Economy

The Throw Away Economy (TAE) Model

About four years ago, in an effort to renovate my perennial dumb image, I bought a middle range smart phone. My image has improved marginally since then, but the phone battery is now giving way: it never charges more than 50%, and so I have to charge it at least three times a day, even though I’m not a heavy user. I have been trying to replace the battery but no one can help, including the manufacturer of the phone.

I have been variously advised by friends that it cannot be done, that original batteries are just not available, that even if I were to find a battery it would cost as much as the phone, and that I should simply chuck away the phone, save my data and buy a new phone. Welcome to the Throw-away economy (TAE) , a major reason why the planet is warming up faster than the audience at a strip-tease joint in the middle of summer. A TAE refers to the prevalence of consumer goods ( “non-durables” in marketing parlance) which only last for a short period of time. When they stop working we throw them away and replace them with new goods. Included in this genre are nearly all electronic goods, computers, phones, watches, music systems, medical devices, TVs, modems, etc. Also included are packing materials, gift wrappings, thermocol, single use plastic items.

Globally, 50 million tonnes of e-waste is produced every year, and not even 10% of this is recycled or recovered. The USA discards 150 million smart phones every year, the global figure would be mind boggling considering that there are more than 8 billion phone connections. A recent survey shows that in the West a phone is replaced with a new model every 2 years. This is the TAE run amok and is a recipe for environmental disaster.

Most of the items mentioned above are not essential for either our health or existence, as anyone who has received an Amazon parcel can testify- layers and layers of bubble wrap and paper packing inside a cardboard carton filled with more plastic ticker tape. And this is not small change: Amazon makes 7 billion deliveries every year and uses 600 million pounds of plastic, all of which is going into landfills, forests and oceans and will be around for the next 200 hundred years, even after homo sapiens has killed itself with its own waste, as Chief Seattle had prophesied almost 250 years ago. We can live just as well without this half a billion pounds of plastic.