Saturday, March 7, 2009

Unintended Consequences of a Poorly Written Law

We interrupt this idyllic, springlike weekend to call attention to a hypothetical issue that has turned into a very real, BIG problem.

You may remember, back in January, when I posted about a news item that had me - along with a large number of others - worried (read my posts here and here). It was the lead-ban law, passed last August, and the concern was that thrift and Goodwill stores, flea-marketers and anybody holding a yard sale would be subject to punishment if they sold anything intended for children under 13 that was later found to contain lead. Since no one in their right mind would test every incoming item for lead content, we worried, the law would mean a nation of very full landfills - and a lot of empty thrift and Goodwill stores, flea markets, and yard sales.

So, we fast-forward to yesterday. I had almost totally forgotten that this law was an issue, since the original date listed, sometime in mid-February, for trouble to begin had come and gone; I nearly fell over when I walked into our favorite local thrift shop and found that all the toys, baby things, and nearly all the kids' clothing was GONE.

They had to throw it all away - completely filling their Dumpster, so the lady in charge told me - by February 26 or else risk being put out of business in case they sold a product that was later found to contain lead.

I was speechless and utterly heart-sick. All the way home, I kept thinking of clothing and toys that we had purchased from the shop that is now contraband; any clothing with snaps, zippers, fasteners of any kind, and so many toys that I couldn't possibly remember them all. By the time we got home, I had gotten over 'shocked' and moved on to 'outraged.'

Here is what the boys and I did about it:

From winter 08 09

We piled every toy we own, and every piece of clean clothing that is now against the law to sell (but okay to own, I guess) into a stack so big, we could hardly walk into the living room. Here's the whole thing from another angle:

From winter 08 09

As Ben pointed out while looking at this pile, which took us nearly an hour to put together, "this is just one moment in time," meaning that this is where the kids are right now, our assemblage will change as they grow out of these and need stuff for bigger kids.

I'm angry about this on so many levels: first, none of the items in that pile can be resold. When I picture us throwing all these perfectly good toys and clothes away, actual bile comes up into my throat. Because of the law, that is what will happen to all this stuff; if we get into trouble for selling it and cannot donate it, what the hell else are we supposed to do with it?

Secondly, there are people who need these things! Especially the clothes, but I think you can argue that kids need fun, interesting, and durable toys, too, at least a few. And, has anyone considered the frostbite risk if the truly poor cannot purchase used winter jackets for their children because of the supposed lead risk?

Third is the natural resources used up when everyone buys everything new. I'm still speechless about this one, so I will refer you to Annie Leonard's The Story of Stuff.

Fourth, why age thirteen? Kids stop putting things in their mouths around 3 or 4, so what is up with this?!?

Last but not least - until I think of more reasons which I can discuss without spluttering - is how Kafka-esque this law feels! Like everyone, I worry about the risk of lead in products intended for children. I don't want anyone to end up with lead poisoning, but I am shocked at the approach taken by Congress to prevent this possibility. Everyone is punished under this law, most especially the people who depend on second-hand goods to clothe their children and give them joy.

During our last visit to the thrift shop before the poorly written law took effect, Owen stood looking at our toy haul as it sat on the counter while we added up what it would cost. He said of the 50-cent Bob the Builder interactive workbench and one or two other cute little 25-cent toys: "Mom, I feel so rich!"

Thanks to this crappy piece of legislation, he may never say that again.


Dana @ Our Sunny Side said...

Isn't it awful! Your story is heartbreaking. I haven't been in our local thrift store lately...but now I'm afraid of what I will find (or not find). I had forgotten the law.

Winter is ending and a lot of people, me included, will be going through their winter gear pulling out those things that are too small or not needed any longer. We need a place for them to go that doesn't involve landfills.

Barb at Harmony Art Mom wrote about this in January. Her adult daughter was selling craft kits online and her business is nearly gone now. Our economy is suffering too much for this to continue.

Thanks for your well written post.

Debbie said...

Awful!! It baffles me as to why when more people than ever are relying on thrift stores to make purchases, as well as the donations from the charities running the thrift stores, they choose now to implement this law.

Kat said...

Oh boy I'm hot on this issue too. And, it doesn't stop with toys and clothes. From what I've read books are on the chopping block too. My friend wrote an excellent post on implications complete with an interview with someone from the CPSC.
Also check out this link. Read from the back to the front for it to make the most sense.

(By the way, since you have no idea who I am...I was checking your blog out for the virtual field trip and got side tracked. :) )

Jena said...

This is really ridiculous, and you make great points. The law is too broad to make any sense. Government trying to be our parents...

But I'm sure there are places to donate and then have the items given away. It's just a shame for thrift stores to miss out on an opportunity to keep their businesses afloat.

The Stone Age Techie said...

Thank you all for reading - I am still losing sleep over this. I will probably do an update sort of post, after we visit a few more resale stores in our area...
We'll have to keep the chin up and keep fightin'!

Headmistress, zookeeper said...

Karen, I am not sure there are places that legally can accept donations and give things away. My understanding is that it is illegal to sell or distribute, which is why libraries are affected.

Marni said...

Thanks for visiting my blog. Kat is a friend. :) I'm affected by this because of my home-based jewelry business (crystal is lead-based but the lead is not accessible - scientifically proven), but the book thing is what KILLS me.

My husband happened to turn on Law and Order SVU the other night and it was all about lead poisoning. It was a warning to us all - the man involved ended up being really developmentally delayed, and he shot and killed someone. So take warning! They are just trying to save us all from that!!!! We've had sooooooooooo many instances of lead-poisoning (like 2) in the past 3 years. The whole episode made me so upset I had to go blog about that too.

This has opened up my political eyes. I read something else by Charlie Reese that said the people don't write the laws, our elected officials do. We have national debt because they want us to. Our country is in crisis because they can better push their agendas that way.

It's just all too coincidental that the economy started to turn, this law was passed, the economy got worse, this law came into effect and is making things worse. If you haven't heard, they are also writing (written?) another law that affects farmers markets and such.

We the people need to make ourselves heard! Keep talking Mommy Bloggers, and let the 545 people in charge know that this is not acceptable.