Thursday, November 19, 2009

TechnoSanity #34: Our collective responsibility as consumers for the things we consume

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What is the extent of responsibility we have when we buy a thing? In this podcast I suggest we have a lot of responsibility over the cradle-to-grave effects over the thing we buy, as well as the packaging that comes with the thing. Our purchases set in motion a bewildering array of activities aimed at fulfilling the desire we expressed through that purchase. Bags are made so we can carry home the purchase, the gizmo is made, the packaging to hold the gizmo is made, trucks and airplanes and cargo ships are made, forests are cut down, minerals mined, and on and on, all so we can have a plethora of stuff in the stores to buy.

This evening I went to the store to buy a few kitchen gizmos. Each were packaged primarily in cardboard boxes but then came the question at the counter, "Do you want this in a bag?" At least he asked, often the clerks don't ask and just start getting a bag ready causing me to say "I don't need a bag" but this time the number of items was enough to actually need a bag. But the whole situation brought my mind back to a common line of thinking. I'm responsible, now, for the existence of that bag, and what the heck do I do with that bag once I've used it to carry things home?

Maybe this seems overly anal to think that, hey, I'm responsible for the manufacture of this bag. But if I hadn't allowed the clerk to put those gizmos into the bag, then the store would have used one fewer bag that day, and their weekly purchase of bags would have been smaller. In other words because the gizmos were put in a plastic bag the store had to buy another bag to replace the one I used, something for which I am clearly directly responsible.

And, it doesn't stop there. It's of course not just the bag but also the gizmos I bought as well as the packaging the gizmos were contained in.

The responsibility includes the full lifetime of the gizmo, the packaging, the bags, and all the materials that went into making all those things. The gizmo you buy in the store would not exist unless all those materials were mined and manufactured into gizmos, packaging and bags.

The gizmo, the packaging and the bag, they all will eventually be disposed somewhere. They'll wear out or something and you'll want to throw the thing away. For example the plastic bag isn't terribly useful so most people wad up their bags and throw them in the trash. I tend to use whatever plastic bags I receive as trash can liners instead of buying normal trash bags.

The plastic bag is an interesting artifact. The plastic doesn't break down readily so assuming it ends up in a landfill it'll stay in that form for who knows how many thousands of years. Ponder that for a moment .. the bag I received tonight, I used it once to carry those gizmos home, I'll use it again as a trash can liner, and then it'll be taking up space in a landfull for a thousand years or more. How completely NUTS is that???

TechnoSanity #34: Our collective responsibility as consumers for the things we consume