Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Recycling: A supplier-side problem

Like just about any other person on the continent, I have a small stockpile of dead or obsolete electronics, including the dreaded computer monitor.

Like just about any other person who gives a shit about the planet, I'd like to get rid of the stockpile in a responsible manner, which here means "not in the landfill."

What's missing, of course, is this third sentence:

Like just about any other person in Sentences A and B, I sent the unwanted goods back to the manufacturer for ecologically friendly recycling and reuse.

So.

I have wished for a national bottle bill since the day I realized that not every state is like Oregon (and my home state's rules aren't even all that effective now that a nickel's not worth as much and so many containers are exempt).

Here's my manifesto, or mission statement, or whatever:

All recyclable goods shall be sold with a meaningful deposit that is refunded upon return of the used item to the retailer that sold it. All manufacturers of recyclable goods shall be ultimately responsible for their product's end-of-life care.

When I say "all recyclable goods," I mean empty beer cans, shampoo bottles, toaster ovens, retired monitors, old cell phones, junker cars, speedboats, refrigerators, the box the fridge came in, the packing materials, the whole nine yards. Every god damn thing under the sun that can be recycled, and that's pretty much everything but food, diapers, Kleenex and toothpaste.

Why pick on retailers instead of just leaving this to manufacturers? Here's my rationale:

As long as consumers are allowed to discard what they want, pretty much how they want, they won't do expensive or laborious procedures unless they really want to on a personal level. That is fine for some things, but not for managing our shared natural resources.

Consumers need to be on the hook (the meaningful deposit - maybe 10 percent of the item's sticker price?) and have an easy way to return the recyclable (to the retailer, not some godforesaken warehouse in Tiffin, Ohio).

Manufacturers, at the other end of the delivery chain, tend to be too far removed (physically) from consumers for easy returns of empty bottles, dead computers, etc.

Retailers, however, are mostly physically close to the consumer and have well-established supply lines from manufacturers (or distributors) that could be used in reverse.

Complications:
  • Retailers would have to deal with higher prices from manufacturers, who would have to arrange to deal with their goods' denouement, and would also have higher costs of operation (to handle customer returns of used-up goods). Because this rule would be absolute, everybody would have to deal with the same problem. Everything would probably cost more. Oh well.
  • What about onlines and other outfits that ship items? Well, I guess they'd just have to provide postage-paid returns of defunct and empty items then, wouldn't they? Again, everything would probably cost more. Oh well.
  • What happens to orphaned goods? Inevitably, some of the things you buy, the maker will go broke before you're done with it. But usually, they'll get bought out, and as king of the realm, I decree that responsibility travels with ownership, so when Kmart buys Sears, it also buys all those potential returns. Hey, that's the cost of doing business. Truly orphaned goods could wind up in landfills, along with all the stuff people were willing to give up the deposit on. This system is never going to catch everything.
Right now, the system doesn't work. The world's trash is piling up in junkyards, ditches, rivers, oceans, beaches, forests, pretty much everywhere. A lot of that trash should never have been thrown out in the first place. If it isn't curbside or at a transfer station, recycling is too god damn complicated. Something needs to be done, and this is a start.

1 comment:

Holly said...

If goods cost more to the consumer there would be incentive to make do with what you have. I like your utopian system. No one in government is ever going to inflict that shit on their business campaign cotributers. That's why you need a complimentary manifesto for campaign finance. This one is well-written; the professor in me would give it an A- only because I'd wanna also see the manifesto on campaign finance! I can't wait to read it! Hint Hint.