31 May 2009
The Dollar Store Dilemma...
...or, questions that arise when trying to be an ethical consumer (well, as ethical as possible).
J and I tend to put a fair amount of thought into our purchasing habits. We try not to buy cheap, expendable items when a well made, long lasting alternative is available. We consider the packaging, the manufacturing process, and how much we really need/want a given item. We avoid shopping at stores which treat their employees poorly (*cough*Walmart*cough*). We try to buy local, or at least American-made when possible. I've even stopped buying fabric at JoAnn Fabrics, where it's nearly all made in China, and switched over to a local quilting fabric store where the prices are a little higher but the fabrics are American made. I buy less, but feel better knowing more about the source of the fabrics I do buy. We try to buy from companies with good reputations for employee care, environmental concern and overall social consciousness. In short, we think a lot about where we shop, what we buy, and why. (Which makes for long, drawn-out discussions about the merits and drawbacks of gasoline companies. Anyone have insight on which gas companies are the least awful?)
So what is one to do when it comes to simple, cheap, expendable items like stickers? Doodle has started to show an interest in potty learning (primarily because her good buddy A is working on it right now). I suggested she could get a sticker when she uses the potty, as a fun little "hooray!" reward. But where to buy stickers? High quality, expensive ($4+ for 1-2 sheets), American-made stickers can be purchased at one of the big box craft stores in town. Cheaper ($2-3 for 2 sheets), run of the mill made in China stickers can be found at the grocery store down the street. The same cheap, made in China stickers can probably be found at the dollar store for $1. What do I do?
I'd rather buy American, but don't feel like scrapbooky, archival quality stickers are really necessary for potty rewards. Plus we're grad students, so it feels ridiculously frivilous to spend $4+ on some stickers that will be promptly forgotten or discarded. So that leaves made in China, where the work conditions are unknown, and the same goes for environmental concerns (plus the darn stickers came all the way from China. Talk about a carbon footprint!). Do I buy them at the local grocery store for a markup, or go to the Dollar Store?
I know many people have no qualms about the Dollar Store. Maybe I'm just silly or overthinking things. But to me it feels like shopping there is further supporting the exploitation of cheap labor and lax environmental policies for the production of crappy, disposable goods. It makes me feel all icky inside. So I haven't shopped at one in quite a while. BUT back to my question: if the very same stickers are available at the local grocery store and at the Dollar Store, and we're a pair of far-from-rich grad students, what do we do? Do we support the Dollar Store (thereby supporting unfair labor practices abroad) by shopping there, but get a good price on some stickers for Doodle? Or do we support the local grocery store by paying more for the same stickers, and pat ourselves on the back for only kinda supporting cheap labor practices in China?
Or do we bag the sticker idea all together and, being the hippies we are, give her handmade clover-headbands from the front yard instead?
Really, what do you think? I want to know. What would you do?