Make it and take it!

By: Bob DeAngelis

I believe we can fix some significant environmental issues by placing responsibility in the right place.  What I am proposing is a major change, but it is what is needed.  If you have a better idea, I would sincerely like to hear it.  The proposal for manufactured products is:  If you make it, you have to take it back. I call it “Make It and Take It”.

Let’s look around us. We see global temperatures rising. We see oceans filled with plastic waste. We see landfills piling up with garbage. We see products with little merit being thrown out daily. In some cases, the packaging is larger than the product. Many products have short lives and are not easily repaired. We get new phones every 2-3 years, and new televisions and computers simply because the technology has changed. The waste is piling up, polluting the oceans and waterways, and adding to climate change. I suggest you drive around on a bulk trash pickup week to get an idea of how many large items we toss away and then think about the millions of smaller items we throw away every year. Each one had to be built, shipped, used and finally disposed of. Each step resulted in more carbon in our atmosphere and other pollutants. Landfills are a long-term threat to our water supplies because when water percolates through waste, it can pick up a variety of substances such as metals, minerals, organic chemicals, bacteria, viruses, and other toxic materials. Much of the trash from discarded manufactured products will be on the planet longer than the span of 3-10 human lifetimes. Your grandchildren’s grandchildren will be dealing with issues resulting from the waste of today. 

Why is it that we accept this? Who should be responsible? The earth has finite natural resources, and we should use them wisely. Why, then, do we have things such as plastic cups, straws, packaging materials, bags, bottles (from laundry detergent to water) that are used once, then discarded? The answer is simple- economics and convenienceCompanies will provide what consumers want and purchase. Also, some companies make more profit if we use and waste as much plastic as possible.  It improves their financial performance. They make more when we recycle, which has many carbon producing steps. I could not dream up a more fossil fuel intensive process than to recycle plastic.   The answer is simple:  don’t use it in the first place!

I do believe the laws of economics work fine, but only if all the variables are in the equation, and consumers pay FULL COST from cradle to grave. It is that simple.

What if legislation was in place to put full cradle to grave responsibility to producers and packagers of products. Thus, the plastic bottle manufacturer will have to take back the ones they make. The TV and appliance manufacturers must take back the products they make (and then they might build products with longer useful lives or modular designs that can be repaired). One might argue that all this could be worked out. I am confident that mountains of waste would be gone from the environment if we had the right programs and placed responsibility with the rightful owners. Less wasteful behavior would be driven by bearing the full cost.  This will take years to be fully in effect- so the time to act is now!

There are so many products that just make me sick due to the short life and long-lasting environmental impact:

  •  Plastic bottles of all types. They didn’t exist when I was a child.  Humans inhabited the planet for tens of thousands of years without plastic bottles.  I recall glass soda bottles that were refilled when I was a kid.  That wasn’t a bad model. 
  • Packaging. Why isn’t packaging simply re-used?.  How much sense does our current model make?  And why make packaging that will last hundreds of years if it is intended to be used for a few days?  We send millions of perfectly good cardboard boxes to recycle. Shipments typically are a box inside of another box plus filler materials.  Why?  Economics would dictate the solution when full costs are included and manufacturers are held responsible.
  •  Junk mail. In today’s day and age, the vast majority of items received in the mail are unsolicited junk.  Most people I know take the mail from the mailbox directly to the recycle bin.  This is another case where the sender should have to pay for the disposal.  Why should homeowners pay for all this?  How about eliminating those plastic window envelopes?
  • Alkaline batteries. Society uses portable energy from everything from flashlights to children’s sneakers.  Battery-operated products are very pervasive, and many are unnecessary.  This is another case where the producer needs to have final responsibility.  The waste is significant and provides very little value to society.

Until this structural change is made in how the world operates, it is up to consumers to take responsibility.  It is squarely on our backs to:

  •  Let your legislators know your thoughts
  • Don’t buy water bottles and avoid single use plastics
  • Let manufacturers know your preferences by purchasing environmentally- conscious items such as detergent strips, energy star appliances, and other thoughtful environmental choices.  

When we look back at the times of slavery (which was ruled legal and constitutional at the time), we wonder how people could be so terrribly wrong at so many levels.  People in the future will look back at this time in history and wonder the same thing with regard to our environmental policies.  Why can’t we see how wrong and how serious this is?

Yorktown100 is a 100% volunteer group of neighbors working to reduce our carbon footprint by 5% a year through various programs.   Contact us if you would like to learn more, or would like to join. Visit us at https://yorktown100.cure100.org and help make a difference.

Bob DeAngelis is a retired IBM engineering manager often seen biking or hiking in the area.

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