Dilemma: When Vintage Is Bad for the Environment

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

The other day while walking to the subway I saw a stunning little 1970’s orange Volkswagen Bug for sale. I’m not actually in the market for a car, but I still stopped to admire it since I’ve always loved Bugs. But it’s indicative of my state of mind—both personally and professionally— that the immediate thought following my burst of enthusiasm was “Ooohhh… the emissions and gas mileage have to be terrible on this car. It’s probably horrible for the environment.” Which brings me to greater food for thought: what is our responsibility as conscious consumers when vintage options are worse for the environment and/or our health?

We’ve heard the argument before: buying vintage, or buying something that is already in existence, is better than depleting resources to create something new. But given past conversations on Re-Nest (on retrofitting vs. new construction, for example) the answer is simply not as clear-cut. The fact is that new advancements and technologies have improved our quality of life and streamlined processes that were excessively wasteful or harmful a half century ago. We would never want to keep the asbestos in our electrical insulation or our old lead water pipes, for example, even though it would mean reusing something we already have.

So where do we draw the line? When is using existing or vintage items worse than buying new? Are matters of personal health the defining factor on what we should use and what we should replace? How much do environmental factors (air pollution, natural resource depletion) come into play? And what do we make then of those items already in existence? Wouldn’t it still be better in the long run to use them than to NOT use them?

Tell us your thoughts below.

(Image: Volkswagen)