Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture by Ellen Ruppel Shell

IKEA: Evil Empire - Part 2

Ikea keeps its prices down by having its goods made in countries where wages are extremely low and there is less oversight of working conditions. As Shell points out, a US carpenter could not get the raw materials for a table for the price that IKEA sells the table. While part of IKEA's lower costs are due to their buying raw materials in bulk, their cheap labor also keeps costs down.

In addition, IKEA deliberately designs its items to be ephermeral. Buyers are paying for the attractive design, not for the quality of the workmanship. As Shell correctly notes, IKEA furniture does not move well (I've heard this from other people) from apartment to apartment. Most IKEA products end up in the trash and ultimately in landfills. It does not reuse or recycle well.

On the other hand, in the current bedbug plagued NYC, cheap and disposable furniture may be necessary. Is IKEA furniture the forerunner of an era when we must be prepared to throw out our furniture (or burn it)?


Anonymous said...

IKEA may realize that consumers are more likely to want to discard old furniture than move it, due to a desire to change style or accommodate a different size living space. We've lived with the concept of "planned obsolescence" for decades. Maybe they should focus on using materials that can be easily recycled. It would reduce the bedbug population.

Tracey said...

IKEA does emphasize that its furniture is made of recyclable materials. However, most cities do not have the capacity to recycle these materials. In NYC, for example,
plastic takeout containers are not recyclable:

Therefore, most furniture ends up in landfills since people are less likely to risk curb-diving or dumpster-diving discarded furniture.

Anonymous said...

That's an interesting fact - it speaks to a need (and perhaps an opportunity) for manufacturers and cities to expand opportunities for recycling. That could take a lot of sting out of the costs of disposable goods.

Ann said...

I have not read the book, but I do find both of of your comments interesting. I have only bought Ikea furniture once. While I liked the style and affordability of the piece. Quality was definitely not a high priority. After a few years and a move. It found its way into the trash. I probably would not buy furniture there again. Also, I dont really wish to subscribe to "planned obsolescence" I dont really think its feasible in this day and age when our landfills are almost full to the brim. We have to find even more effective ways to recycle and reuse.