The economic downturn is a perfect opportunity to fix rather than throw!
‘It’s cheaper to get a new one’ – how often have we heard or said that? Or ‘beyond its sell-by date’. Built-in – or planned – obsolescence, with us since the 1930s, means manufacturers design their products’ demise or non-functionality within a certain planned timeframe specifically to pressurize the consumer to make another purchase. Brooks Stevens, an American industrial designer in the 1950s defined this as “Instilling in the buyer the desire to own something a little newer, a little better, a little sooner than is necessary” Wikipaedia tells us.
Does all this ring alarm bells?
Who exactly pays for this? We do, of course. And we’ve been doing it willingly – blindly believing that we have no choice in the matter. Ever noticed too how often the ‘end-of-life’ comes and smacks us in the chops just when we can least afford a replacement?
‘Get the latest, greatest up-to-date-ist Model XYZ when you renew your contract with us’ is another ploy used to ensure both that we ‘get’ the newest technology (whether or not we want or will ever use the latest refinements), and bind ourselves yet again into lengthy – and sometimes inappropriately-expensive – commitments. Let us not be suckered into believing that we’re not paying for that new technology, just because we’re in a contract.
Both of these techniques may ensure both that we as consumers spend more Rands than sense, and also that our planet’s resources are used up more speedily than they need be.
After all, what goes into making up that appliance (iron, kettle, mixer/mincer/liquidiser/shredder, hairdryer, washing machine etc) or tool (drill, leaf-blower, mower, etc) or device (PC, cellphone, ipod, etc)? Mainly metals and minerals that must be mined, and compounds manufactured from oil derivatives – such as plastics. Let’s consider those processes in a little depth – mining (of metals, minerals and oil) entails digging to great depths (involving energy and water in large quantities), raising materials to the surface (more energy and water), dumping unwanted mined materials (soil, water, habitat impacts), processing materials to the required level and then multiple transportation and manufacturing processes (requiring abundant energy and water use) until the required product is manufactured. And some of the materials are toxic heavy metals, or contain toxic substances (eg. flame retardants).
And then when the planned obsolescence kicks in or social pressure exerts its grip, the article that not so long ago was oh-so-desirable lands up in landfill – its glory days over; its components lost to us for re-use. And the signal we really send out is ‘please go and mine some more plastic/metals/minerals so that I can have a spanking new version, and while you’re about it use more water and energy’.
There is another way. And now that most of us are feeling an alarming pinch in the purse, what about seeking out those marvellous Mr Fix-Its. And when you’ve found them – recommend them to others. Their time has come for them to make a decent income, and for us to take care of our purses and our future.
A friend recently told me about his barely 2-year’s old digital camera going on the blink. ‘It’s cheaper to buy a new one’ was the supplier’s comment, while he proceeded to display his new models – all costing a couple of thousand Rands more than the original. Off to the website was my friend – and within a short time had located a nearby fixer of digital cameras. A couple of hundred Rand and it was repaired while he waited – what a happy chappie he is (and about R1800 richer than he would have been had he listened to the supplier).
If your appliance/gadget really has finally reached the point of no-repair, e-WASA is in the wings, currently with listed collection points for refurbishing or recycling in Gauteng, KZN, Western and Eastern Cape. There are collection points for office and IT equipment and accessories, consumer electronics, safety equipment, and large and small household appliances and accessories. The website also makes mention of an ARF (no, not what your pet seal greets you with in the early morning, but an Advanced Recycling Fee). Not yet in place, once this is established, it will be incorporated in the original purchase price of electrical and electronic goods, and will fund the e-WASA recycling process.
Recycling e-waste (waste from electrical and electronic equipment) ensures that much of the valuable material contained in the equipment, which might otherwise land up in ‘the dump’ or be deconstructed unsafely – releasing toxic and other dangerous compounds (eg. mercury, cadmium) into air, water or soil – is instead recovered for re-use. Which means reduced demand for mining and all that goes with that process. For more info regarding e-waste and e-WASA, contact Lene Ecroignard at firstname.lastname@example.org
Some day all goods will hopefully be designed for sustainability – designed to ensure that in their use and final disposal they have least possible negative environmental impact, and possibly even a positive one. I’ll drink to that!
And that reminds me, in an earlier article, I promised to keep readers informed of when the very first Biomimicry course in South Africa is to be held. 30 August – 6 September are the dates to diarise if you or your organisation want to be ahead of the pack in sustainable thinking and ability to design products and processes using Nature’s example – creating conditions conducive to life, while living abundantly. This spells hope for the planet (including you and I, and our progeny) for the future. For more information, see www.biomimicryinstitute.org or contact Claire Janisch at email@example.com
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© Sue Bellinger, July 2009