We need to stop being so generous with our definition of what “trash” is. On both sides of the table: producer and consumer. We are all in this together. We need to work together.
Currently, products are built to become trash. A mind-boggling 98% of the resources that flow into the economy end up as waste within six months (according to the Sustainability blog of Guardian UK). No wonder the landfills are bursting at the seams, the incinerators are crackling, and waste management is a lucrative business.
The type of recycling we do as consumers--the paper goes here, the plastic goes there, the clothes are donated (at least if we can be bothered)--is nice, great even!, no doubt. Ultimately, it reminds me of that time my fire sprinkler system malfunctioned and kept cascading water into my apartment. I had a bucket and a dustpan and you can trust me that I was putting them to work with all my might. My might and my very best intentions to stem the water flow didn't cut it though. There was so much more water coming in than I could possibly shovel with my dustpan into the bucket and chuck down the drain. I called 911 and the fire brigade took care at the source level and turned off the water. Only then could I make any real inroads and clean up the mess.
We need to go to the source of the trash as well and expect more responsibility and accountability from the companies we buy from.
The first order of business should be: If it can’t be reused or recycled, it shouldn’t be produced. A nice hard and fast rule, isn’t it?
The second order of business should go a little further: We need to challenge the linear production process that inevitably winds up as trash and where the responsibility of the producer ends when a product changes hands to the consumer. Manufacturing companies should feel obligated to consider what happens at the end of their products' lifecycle.
Perhaps a good way to think about this kind of responsibility and obligation is co-parenting. Yes, you’ve handed over the kid to the other parent for the weekend. It’s still your kid. Yes, you handed over your product. It’s still your product.
And your product simply shouldn't just become waste in the blink of an eye. There are better ways to go about this.
Isn’t it an exciting and formidable task to design waste out of the production cycle? The brightest in tech, engineering, design, and business can take this challenge on and solve one of today’s most pressing needs.
They can align their diverse perspectives and pool their diverse skills to create the rules and scaleable models that will elevate the linear production process that always ends in trash to a much more contemporary circular one. Here, resources are always in play and products are being designed with their second and third lifecycle in mind. The term “trash” will then only apply to the small percentage of materials that absolutely cannot be reused, refurbished, remanufactured, and recycled.
The time is right and the stars are aligned:
(1) We have the urgent need because we are seriously running out of space to put our mountains of trash. The whole planet is clogged with trash and no plunger big enough.
(2) It’s a huge business opportunity. Those who will get it right and adopt scaleable circular economies will win big. Fact.
(3) We have technological possibilities that we never had before. Think 3D printing for wasteless production and think Blockchain for accountability across the whole supply and production chain and use cycle.
What’s not to love?