Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Don't Get a New Cellular Phone on My Account

A few people have told me that they read my June 8th blog post, and appreciated the insight it provided. However, some of them seemed to think I was suggesting that they upgrade their current cellular phone for a new one on the basis of their current phone not being recyclable, or else not made by an environmentally responsible company. D-oh! Somehow (I think I know how), I failed to make a clear case for waste reduction. To clarify, I'd like to review the "Three R's." In the context of environmentalism, they stand for "Reduce, Re-use, Recycle."

Reducing waste means just buying less. It's the first line of defense against creating trash. If it ain't broke, don't fix it -- and definitely don't go out and buy a new one!

Re-use means washing, repairing, modifying, giving away, selling or trading still-usable items until the usefulness has been wrung out of them in order to avoid 'wasting' objects, or in other words turning them into garbage. In the case of beer bottles for example, returning them to the beer store for the deposit money results in the bottles being re-used by the beer company. Re-using is better than recycling; that's why it's the second "R."

Recycling is the last "R" because it's the last resort before landfilling. On the production front, manufacturing plastic goods from post-consumer resin requires less fossil fuel energy to produce than making those goods from virgin resin. Glass recycling, too, is less energy- and resource-consumptive than producing glass from sand. As for paper, we all know how virgin pulp is originated -- from living trees -- so it's much better to recycle paper fibre than to 'make' more. In the case of electrical goods, which are made from a variety of materials and harmful chemicals, recycling becomes a complex matter, one which I argue should be addressed by their manufacturer at the business planning stage, and accomplished through research and development, engineering, and product life cycle management. In other words, companies need to be responsible for making electrical goods which are as recyclable as possible. I tried to make this case in my June 8th blog post. I provided links to several articles and websites, including Greenpeace's "Guide to Greener Electronics" to show how irresponsible the majority of electrical goods maker still are.

As with any consumer purchase, research should be conducted before buying. One point that I hoped to make was that with cellular phones, recyclability (as built-in by the manufacturer) should be included as part of the research criteria, along with the phone's features, price and billing plan. However, by invoking the personal satisfaction I felt from having inadvertently purchased a phone from a company that turned out to have a somewhat better track record than others for recycling (i.e. Nokia), it seems I conjured the joy of consumer satisfaction, invoking a power that holds seductive sway over us all, when what I meant to do was help counteract that very sway with an environmentalist rationale. Please, don't buy a cellular phone if you already have one that is serviceable, especially if it is not recyclable, but even if it is. Please, reduce!

I should have been more careful, knowing that the joy of consuming is a problematic and deeply ingrained impulse in consumer societies like ours which makes it difficult for people to practice the Three R's. I am certainly not immune to consumer desire. Is is a psychological threat to environmental progress. The misguided reactions which my June 8th article inspired (i.e. people wanting newer cell phones) should be proof of that. One of the many reasons why I started this blog was to raise and bolster my own environmental awareness in order to build up some resistance to the complacency and denial that prevents a person from being environmentally sensitive and responsible -- and immune to consumer desire. The latter phenomenon is a fascinating subject that I'd like to explore in a future post after further exploration and pondering. Until then, the raw desire for new things like cell phones lies in wait, ready to pounce at any moment if care is not taken.

No comments: