The High Stakes of Low Quality

Over 50 years ago, my wife, Malinda, and I bought a chef’s knife of carbon steel that we still use. It could be passed down to several generations. Compare that to the junk stainless steel ones that might not rust but that won’t hold an edge to cut a tomato.

Cheap products, made poorly and thrown away quickly, are killing people and the planet.

Since 1999, humans have far surpassed — by billions of metric tons — the amount of Earth’s resources that scientists estimate we can sustainably use. The culprit: our overconsumption of stuff, from shoddy tools to fast fashion that is trendy one day, trash the next.

Obsession with the latest tech gadgets drives open pit mining for precious minerals. Demand for rubber continues to decimate rainforests. Turning these and other raw materials into final products releases one-fifth of all carbon emissions.

The global inequality that benefits some and persists for the many, ensures that some of the poorest people and most vulnerable places bear the social and environmental costs of international trade. Research links demand for goods in Western Europe and the United States to the premature deaths of more than 100,000 people in China because of industrial air pollution.

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