January 21, 2005


Writing about News for consumers: Stuff is getting cheaper from Neighbourhood #1

Well I'm on a roll tonight! Two very different branches of my engineering degree employed in the space of 1000 words and about 2 hours. Anyway, this is a reply to Iyobosa, who is happy at a BBC report on the trend for consumer goods to be ever-cheaper while the cost of repairing them is rocketing. I'm glad the BBC article also hints – slightly – at the appalling waste of resources that results from this.

If consumers demand the absolute minimum price for an item, manufacturers will seek to cut corners to produce their budget model. This breaks down after a year, or 6 months, but hey, it's cheaper to throw it away and buy a new one than get the old one repaired.

Suddenly there's an increasing market turnover of this item – instead of buying one and using it for 15 years, repairing it maybe twice in its lifetime, consumers will see it break and replace it within three, as it's the cheaper option. Why, therefore, should the makers manufacture something engineered for more than a 5 year lifespan? That would waste them a lot of money.

Now you're in a situation where people are happy to buy the latest model of this item, use it for a short period of time and then throw it away. Even if you could set up a multi-multi-million pound scheme to recycle all of the materials, you've still lost the resources consumed in producing the energy to manufacture the product in the first place.

The 100% recycling concept isn't practical anyway. It would be a massively expensive process, consuming lots of energy and man-hours. The process is often not even possible, particularly when the product is engineered for ever-cheaper production costs, e.g. with snap-fit fastenings instead of screws. If the product is never going to be repaired, there's no need to design a means by which it can be taken apart easily!

Household waste in the UK is growing faster than the economy; our recycling rates – around 12% of domestic waste – are about the lowest in Europe. Britain's landfill sites are literally filling up (some counties have very nearly no space left) and, as waste needs to be dumped further and further afield, more and more diesel is used in transporting it there.

All of this helps explains things such as the new EU Directive known as WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment), and talk of lots of extra taxes on companies and hence individual products, but it still does not give sufficient voice to why the increasingly prevalent use-and-dispose ethos in our society is such a bad thing.

- 2 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. It's all a little scary really, isn't it?

    21 Jan 2005, 09:49

  2. Interesting reading Simon. You make some good points and I've posted a reply on my blog.

    21 Jan 2005, 11:11

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