07 October, 2008

Recycle or Decycle?

Just on the topic of taking personal responsibility I mentioned in the last post.  Examine EVERYTHING.  Keep the bastards honest.  Keep honest yourself.  That's all it will take to turn the current ecological disaster around.

But it's difficult.  How can we be expected to keep track of things like this , for example?  Commendable is that Toshiba is making efforts to recycle.  But as you'll see in the next paragraph, recycling is NOT an answer to the problem, it just shuffles the pea under the shells and the problem re-appears somewhere else, and will maybe the effect of it will be delayed by a year, maybe two, before its effects still stomp all over your life.

The truth is, recycling is an abysmal failure.  Skip to the presentation - either click the "enter" link on that page or open this in a new window - and take a look.  Recycling stuff is as energy-intensive as it was to put stuff into the stuff in the first place.  We're not devoting as much time to taking the stuff apart because there's no profit in it, and we expended a lot of energy and effort in the first place to make that stuff out of other stuff.

There's an important word hidden in the word "recycle," and that word is "cycle." Everything - EVERY THING - is driven by cycles.  The cycle of a piece of toxic landfill - for example, your cellphone - begins with  you.

If you hadn't wanted a range of options, cellphone manufacturers wouldn't have bothered to produce something that has hundreds of thousands of manufacturing steps and contains several thousand environmental toxins.  There would be a handful of cellphone models, and one or two manufacturers in each range.  Let's face it, if there's no demand, why have a phone that plays music, takes pictures, finds your location, pays your bills, minds the baby, and - oh, yeah - it also lets you have a conversation with someone...

So the demand for feature sets is one driver of the cycle.  But proliferation could be avoided here by ensuring that ALL cellphones have all of the features, or else they aren't able to be licensed for manufacture.  Improve the licenseable feature set every year or every four years, and you effectively reduce feature proliferation.

Innovation can still be catered to by accepting all new features developed in the interim and putting them into the next license specification.  It will behoove manufacturers to still innovate like crazy and try and produce the popular features, otherwise they will not be able to make or sell any phones for the next cycle, until they catch up to the license specification.

The only other thing that drives is economy.  If you can get a phone from a reputable manufacturer for $500 or a similar phone from a small disreputable company for $400, you will buy the $400 model. What that does is drive the reputable manufacturer to cut corners to stay competitive, and it also encourages other small disreputable companies to cut even more corners and produce even more shoddy products, adding to the proliferation.

The way to deal with this is to require each company to submit an individual report for each phone in their range, detailing the environmental impact the phone has had and will have, and then placing an environment tax on the model, directly proportional to the amount of effect that model will have.  Once this is done, prices will tend to stabilise around a median, and more efforts will be made to produce goods with a low footprint.

Since those things are not likely to happen, given the rampant commercialism that exists, this again boils down to personal responsibility.  Do you really need the latest and greatest phone in the world?   Honestly?

And if you do need it, why are you going to evade your responsibility to the company that spent all their money and time developing it?  Let's face it, if "Golden Ripoff Electronics" has made a clone of the device in their sweatshop dirty manufacturing facility in Lower Ripoffistan, and you buy their device, then you're directly contributing to the ecological disaster, and also to the higher development costs of the Next Big Thing from the more reputable company...

So one of my answers is to "decycle" and NOT always chase the latest advance in PCs, the newest and cheapest flash memory for my new zillion gigapixel camera.  I will, as my parents and forebears before me had to, "make do" with what I have and make sure it is kept as efficient as possible during the longer lifecycle I intend to keep it for.

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