Waste Not Want Not Baby!
When you think of problems of consumer waste, you're probably thinking about excessive packaging, and overuse of paper products and disposable diapers. "But we've got good recycling programs in place for that stuff..."
It's true that there are strong programs in place in many places for aluminum can, plastic bottle, and even car steel recycling. But another serious stream that's not getting its due consideration is consumer electronics and whitegoods like dishwashers and refrigerators. As we've said before, these products get bought in staggering numbers, because of the current trend of "gadgetization" which puts such a premium on having the latest technology. And, because of the market's obsession with low prices, these appliances tend to be short-term, because it's cheaper to buy a new one than replace the old one.
As consumers ourselves, we understand the appeal of ultra-low prices, because we like having stuff too. But this low-quality model leads to problems like this ridiculous pile of refrigerators in the UK. The same problems are happening with other appliances and computer-type electronics, even prompting this cute parody of the Dell dude in California.
So, what's a designer to do? There are plenty of options, and it's worth looking around to find which one fits your product best. But, here are a few ideas to get you started:
Check out this New York State pamphlet on design waste and reduction through good business practices. Also, think about how the by-products of your production process could become raw materials for someone else's products. Some other cool online resources are the EPA, Wasteonline, and the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition
Or if you want to go all out, Zero Waste is an ambitious concept that's being tried by folks from New-Zealand to Sony. Basically, as a manufacturer, you "lease" raw materials to consumers in a product form with the understanding that at the end of the product's life, the consumer will give it back. That way, you completely close the waste loop, and allow yourself the chance to re-use plastics, metals, chemicals, and even components in future designs. With growing concerns over the future costs of raw plastic-type materials, having a captive supply of plastics for future products at a low cost will be essential to the success of your product in today's price conscious atmosphere. For more Zero-info, check out Zero Waste America, or Zero Waste New Zealand to see a program that's kicking serious butt already.
With peak oil looming large, it's time seriously re-consider how smart it is to be re-burying all our hard-earned plastics in land-fills. This isn't about being green, or saving the environment (although those things are nice too). Waste re-use and reduction makes it possible to continue to design the way we like it: with lots of product diversity, plastic, and low prices. Without addressing this problem, designers can probably keep going fine, but we're going to have to learn to have more focused lines, and love some other materials like wood, or bamboo, or who-knows-what.
Come on, save the materials we love. Let's get on this.
Copyright 2004-2006 Dominic Muren and IDFuel Team