There’s no denying that our world runs on the consumption of goods. Paper products, home goods, electronics, and food are just some of the products we consume on a daily basis.
On the other side of consumption is disposal. Every item we buy is likely to end up being thrown away at some point. And a majority of what we buy comes with some kind of plastic packaging that eventually ends up in a landfill or the ocean.
Landfills are full of electronics
In addition to excess plastic packaging, manufacturers regularly sell millions of consumer electronics like smartphones that are designed to become obsolete in a short span of time, and these devices are filling up the landfills fast. Millions of cellphone users have become accustomed to purchasing a new phone each year, just to upgrade their device or move to a new carrier offering a better deal.
When the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act was signed into law by President Obama in 2014, consumers gained the legal right to unlock their cellphones in order to switch carriers and keep the same phone, slightly slowing down the rate at which phones are tossed out.
As a business, it can be a real challenge to consider environmental impact when developing a product and its packaging. But it’s the only way to make our world a better place.
There are plenty of reasons you should do everything you can to create and sell products that are built to last, and don’t come wrapped in excess packaging. The biggest reason being that recycling doesn’t work the way we’ve been led to believe.
Recycling isn’t a long-term solution
So we’ve got this thing called 'recycling' that’s been around for a while and we’re obsessed with it. At home, we put our glass, plastic, aluminum cans, and paper into a recycling bin that gets picked up once a week, assuming all of it gets turned into something useful. And for the most part, the paper and aluminum cans do. But only a third of plastic packaging gets recycled in the UK as well as the US.
With so many types of plastic that have to be processed differently, recycling centers don’t always have the technology to deal with it. So, much of the plastic that would have been recyclable gets buried in landfills or incinerated.
Packaging is part of marketing
With presentation influencing people’s purchasing decisions, it’s hard to imagine being able to create attractive packaging without using plastic. You may be okay with using minimal plastic because you figure your customers can just recycle it. You might even go to great lengths to make sure you’re using the most recyclable plastic on the planet. But there’s a problem with recycling people are just starting to realize.
The demand for recycled plastic is low, so it’s often transported all around the world in order to find a destination that can make use of it. Therefore, recycling significantly increases atmospheric pollution from transportation. We’re essentially trading one problem for another.
Popular buzz phrases about recycling aren’t always rooted in truth
People often have creative ways to describe how recycling saves energy. These buzz phrases can make us feel good but don’t translate well to something tangible. For example, DoSomething.org is well known for being the hub for people who want to make a difference. However, in this article about recycling, they state that 'recycling one aluminum can saves enough energy to listen to a full album on your iPod' and 'Recycling 100 cans could light your bedroom for two whole weeks.'
This sounds great, but unless a consumer can actually plug that aluminum can directly into their iPod or turn those 100 cans into energy on the spot in their home, the amount of energy required to recycle those cans makes it an empty statement.
The ultimate solution is in your hands
If you want to create a product that will benefit consumers and promote a plastic-free world, even if you can’t create a supply chain that is completely plastic-free, you can do everything in your power to make choices that significantly reduce the amount of packaging and obsolescence in the manufacturing process.
Design your products to be repairable
There is no denying that repairing goods is the best way to prevent the landfills from filling up. In fact, Sweden is on the cutting edge of sustainability by offering tax breaks to people who elect to make repairs to their existing goods like bicycles, refrigerators, washing machines, and even clothing. With an $800 million government budget surplus, it’s safe to say Sweden knows what they’re doing.
Perhaps one of the best things you can do is create your products in a way that encourages consumers to repair them rather than throw them away. You can make parts available to your customers or allow them to send in their products for repair.
The higher quality parts you produce, the longer your products will last, and the better it will be for the environment. Not to mention, you’ll have extremely happy customers who are used to products quickly breaking down, and they’ll be elated to have goods that last.