People love to consume, but the cost to our world is adding up faster than we think. Since the dawn of the industrial age, we’ve been producing products that are designed for obsolescence. Planned obsolescence is a popular business strategy that incorporates the obsolescence of a product into its design. In other words, this strategy creates products that are designed to fail so the consumer will feel obligated to buy a new one.
Although it sounds like planned obsolescence is limited mostly to products with electronic components or other products with a short lifespan, it also applies to items that are built to last for decades. Cars, clothes, shoes, and handbags are just several examples of products that won’t necessarily break down after a few years, but will quickly become aesthetically obsolete.
One look at the landfills and our oceans tells the story of what this business strategy is doing to our planet. However, there are people working to undo the damage.
Here are 5 signs that indicate we’re moving from a disposable to a sustainable society:
1. People are reusing items in creative ways
Thanks to Pinterest and other similar craft blogs, more people are getting involved in art projects that require only the materials you can find in your recycle bin – like aluminum cans. This craft blog published an article with detailed instructions on how to make a variety of crafts from soda cans, including cookie cutters, a table lamp using the tabs, bracelets, flowers, and even lanterns.
2. People are recycling outside the box
Today, we think nothing of dumping off old cars at the junkyard, assuming people who need parts will slowly pick them apart over the years. If the parts are common to other models that may work for a while, but as cars age they become obsolete. At some point, the parts become worthless, and then what can you do with the car?
Thankfully, technology allows more materials to be recycled than ever before, including cars. With 25 cars being recycled every minute, the scrap industry recovers about 145 million tons of recyclable materials that get used for industrial manufacturing.
With 10 million cars being scrapped every year in the US, it’s clear that car manufacturers are still using planned obsolescence, but the businesses designed to combat the waste through recycling are catching up.
3. Young kids are coming up with workable solutions
At the age of 17, Boyan Slat, CEO and founder of The Ocean Cleanup, invented a method that leverages the ocean’s natural currents to remove half of the “Pacific Garbage Patch” in just five years. His goal is to remove as much plastic as possible while it’s still in large pieces, to prevent it from breaking down into smaller particles that can’t be recovered.
Tests are currently being run in the Pacific Ocean, and the project is expected to launch in 2018.
4. People are becoming aware of the problem
It’s one thing to do your part and separate your glass, paper, aluminum, and lawn clippings. It’s another to follow up and find out if your recyclables are actually being recycled. For decades, people have taken recycling bins for granted, thinking that it was enough to separate their trash. However, just separating your recyclables doesn’t guarantee they’ll get recycled.
As the landfills in Hong Kong reach critical capacity, one woman (who had spent years diligently separating her recyclables at her apartment complex) discovered that everything goes straight to the landfill and all her efforts had been in vain.
The problem is that recycled materials aren’t worth anything if manufacturers can get new materials cheaply enough. If recycled materials like plastic aren’t worth anything, the need to employ local recyclers drops.
The only way people will take action is if they understand the severity of the problem. Until now, people have been misled to believe separating their recycling guarantees it gets recycled. With more awareness spreading, more people will be willing to do their part.
5. Sweden ran out of trash
Sweden is a country far ahead of the rest when it comes to recycling. Since 2011, each year less than 1% of Swedish household trash has been sent to the landfill. This is a country that values reusing, repairing, and sharing.
Sweden’s recycling program is so well engineered, they ran out of trash and are now importing trash from other countries to keep their recycling plants open. Sweden currently imports much of its trash from EU countries, where there is a ban on landfills. Taking the trash from the EU helps them avoid hefty fines, and it also ensures the materials are getting recycled.
All of these are wonderful signs that we’re moving from being wasteful to becoming sustainable on all levels.