers w/o a solution???

  5. Certainly for food products I pay more attention now to how they are produced and what goes into them. For consumer items like the toaster, I can’t say I think much about how they are produced but I have a much smaller budget now than I did five years ago so I have to live more frugally. Honestly, I don’t miss the kitchen gadgets, the towels in a different shade etc. When I do have throw something out, I do now look to see if I can give it away, donate it or recycle it and I trash very little.

  6. The worst are people who are like “let’s buy some cheap toaster/camera/whatever for this trip and then throw it away”. Sure it’s a good idea from your own financial point of view. But then you’re looking at the impact it has on earth and it doesn’t look so nice anymore.

  7. Do you really need another toaster when your current one breaks? Just use an iron skillet to toast your bread.

  8. Hi Dianna:
    My $15.00 toaster broke after one year. I looked for new one and when I saw that they were from $13.00 to over $100.00 I looked at the warrantee. I found that the cheap toasters have a one year warrantee and the more expensive ones have up to a 5 year warrantee.
    I bought the more expensive one for all the reasons mentioned. I will not have to replace it for a least 5 years and hopefully much longer, saving me much stress and my community much in pollution .

  9. In order to use my toaster you have to hold the handle down the whole time while it makes this loud buzzing noise. It’s funny until it wakes up your 9 month old baby……toasters

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