walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

When Good Advice Has Bad Effects

In _Junkyard Planet_, Jesse Catlin and Yitong Wang wrote a paper which is quoted as concluding with: "Therefore, an important issue would be to identify ways to nudge consumers toward recycling while also making them aware that recycling is not a perfect solution and that reducing overall consumption is desirable as well."

I would argue that this is probably a terrible idea. Lots of people in every generation have felt Just Terrible about what to do with things they are done with. One of the ways that people dealt with the guilt associated with buying a new refrigerator, which was going to have all kinds of beneficial effects associated with reduced energy consumption, was to Not Stop Using the Old Device. They'd move the old fridge out to the garage or basement or wherever, plug it in, and put beer or whatever in it, thus buying themselves the worst of all possible world. The energy spendthrift fridge was not decommissioned. Its materials were not disposed of safely (and as it aged, the likelihood of a leak increased) or recovered for use elsewhere.

People decide whether or not to buy new shit based on (a) can they afford it and (b) do they have space for it. If you try to insert sustainability or other eco-guilt into this mix, they just stash the old device somewhere, rather than moving it along to somewhere where it can be re-used or re-cycled.

I know. I've seen way, way, way too many people do it, and I've read about even more people doing it. This is the Normal response to advice about problems associated with recycling. We need something better.

He then goes on to advocate to make products last _longer_ and be even _more_ repairable, when a big chunk of what makes American products so wasteful is that they last so fucking much longer than anyone wants them around. Better to lightweight the hell out of them and reduce the initial resource use.

He even gets into paper notebooks with paper inside and cardboard and plastic covers. This is particularly hysterical, because he laments how it needs to be deconstructed for the components to be recycled. I almost always _have_ deconstructed stuff, and I've usually put some components into the trash rather than recycling, because I'd read that their dimensions made them unlikely to make it through the processing stream. But of course now I just barely use any paper at all anyway. Would that steel spiral in Mead notebook make it through to the scrapyard?
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