• Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.


Comb-in' Sense

OK, this is just a little thing.  But sometimes, good thinks come in small packages.

August 15, 2012

OK, this is just a little thing.  But sometimes, good thinks come in small packages.

Since high school, I've generally carried a pocket comb.  Part of the reason was that my parents yelled at me whenever my hair passed some (to me) indeterminable line of disarray.  A smaller part was that combing my hair in front of the mirror in the  boys' room helped me fit in with my peers.  Most of it was (and still is) just habit.

A big part of that habit is carrying my comb in the back right-hand pocket of my pants.  (The only other pocket I've ever seen "pocket combs" carried in is the left front shirt pocket; that always seemed to be giving appearance (or the visibility of attention to appearance) more weight than it truly deserved.)  And therein lies the rub.

The very first pocket comb I purchased and carried was plastic.  It almost certainly cost less than a quarter.  It broke in less than a month.  First, the finer teeth.  Soon, the spine.  So I bought a replacement that claimed (more or less accurately) to be unbreakable.  It was made out of nylon and cost about twice as much as the plastic original.  Its unbreakable-ness, however, made it pretty useless as a comb -- it didn't break because it was so good at bending.  And if a comb won't hold its shape, of hat use is it?

So finally, I broke down and spent (as I recall it ) 89 cents for an Ace brand hard rubber pocket comb.  It cost several times as much as its plastic predecessor, and lasted maybe a hundred times longer.  I don't think I ever broke it -- I think I finally just lost the fool thing.  But when that happened, I went out and got another just like it.  And another after that.  Over subsequent years, I stayed loyal to the Ace brand like some folks stay loyal to the Fighting Irish.  But then . . .

But then, I stopped being able to find Ace hard rubber combs.  No matter what store I looked in, they had nothing but plastic.  Various brands, various styles, various colors.  Prices probably a bit less than what I'd last paid for a hard rubber comb, but nothing physically capable of surviving in my pants pocket for more than a few weeks.  The last one I purchased didn't even bother to shed teeth -- it just snapped in two.  After only a couple of weeks.

So, taking advantage of the miracle that is modern information technology, I did a web search for "Ace hard rubber pocket comb".  It took me to the Ace comb corporate site, which extolled the virtues of hard rubber  as well as the history of the brand and the product but told me pretty much nothing I hadn't already surmised.  Then I looked on the usual retail sites and found Ace combs, but nothing that explicitly said "hard rubber".  As much as I wanted to believe otherwise, I finally forced myself into the conclusion that the company (or at least the brand) I'd stayed loyal to had betrayed me.  Their website had lots of words about hard rubber, but their current product line (at least the portion of it that would fit in my pocket) apparently is no longer made from the stuff.

Which freed me, within the context of consumer capitalism, to investigate alternatives.  I found one.  It's a hard rubber pocket comb made in Germany.  Supposedly, the teeth are cut and the final product is burnished entirely by hand.  It costs more than five times as much as the last plastic comb I purchased, but I'll be absolutely shocked if it doesn't last at least (AT LEAST!) twenty ... thirty ... fifty times as long.

So without even getting into the fact that rubber is (within limits) a renewable feedstock while petroleum-based plastic simply is not, the more expensive product is the more sustainable one.  Within a surprisingly short time-frame, it's the more economical one.  And (I rather suspect) the one that embodies more wage labor paid at a higher rate to a more skilled worker so it contributes more to economic sustainability on both ends of the transaction.

Buy better.  Buy fewer.  Buy less unsustainably.

And comb your hair.  (My mother made me add that last part.)  (Pun intended.)



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