In a previous post, I waxed sustainably about certain taxes and legislations that put the onus of responsibility for end-of-life electronic devices on the consumer or the manufacturer, respectively. Well, I found another example that might help illustrate the potential for those programs.
This bottling program in Norway shows that with some simple positive reinforcement, great things can happen.
We need to share blame
The big problem of linear economics needs some clarity; we need to pinpoint the causes to create a solution. And the unfortunate truth is that it’s the fault of manufacturers not using reclaimed materials AND consumers not recycling responsibly. This is tragic because the linear economy has created a series of problems from conflict minerals to ocean plastics and a multitude of things in between—and no one is without blame.
Since we’re all in this together, the solution needs to come from both ends of the product cycle—from the manufacturers owning up to the consumers taking responsibility. And by taxing or legislating for involvement beyond just shipping or purchasing, we can turn the numbers that have made this a problem around to work toward a solution.
This should create a massive shift in how we create and consume. But that’s a good thing since we need to be taking full responsibility for the lifecycle costs of the goods we consume. And lest you think this is a misplaced penalty, consider what consumption of resources causes.
The stain of our pleasures
Single-use plastic is one of the biggest and most externalized costs in our consumer lifecycle. Bottled water accounts for billions of pounds of plastic going to waste every year. And if we don’t put something in place to handle the ongoing glut of just this one source of waste going to landfills and waterways, there is no limit to the amount of damage our consumption habits will create.
Obviously, there needs to be a solution that everyone can agree on, and in Norway, it seems they are on the right track to a viable answer—Rebates. Aside from petitioning and voting with our dollars, there is little we can do to get manufacturers to adopt the financial burden of changing this problem. So, until they step up, it seems you and I are being called to act.
As a consumer, I understand the frustration that comes with having the game suddenly change. But the truth is, we’ve been getting free passes for far too long. These costs have always been there, it’s just that they’ve been pushed off onto the planet. And when that account is empty, we’ve all lost.
So, this rebate seems like a good way to incentivize consumers who’ve been getting off easy to take responsibility for their conduct. It’s a way of creating virtuous behavior in consumers who would, frankly, rather be able to continue trashing the world without penalty, as we’ve all been doing for the past fifty years.
How the rebate could help reduce e-waste
Creating rebates for electronic items is the next step we’d like to see taken. Right now, there is little incentive to recycle or properly handle the electronic devices most American consumers throw away. This includes highly toxic products like monitors, laptops, and even smartphones. Wherein toxins like lead, mercury, and antimony leach into the water tables of wherever they are deposited.
By creating rebates to go along with, say, the SB20 legislation in California, the capture of millions of devices across the country each year would be worth any cost that comes from promoting the rebate. Especially when the resale or raw material value of these devices far exceeds the cost of most of the rebates.
If American consumers—like the Norwegian example—could be more active in taking responsibility for their waste, the planet’s problems would be far simpler to solve. It’s a charge that all of us have been putting off for far too long.