Sunday, November 11, 2012

Buy nothing from China update: a little Saturday shopping

So far, my goal of buying nothing made in China has been gong well.  I think this is the case for a couple of reasons:

  1. It turns out I really don't buy much stuff, and 
  2. with a little looking I have always been able to find a similar product made in the USA, or, if not, just made somewhere else other than China.

Things had been going well, until yesterday.  I tried to get four items, a lunch box, a dog harness, a USB flash drive, and gloves for my wife.  Easy enough, right?
I need to replace my lunchbox- the bag I bring to work everyday, whether I am in the field or in the office.  Several years ago I switched from a hard sided cooler to a soft sided cooler to fit in my bike panniers and to squeeze into place on our work boats.
Now (actually a year ago) it is time to replace the cooler.  I am kind of picky about stuff I buy, so sometimes it takes me a while to find the right things, but I can't find any coolers made anywhere on earth other than in China!

Columbia (the maker of my current cooler), what I thought was a good old American company, from Portland, Oregon or something- I recall the grandma ads, like a family business from the Pacific Northwest.  Whatever.  Evidently, it seems like they don't make anything in the USA anymore.
I have been looking for a new cooler/ lunch box for a while, but I haven't found exactly what I was looking for and when I have been close  they have all been made in China.*
And where I finally reached a frustrating experience is when I went to REI to look at one of their products, which, online, seemed like the perfect combination of features.  However, on their website, the county of origin was listed as "imported", so I had to go to the store to see for myself where they were made.    I figured they would be made in Indonesia, or Vietnam, and I was fine with that.
At the store, to my delight I found the wall of the coolers of my dreams.  This was it, my search had ended!  I confirmed that this was the perfect cooler for my use, but where was the country of origin label? After some doing, I found it, and sure enough, "made in China".

This was really frustrating and I even thought "what's the point", and questioned whether this was a fool's errand (which it probably is, but I am kind of stubborn and idealistic).  I left the Co-op really disillusioned.

OK, I thought, on to errand two, a dog harness for our new (to us) micro-dog.  I tried to find a suitable harness at a couple of other places in Missoula but all those harnesses were made in China, so I went to the boutique-y pet supply store (Go Fetch!), thinking that I'd pay more than at the chain, big box, pet store, but maybe they'd have stuff made locally or in Cambodia.  I got the feeling that this sort of store catered to the well-heeled (nice pun) dog owner, and that money spent on their pet-children was no object (like us).  It turns out they had the perfect harness- but, you guessed it, it was made in China- it seemed like everything there was made in China.  I don't know if it was intentional or not but the store placed the price stickers over the country of origin indication on many of their products.  I had to peel these off to see where things were made (this probably looked a little suspicious).

The next errand was to get a USB flash drive, most it turns out are made in China.  But by paying twice as much (about $27 compared to $12-15 depending on brand), I was able to get one made in the USA, and I was happy to do it. My last errand was to get my wife a new pair of hunting gloves, and I couldn't find any that were not made in China.  So, I was 1-4, and pretty discouraged.

I have been impressed and surprised by a few things I've purchased, and I have come to realize you really have to look hard for the country of origin.

Tools, in general, are hard to find that aren't made in China, that is why I have to give a shout out to:

  • Whiteside router bits- fantastic quality, great prices and all made in the USA.  I have been buying their router bits for years, and I am relived to know that when I need a new one, I know a company I can go to.

Another thing that I have been surprised by, unfortunately, is how many different things ion our daily lives are made in China- ranging from foods, to screws, to even hand warmers  lots of little things.  I used to think more expensive items were made in China because of the significant cost savings, but it turns out almost anything is.

Our big upcoming purchase is replacing our 1960 furnace and 1990 hot water heater.  This process has been a very difficult challenge navigating greenwashing (we have been thinking about these purchases for years- click here for my thoughts about greenwashing), energy efficiency, economics, cost/ benefit analyses, challenging both conventional wisdom and resisting trendy options, etc...  This process is probably worthy of a few blog posts!  The good news is, we are excited about our ultimate choices and they reflect a good balance between efficiency and economy, but lack the "Prius" factor.  They are un-glamorous solutions that fit our needs and budget.  Plus, all the components are made in the USA!

*editor's note:  The good news is, that I found several online manufacturers that make coolers similar to what I am looking for and they are made in the USA!